Milk is a nutritious, frothy white liquid produced by female mammals.
One of the most commonly consumed varieties is cowâ€™s milk, which contains carbs, fat, protein, calcium, and other vitamins and minerals.
Due to its nutrient profile, you may wonder whether milk can help you gain weight.
This article tells you everything you need to know about milk and weight gain.
Nutrition of different kinds of milk
Cowâ€™s milk comes in several different fat percentages, including skim, 1%, 2%, and whole.
All provide approximately 12â€“15 grams of carbs and 8 grams of protein in 1 cup (240 ml). However, the amount of fat and number of calories vary by type (1, 2).
Hereâ€™s a list of different milk varieties and their fat and calorie contents per 1 cup (240 ml) (1):
Milk is naturally high in calcium and often fortified with vitamin D â€” two nutrients that are vital to bone development and health. Whatâ€™s more, it contains vitamin A, which promotes optimal eye health and supports your immune system (2, 3, 4).
The two main proteins in milk are whey and casein. Some studies show that these proteins may help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels â€” two risk factors for heart disease (5).
In addition, studies indicate that drinking milk after exercise may help build lean muscle and improve body composition (6, 7).
Keep in mind that milk that doesnâ€™t come from cows â€” including sheep and goat milk, as well as plant-based milks made from nuts and seeds â€” have different nutrition profiles and may not have the same effects on health.
Milk provides calories, carbs, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals. The amount of fat and number of calories in each type vary.
Milk and weight gain
Since milk is a good source of calories, protein, and other nutrients, it offers a balanced approach to gaining weight.
In particular, it may be helpful for athletes and bodybuilders who may need or want to gain muscle, as well as those who are underweight and want to gain weight.
Weight gain results from consuming more calories than you burn. If youâ€™re looking to put on weight, itâ€™s important to get extra calories from nutritious foods instead of high-calorie ones that are low in nutrients, such as sweets and snack foods.
Drinking milk â€” especially higher-fat varieties â€” can provide extra calories in addition to protein and other beneficial nutrients.
All types of cowâ€™s milk â€” except for skim â€” contain saturated fat.
While some studies suggest that too much saturated fat can be harmful to heart health, other research indicates that dairy fats may, in fact, reduce cholesterol levels and your risk of heart disease (5).
Though high-fat dairy products are rich in cholesterol, consuming cholesterol- rich foods does not lead to substantial increases in blood cholesterol for most people (8).
Still, itâ€™s important to note that for some individuals â€” known as cholesterol hyper-responders â€” eating cholesterol-rich foods may lead to a greater increase in cholesterol levels.
According to research, this increase may not negatively impact heart health, but those with a genetic predisposition to high cholesterol levels may want to consume milk that contains a lower fat percentage, such as 1% or 2% (9).
Overall, milk is versatile and can be added to many recipes or enjoyed on its own, making it easy to consume more calories without dramatically changing your diet.
Can help you build muscle
Milk may also aid weight gain by helping you to build muscle.
Specifically, the whey and casein proteins in cowâ€™s milk may contribute to lean muscle instead of fat mass.
One 12-week study in 10 young women found that drinking 24 ounces (1 liter) of skim milk after resistance exercise led to significantly greater muscle mass gains and fat loss compared to drinking a carb drink with the same number of calories (6).
Another study in 8 men observed that drinking approximately 2 cups (500 ml) of skim milk after resistance exercise led to significantly higher rates of muscle building compared to consuming a nutritionally similar soy beverage (7).
Other studies link milk consumption or combined casein and whey supplements after resistance training to increases in muscle mass as well (7, 10).
For these reasons, milk may be a smart choice for those who want to build muscle mass and put on weight.
Milk is a rich source of calories and protein. Studies show that drinking it after exercise may help you build muscle mass and support healthy weight gain.
May not be the right choice for everyone
Many people are intolerant to lactose, the naturally occurring sugar in milk. Symptoms of lactose intolerance include gas, bloating, or stomach discomfort after consuming dairy products (11).
Some people may also be allergic to the proteins in milk â€” such as casein and whey â€” which can cause skin reactions, stomach discomfort, and even anaphylactic shock in some cases (12).
In the case of lactose intolerance or a milk protein allergy, milk is not a good option to help with weight gain.
Still, you have many other options to safely gain weight â€” especially lean protein sources that are rich in calories and nutrients.
Some healthy alternatives include eggs, avocados, fatty fish, plant-based protein powder, and nuts and nut butter.
People with lactose intolerance should not consume milk to gain weight. Nondairy foods that can aid weight gain include eggs, nuts, avocados, and plant-based protein.
How to add milk to your diet to gain weight
If youâ€™re interested in increasing your milk consumption to gain weight, there are several ways you can add it to your diet.
For example, you can incorporate it into other nutritious meals, such as eggs, oatmeal, smoothies, and soups or stews. You can also blend it into coffee or tea drinks.
Having a glass of milk with meals is another easy way to increase your calorie and protein intake to aid weight gain.
Even though all types of milk are rich in protein and beneficial nutrients, remember that the higher the fat content, the greater the number of calories.
So, if your goal is weight gain, whole milk may be your best choice.
To increase milk intake, drink a glass with meals or try mixing it into other dishes, including eggs, oatmeal, and smoothies.
The bottom line
Milk is a great source of calories, protein, and beneficial nutrients that may help you safely gain weight and build muscle.
To increase your intake, try drinking it with meals or adding it to smoothies, soups, eggs, or hot cereals.
Still, people with lactose intolerance or milk allergy should avoid it.