If you struggle to build muscle or get stronger, you might label yourself as a hardgainer, and as a result, rationalize your slower than normal progress in the gym. There are a few reasons you might be a hardgainer, from a food intolerance you are unaware of (which can affect your digestion), your exercise choices might need to be reexamined, or you are too physically active, but the most likely variable is the fact that you simply are not eating enough. The equation is calories in, calories out, and its time to fix that.
Concerning calorie intake, I know the statement that many hardgainers simply do not eat enough is true because I am a hardgainer who had to figure that fact out myself. It’s not always as simple as just making sure you stuff your face with more food though. Personally, once I am full I cannot stand to eat a single another bite of food, and if I had to force myself to feel extremely uncomfortable everyday at every meal to make progress in the gym, I would likely give up well before I made any significant progress.
Now, many strongmen, powerlifters, and bodybuilders will tell you that you just need to suck it up if you want to get your desired results, and to eat A LOT more, and while I agree with that statement, I think it is also important to consider other possible solutions, which may be more indirect, for the given problem. In this case, if you are a hardgainer because you struggle to eat enough food for whatever reason, maybe simply “eating more” is not the right approach, as it clearly has not been working. Luckily, If you are not lactose intolerant or have an allergy, there is a solution. Enter milk.
So why is milk the magic cure all to your hardgaining woes? Well, there are a few reasons, but first lets quickly establish why we need to eat or drink more food in the first place in order to fix the apparent muscle gaining problem.
In order to build muscle, or just gain weight in general, you must consume more calories than your body expends everyday. Again, calories in, calories out. As a hardgainer, you might be under eating, you have a really fast metabolism, or maybe you are just too physically active, but ultimately you are not consuming enough calories to gain weight. With inadequate calorie intake being the root cause of the issue, more food, in solid or liquid form, needs to be consumed, and this is where milk is perfect.
The first and most important fact which establishes milk as a hardgainers best friend is the fact that milk is a liquid. Liquids, compared to solid foods, are much easier and faster to consume, can be effortlessly paired with any meal, and do not increase satiety nearly to the same degree as solid food. Studies show that liquids affect satiety (the feeling or state of being sated, aka full) to a very minuscule degree. Read more about this science behind this phenomenon here, but at the end of the day it is easy enough to ascertain without studies the fact that liquids do not make you fill up as fast or feel as full as consuming an equivalent amount of solid foods. As hardgainers, we can use this to our advantage.
The macronutrient profile of milk is the second reason milk is a great food for hardgainers to consume. Most beverages either contain no calories, such as water, or are heavily sugar/alcohol based, such as soda, juice, and beer. Milk on the other hand is neither. Milk, especially the full-fat varieties, has a very balanced macronutrient profile. Let’s examine it.
|Per 8 oz||Milkfat %||Calories||Fat (g)||Carb (g)||Protein (g)|
|Reduced Fat Milk||2||130||5||13||10|
|Low Fat Milk||1||120||2.5||14||11|
Macronutrient information for the above table and graph was sourced from Clover Farm’s Organic Milks. Most, if not all milks, should have the same macronutrient profiles.
Compared to an 8 oz of soda, which contains ~97 calories, 0 g fat, 27 g carbs, and 0 g protein, you can see that milk products are much more balanced between the three macronutrients. Going into a calorie surplus off of pure sugar to build muscle is probably not the best strategy for your short term or long term health, but milk with its balance of fat, carbs, and protein is quite fine to drink in larger quantities. Especially useful is the milk protein present in milk, which contains 82% casein and 18% whey protein. Both of these protein types are great for muscle building, and as a strength training enthusiast, it is always beneficial to get more protein into your diet in order to increase muscle protein synthesis.
Lastly, milk is a very cheap source of calories, and it is accessible at nearly every grocery store you can find. For a typical $4 gallon of conventional whole milk, you’re looking at 600 calories for every dollar spent, and for a $7 gallon of organic pasture raised milk, you’re looking at 343 calories for every dollar spent, which is still a great deal. My general rule of thumb when purchasing food, excluding fruits, vegetables, and pasture raised meat, is to spend $3 or less for every 800 calories (or 267 calories for every dollar) of food. This guideline saves me from going broke while bulking, and conventional and pasture raised milk both far exceed it. So is drinking a lot of milk to gain weight economical? In my opinion, yes.
The Different Categories and Types of Milk
Conventional Milk vs Pasture Raised Milk
So hopefully you are not convinced that drinking milk everyday for extra calories might be a real solution for building muscle as a hardgainer, but what type of milk should you buy? First there is conventional and pasture raised milk, and those two varieties of milk both come in four different milk fat percentages: whole (3.25%), 2%, 1%, and skim (0%).
Conventional milk is milk that is produced using large feedlot operations. These cows feed on grains like corn and soy, live in confined spaces, and in general are over milked to the point of exhaustion and pain. Pasture raised milk on the other hand is sourced quite differently. Cows are allowed to roam naturally on pasture, eating the grasses and shrubs they evolved on, and if access to pasture is temporarily unavailable, they are fed hay, silage, alfalfa, or other green fodder. As a result of their lower calorie diet, pasture raised cows produce less milk, so the milking operations aren’t are painful and stressful, and generally pasture raised cattle live in much more humane conditions.
There is also organic milk and raw milk. Organic milk is milk produced from cows only fed 100% organic feed. Organic milk can be conventionally or pasture raised depending on the dairy farm, but overall organic milk is more likely to be pasture raised than conventional. Raw milk is milk which hasn’t been pasteurized. Raw milk can also be conventionally or pasture raised, but raw milk is almost exclusively pasture raised as a result of the ideologies behind the raw milk movement.
