Mickela Mitchell, MS, RDN, LDN
Q: Which dairy products have the best protein punch? Not just necessarily how many grams of protein, but a combination of carbs, proteins and fiber that make it a powerful, lean-muscle-building product? A: Thanks for the question! Let’s start with the fiber portion of your question. Dairy foods do not contain fiber, unless it’s been added in the form of fruit or a supplemental powder of some sort. Fiber does not actively build muscle—in fact, adding fiber to a post-workout snack can slow digestion and therefore slow the arrival of the nutrients needed to replenish tired muscles. I’ll expand on quick-digesting carbs later in the post. Milk, cheese and yogurt all provide a powerful punch of high-quality protein, which along with resistance exercise and a physically active lifestyle, can contribute to muscle building. While the exact biochemical mechanism has not been identified, whey protein has a unique and beneficial effect on muscle in a weight-loss diet. A meta-analysis published last year in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition is just one in a long line of research demonstrating dairy’s ability to preserve muscle in those who exercise regularly. Let’s not miss that last point—whey protein must be combined with regular stress to the muscles (i.e. exercise) to achieve the desired effect. The great news is you don’t have to be a bodybuilder or use special powders and mixes to take advantage of the muscle-building power of whey. Real dairy milk and yogurt contain a mix of whey (quick-digesting) and casein (slower-digesting) proteins. Along with 8 grams of protein per serving, you’ll be getting key nutrients most Americans simply don’t get enough of, including: Calcium – crucial for muscle contraction Magnesium - crucial for muscle relaxation Potassium - an electrolyte and another nutrient Americans traditionally fall short on Most folks who exercise recreationally can capitalize on these benefits by making sure they are getting enough dairy—three servings every day. For athletes and those doing more intense workouts, consider chocolate milk as a recovery beverage. Your body’s response to the quick-digesting carbs in chocolate milk flips your metabolic switch from muscle burning to muscle building when you get it within an hour after your workout. Plus, high-quality and easily absorbed protein is there to fuel the building. Hope this helps – keep working on your fitness and let us know how it’s going!