Does High Protein Dairy Milk Have More Health Benefits than Regular Dairy Milk?
A PEN System® user recently reached out to the PEN Team to share their experience with parents of young children choosing high protein milk products for their children and questioned if this is good practice. Upon further consultation with other practicing dietitians, the PEN Team learned that other uses include a post-workout drink and boosting protein intake in older adults. With a rise in interest in functional dairy products for a variety of activity levels and life stages (1,2), the PEN Team thought a deeper dive into the possible merits or adverse effects of recommending high protein milk to clients would be useful to dietitians.
What are high protein dairy milks and where are they found?
High protein dairy milk boasts 50% more protein and half the naturally occurring sugars (i.e. lactose) (3) compared with regular dairy milk. Innovations in using an ultrafiltration process in food products have led to increased protein and calcium concentration in milk products (4).
There are a variety of high protein dairy milk products on the market. High protein milk is marketed along with high protein supplements and diets, which target sports performance, development, muscle recovery and general health, as well as slow digestion and the extended release of amino acids over time to promote satiety (4).
What does the evidence say?
Two recent studies have examined the effects of high protein dairy milk on muscle mass and physical performance:
- An RCT evaluated the effects of ingesting high protein dairy milk (250 mL, 30 g protein and 10 grams of carbohydrate) of high protein dairy milk immediately post-exercise and 30 minutes before sleep) on changes in body composition, strength, power and skeletal muscle regulatory markers in 30 young males (27±3 years with 15±2 months training experience) during six weeks of resistance training (5). Participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups: high protein dairy milk and resistance training (n=15) or isoenergetic carbohydrate (maltodextrin 9%) and resistance training (n=15). The intervention group increased energy and protein intake after six weeks (mean protein intake pre: 1.5 g/kg/day, post: 2.3 g/kg/day) with no change reported in the control group (~1.5 g/kg/day). After six weeks, the intervention group demonstrated a greater increase in lean mass, strength and power (upper and lower body) compared to the control group, as well as increased concentrations of skeletal muscle regulatory markers (P< 0.05). No adverse effects were reported in either group. Results are limited in that the study team did not assess skeletal muscle anabolism or use a gold standard method to assess body composition to track the change in muscle mass. Additionally, it was not clear from the study if the comparison (isoenergetic carbohydrate) would be a typical and/or recommended recovery choice.
- A 12-week RCT measured the effects of high protein dairy milk (30 g protein/day) in 37 healthy, active older adults (≥50 years) to observe age-related loss of skeletal muscle mass (6). Participants were divided into four groups. Two intervention groups drank high protein dairy milk twice daily: one group did not exercise (n=13) and the second group exercised with a 12-week whole body resistance exercise schedule three times per week (n=13). Participants drank the high protein dairy milk at breakfast and lunch (or after resistance exercise). These groups were compared with an exercise-only group and a control group. Compared to baseline, both intervention groups had an increase in energy and protein intake at 12 weeks (mean protein intake pre: ~1.2 g/kg/day, post: 1.8 g/kg/day) whereas protein intake was stable in the control groups (~1.4 g/kg/day). The effects of consuming high protein milk on skeletal muscle strength (lower body, upper body and back) were only observed when combined with resistance exercise at baseline and between six and 12 weeks (P< 0.01). The study concluded that consuming high protein dairy milk in combination with resistance exercise can have a greater effect on skeletal muscle strength outcomes than consuming a dairy milk beverage on its own or exercising in isolation for older adults who already have high levels of protein intake (≥1.2 g/kg/day). Limitations included the small sample size in each group, baseline collection of self-reported activity levels and no control for diet and habitual protein intakes.
While no studies looking at high protein dairy milk in children were found, higher dairy intake is not recommended in well-nourished children to promote higher protein intake and may increase the risk of added weight later in life (7). Furthermore, an overemphasis on dairy intake can limit the variety of foods included in a young child’s diet, increasing the risk of nutrient inadequacies (8).
Consuming high protein dairy milk or diets higher in protein may help in specific situations. Some examples include:
- an option for individuals aiming to reach their dietary protein goals for muscle and performance improvements when combined with exercise that promotes muscle strength (5).
- active individuals looking to support gains in muscle strength beyond physical training, including reducing age-related muscle loss and maintaining bone health (6,9)
- to build and repair body tissues, including muscles and bones, when individuals are critically ill (10).
- during pregnancy and lactation (11). However, there is not enough evidence to make a recommendation regarding high protein diets and their safety in pregnancy or lactation. High protein dietary supplements (>25% energy from protein) may increase the risk of small-for-gestational age (SGA) infants and have not demonstrated any benefits.
- children who are following a vegetarian diet (12).
When working with their clients, dietitians can consider the possible benefits of consuming high protein dairy milk compared to regular milk as part of their overall eating pattern. The additional cost weighed against the possible benefit to the overall dietary pattern would need to be considered. Particular attention should be given when substituting high protein milk for regular milk in otherwise healthy children, since most children in Western countries meet their protein recommendations, making these products unnecessary as part of their diet.
