Milk's Secret Ingredient
Milk's Secret Ingredient

You already know that milk is a great source of calcium and Vitamin D, but those aren’t the only nutrients milk has to offer. In fact, one of the most important nutrients found in milk is its high-quality protein. Next to water, protein is the most abundant substance in the human body, so it is easy to see why it is so important for healthy function. With 8 grams of protein per cup, milk can help provide the protein your body needs to build and maintain lean muscle, support internal organs, and help to maintain energy levels throughout the day. Learn other secrets about milk, a favorite natural beverage.

woman drinking chocolate milk after workoutMany people don’t get enough protein during the day and often those who do wait and have it all in the form of a big piece of meat at dinner. The problem with this is that the body can only use so much protein at a time, so to get the benefits from protein, we need to eat it consistently throughout the day. Milk and dairy products can help us do this because they are convenient and tasty sources of high quality protein that are easy to pair with any meal. I recommend that my clients aim for about 20 grams of protein at each meal, and low-fat dairy products help them reach that goal. Here’s an example of how easy it can be:

Breakfast: One cup of low-fat yogurt (11g protein), fresh berries, 1 ounce nuts (7g protein).

Lunch: One sandwich on whole wheat bread with 3 ounces deli-style turkey (15g protein), 1 slice low-fat cheese (5g protein), lettuce, tomato, and mustard with 1 apple and 1 cup of baby carrots with low-fat dressing for dipping.

Dinner: One cup of lean beef and bean chili (16g protein), 1 (8 ounce) glass of skim milk (8g protein), small tossed salad.

Mealtimes are not the only time to take advantage of the high-quality protein in milk. Milk is the refueling beverage of choice by many professional athletes because its protein helps to refuel and build muscle after working out. As an added bonus, each cup of milk contains 11% of the daily value of potassium, an electrolyte that is lost in sweat during exercise and needs to be replenished post work-out. To get the perfect ratio of carbohydrates to protein to rebuild muscle after exercise, I recommend drinking one cup of low-fat chocolate milk within 30 minutes of finishing a workout.

Are you getting enough protein at each meal and after exercising? I encourage you to keep a food journal for a few days and record the amount of protein you eat at each meal. If you come up short of about 20 grams (talk to your dietitian or doctor first to see if you have special needs that require you to consume more or less than that) at any of the meals, try adding in a serving of low-fat milk, cheese, or yogurt. You may be surprised what a difference it makes on your hunger and satisfaction signals.

Quick guide to protein in one serving of milk productmilk, cheese, yogurt

  • One ounce cheese about 7 grams protein
  • One cup of milk 8 grams protein
  • One cup regular yogurt 11 grams protein
  • One cup Greek yogurt about 20 grams protein

Sarah-Jane Bedwell, R.D., L.D.N., is Nashville’s Nutrition Expert. A national speaker and media personality, Sarah-Jane has educated and entertained hundreds of different corporate and community groups as well as professional associations.

Follow Sarah-Jane at @sarahjaneRD



1. Ross A. Modern nutrition in health and disease (11th ed.). 2014. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.  

2.  Mamerow MM, Mettler JA, English KL, Casperson SL, et al. Dietary proteinn distribution positively influences 24-h muscle protein synthesis in healthy adults. J Nutr. 2014 Jun;144(6):876-80.  3. Karp JR, Johnston JD, Tecklenburg S, Mickleborough TD, Fly AD, Stager JM. Chocolate milk as a post-exercise recovery aid. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2006 Feb;16(1):78-91.