Nutritionally, pasture raised milk is superior to conventional milk, as it has a healthier fatty acid composition, and higher amounts of micronutrients. Considering milk, either conventional or pasture raised, is already a cheap source of calories, I think it makes sense to buy a healthier and higher quality milk if you plan on drinking a lot of it. Your body will thank you later.
Whole, 2%, 1%, and Skim Milk
There are four milk fat percentages that milk is sold at, and these are 3.25% (whole), 2%, 1%, and 0% (skim). Whole milk is 3.25% milk fat, and it is not skimmed at all after being milked from the cow. Reduced fat 2% milk is 2% milk fat, and it is lightly skimmed of cream after being milked from the cow. Low fat 1% milk is 1% milk fat, and it is heavily skimmed of cream after being milked from the cow. Lastly, skim milk is 0% milk fat and is completely skimmed of cream after being milked from the cow.
As a hardgainer, it’s important to get in as many calories as possible, and for that, whole milk is the best milk for the job. At 150 calories per 8 oz, whole milk has 15% more calories per 8 oz than 2% milk, and that percentage increases as you skim or all more of the cream off. Whole milk is also the best choice of the four because of fat soluble vitamins. Fat soluble vitamin K is concentrated in the cream of the milk, and is subsequently removed during the skimming process, and while fat soluble vitamins A, D, and E remain in milk after skimming, if ingested without fat, vitamins A, D, and E will be poorly absorbed by your body. Whole milk is also high in fat, which is good for stabilizing blood sugar levels and ensuring you don’t undergo a sugar crash (reactive hypoglycemia). Full fat milk has also been shown to be inversely associated with cardiovascular disease risk, and most importantly, whole milk is much tastier that the more skimmed varieties.
If you are now considering drinking milk to gain weight, I would recommend you buy a pasture raised, organic whole milk from your local supermarket. This ensures you get a high quality milk that is nutritionally superior to conventional milk, which sets you up for the best possible strength and muscular gains in the gym.
My Personal Experience with Milk as a Hardgainer
Personally, the best training periods of my 4.5+ years of weightlifting correspond perfectly with increased milk consumption. The first time I experimented with drinking a lot of milk, I did GOMAD (gallon of milk a day) using 1% milk for about four months. I had just started lifting in a gym, as before I was working out at home, and my squat and deadlift numbers all increased by ~50 lbs, and my bench press increased by ~30 lbs. I also increased the weight and reps for all of my powerlifting accessory exercises and bodybuilding exercises. At 6’1″, my body-weight increased from about 155 lbs to 165 lbs.
The second time I really began to drink a lot of milk again in an effort to get stronger and gain muscle mass was the fall of 2014. At this point I was squatting in the low 300’s, deadlifting in the mid 400’s, and benching around 200 lbs (all 1RM’s). This time I did not follow GOMAD, but I did drink about 1/2 gallon of 2% milk a day, accomplished by drinking 32 oz of milk with every meal in the place of water. Beginning around September, my weight increased from around 182 lbs to 199 lbs by mid December. During this period I increased my squat by ~30 lbs, my bench press by ~20 lbs, my deadlift by ~30 lbs, and my press by about ~20 lbs (wow!). Same as before, I increased the weight and reps for all of my powerlifting accessory exercises and bodybuilding exercises. Another nice side effect was that I increased my arm size during this period by 1″, and while some of that 1″ was fat, most of it was muscle.
The third, and most recent time I drank a lot of milk in an effort to get stronger and gain muscle mass was during the majority of 2015, starting around April. Starting in January, I began my new Wendler’s 5/3/1 program, and I ran that program for 11 months unbroken. January through April I was experimenting to see if I could gained strength and weight at a good pace using just solid foods, and while I did get stronger, the rate was slower than it was during the fall of 2014. At this point I realized that every time I have broken through weightlifting plateaus and really got stronger quickly is when I drank a lot of milk daily.
Upon this realization, I increased my milk intake, this time purchasing only organic, pasture raised whole milk, and drank about 1/2 a gallon a day, drinking 32 oz with every meal. The results this time? Well, for the 11 months that I spent consistently following Wendler’s 5/3/1, I increased my training max’s (TM) for the squat, bench press, deadlift, and press from 315, 200, 425, and 125 lbs respectively to 400, 250, 525, and 150 lbs, which are increases of 85, 50, 100, 25 lbs! I’m pretty happy with those numbers for 11 months of training, and my strength really didn’t start increasing noticeably until April when I drastically increased my milk consumption (and as a result, my calorie consumption). Body-weight increased from 182 to 197 lbs over this time frame, with minimal fat gain (maybe 2-3% BF).
If you are a hardgainer who struggles to gain weight, and you do not have a lactose intolerance or a milk allergy, I would seriously recommend you drink whole milk to gain weight. Whole milk is packed with vitamins and minerals, has a balanced macronutrient profile, is a cheap source of calories, and as a liquid, does not fill you up nearly as much as solid foods.
Start off with 32 oz of whole milk a day, which equates to 600 calories, and ramp up consumption as need be. A gallon of whole milk is 2400 calories, so doing GOMAD with whole milk as Mark Rippetoe suggests will likely lead to excessive fat gain, but if you still are not gaining weight on 1/4 gallon or a 1/2 gallon a day, increase milk consumption by 8 oz until you start gaining lean body mass (LBM).
If you have any questions, please comment below.
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