- Quick Nutrition Check for Protein English French
- Eating Guidelines for Increasing Your Child’s Energy and Protein Intake (12 months - 4 years) English French
- How to Manage Simple Faddy Eating in Toddlers Resource
- Feeding your 6-12 year Old Picky Eater English French
- Dairy Foods. Seizing opportunity in the dairy market. 2022 Oct 13. Available from: https://www.dairyfoods.com/articles/95919-seizing-opportunity-in-the-dairy-market
- Shoup ME. Coca-Cola-owned fairlife hits $1bn in retail sales driving new growth to fluid milk category. FOODnavigator-usa.com. 2022 Feb 11. Available from: https://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Article/2022/02/11/coca-cola-owned-fairlife-hits-1bn-in-retail-sales-driving-new-growth-to-fluid-milk-category#
- Watson E. 50% more protein, 50% less sugar: fairlife brand reaching a quarter of US households, says VP. ‘Demand is at an all-time high’. 2022 Sep. Available from: https://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Article/2022/09/22/50-more-protein-50-less-sugar-fairlife-brand-reaching-a-quarter-of-US-households-says-VP.-Demand-is-at-an-all-time-high#
- Agarwal S, Beausire RL, Patel S, Patel H. Innovative uses of milk protein concentrates in product development. J Food Sci. 2015 Mar;80 Suppl 1:A23-9. doi: 10.1111/1750-3841.12807. PMID: 25757895. Abstract available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25757895/
- Pourabbas M, Bagheri R, Hooshmand Moghadam B, Willoughby DS, Candow DG, Elliott BT, Forbes SC, Ashtary-Larky D, Eskandari M, Wong A, Dutheil F. Strategic Ingestion of High-Protein Dairy Milk during a Resistance Training Program Increases Lean Mass, Strength, and Power in Trained Young Males. Nutrients. 2021 Mar 15;13(3):948. doi: 10.3390/nu13030948. PMID: 33804259; PMCID: PMC7999866. Abstract available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33804259/
- Huschtscha Z, Parr A, Porter J, Costa RJS. The Effects of a High-Protein Dairy Milk Beverage With or Without Progressive Resistance Training on Fat-Free Mass, Skeletal Muscle Strength and Power, and Functional Performance in Healthy Active Older Adults: A 12-Week Randomized Controlled Trial. Front Nutr. 2021 Mar 17;8:644865. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2021.644865. PMID: 33816540; PMCID: PMC8010144. Abstract available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33816540/
- Arnesen EK, Thorisdottir B, Lamberg-Allardt C, Bärebring L, Nwaru B, Dierkes J, Ramel A, Åkesson A. Protein intake in children and growth and risk of overweight or obesity: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Food Nutr Res. 2022 Feb 21;66. doi: 10.29219/fnr.v66.8242. PMID: 35261578; PMCID: PMC8861858. Abstract available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8861858/
- Grenov B, Larnkjær A, Mølgaard C, Michaelsen KF. Role of Milk and Dairy Products in Growth of the Child. Nestle Nutr Inst Workshop Ser. 2020;93:77-90. doi: 10.1159/000503357. Epub 2020 Jan 28. PMID: 31991434. Abstract available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31991434/
- Dietitians of Canada. What are the effects of lower carbohydrate/higher protein diets (LCDs) on bone health among adults? In: Practice-based Evidence in Nutrition® [PEN]. 2017 Mar 27. Available from: https://www.pennutrition.com/KnowledgePathway.aspx?kpid=16669&pqcatid=146&pqid=25887&kppid=25888&book=Rationale&num=1#Rationale. Access only by subscription. Click Sign Up on PEN login page.
- Dietitians of Canada. What are the energy and protein requirements of non-obese (i.e. healthy weight or underweight) critically ill adults? In: Practice-based Evidence in Nutrition® [PEN]. 2015 June 30. Available from: https://www.pennutrition.com/KnowledgePathway.aspx?kpid=21017&pqcatid=145&pqid=21046. Access only by subscription. Click Sign Up on PEN login page
- Dietitians of Canada. Are there adverse effects of high protein diets (including protein powder supplements, collagen) or amino acid supplements in pregnant and lactating individuals? In: Practice-based Evidence in Nutrition® [PEN]. 2021 Mar 25. Available from: https://www.pennutrition.com/KnowledgePathway.aspx?kpid=3043&pqcatid=146&pqid=14586. Access only by subscription. Click Sign Up on PEN login page
- Dietitians of Canada. Infant Nutrition - Complementary Feeding. Summary of Recommendations and Evidence. In: Practice-based Evidence in Nutrition® [PEN]. 2022 May 19. Available from: https://www.pennutrition.com/KnowledgePathway.aspx?kpid=2503&trid=2514&trcatid=42. Access only by subscription. Click Sign Up on PEN login page.