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Milk isn't just for Babies

"Milk is for babies, when you grow up you have to drink beer." Arnold Schwarzenegger Pumping Iron 1977.


Anyone enamoured with lifting weights has at one time or another viewed the 1977 documentary Pumping Iron featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Franco Columbo, and the Incredible Hulk Lou Ferrigno. One of the many famous quotes that came from the movie was when Schwarzenegger was asked if he drank a lot of milk, and he wittingly replied "no milk, milk is for babies, when you grow up you drink beer." Who really knows if there was any shred of truth to his comment, or it was just a more interesting answer to an otherwise simple question. This was a early and popular attack on milk, albeit a not so serious one, but in recent years milk has come under a lot of fire as food sensitivities and intolerances have been embraced in modern day dietetics . Should we really be giving up on milk? I say no.

I've read a lot of the research on the good and bad of milk and dairy consumption. Some studies demonstrate a possible increased risk of prostate cancer while other studies can show a promising impact on post workout recovery. Like many other topics, you can sharp shoot the research and make a compelling case for your pro or anti milk sentiments. I'd instead like to share my anecdotal opinions on the subject.

Most of us grew up drinking milk. It was a staple in many of our diets in the years when much of our growth and maturation occurred. Our growth and maturation can be largely explained by basic developmental physiology, and would surely occur without milk consumption, however you can't overlook the benefits gained from the anabolic growth factors, proteins, and amino acids found in milk. Leucine is in abundance in milk and is arguably one of the most anabolic amino acids due to its effect on mTOR signaling, which triggers cell growth. We also get a hefty dose of the powerful growth factor, IGF-1 through our milk consumption that is a major player in signaling bone growth and remodeling. And what type of protein powder are you currently using? Yep, probably a milk protein in the form of either whey or casein. Milk boasts a great mix of fast and slow digesting whey and casein proteins to keep protein synthesis revving for hours if consumed post-workout. It is hard to find a more inexpensive and readily available anabolic cocktail than milk.

So why has milk gone out of style in the eyes of fitness enthusiasts? Everyone has a different reason. The bodybuilders think it gives them a bloated appearance, the organic folks worry about the presence of hormones and antibiotics, the seasonal allergy sufferers are worried that it leads to increased mucous production and sinus congestion, and then there are the lactose intolerant who have a legitimate problem.

I can understand each group's concerns but I'm still not turned off to milk by any of those claims . I'm disappointed that some bodybuilders are turning their back on milk. I can't think of any aspiring young meathead that hasn't taken the dogmatic advice of needing to drink a lot of milk to add some mass. Whether you heard it from dad, your gym teacher, high school sport coach, or the jacked old guy at the gym, the advice of drinking a lot of milk has undeniably been responsible for turning a lot of skinny boys into big men. It is an inexpensive and readily available source of great protein along with a nice balance of carbohydrate and fat. There are too many other reasons why someone would feel or look bloated to single out milk.

Along with the organic folks, I too do not like the idea of consuming hormone and antibiotic laced milk. The good thing is that I come across no less than four or five different hormone and antibiotic free milk options in most grocery stores that I shop. The practice of purchasing a better quality milk product should extend beyond just milk. If an effort is made to buy locally sourced food items from small farmers than we have a better chance of avoiding many of the pitfalls found in the mass-production food industry.

I never had any allergy issues growing up, but now having spent the last few years in middle Tennessee, the allergy capital of the country, I have my occasional bouts with sinus congestion. There has been a long standing belief that milk consumption increases mucous production which will only compound allergy symptoms. I can't remember what initiated either conversation but I've had two separate conversations with an ear, nose, and throat specialist and a gastroenterologist who dispelled that claim. I was told that there was indeed a long standing belief in the medical community that milk increased mucous production, however recent inquiries into the topic found that milk sometimes sticks to the mucous giving an appearance of more mucous when imaging procedures are performed. Since you won’t actually have more mucous, it is highly unlikely that your allergy symptoms will worsen.

Individuals who are lactose intolerant can have real problems with milk, however culturing milk into milk kefir can be a great alternative. It is a simple process that only requires a jar, some inexpensive milk kefir grains, and a few hours. Kefir grains are colonies of bacteria that feed on the sugar (lactose) in milk. Nearly all of the sugar gets converted to lactic leaving you with a sugar and lactose free milk that is now safe to drink. In addition, the culturing of milk helps to grow probiotics that are known to be beneficial to gut health and immunity. There is no way to standardize the culturing process when making kefir, however the amount of probiotics available in homegrown milk kefir is estimated to be far greater than a store bought probiotic supplement.

So drink your milk. It does a body good.

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