Does it feel like there are a lot of different kinds of milk these days? It used to be that milk was just milk. Now there are soy milks, oat milks, nut milks. What’s a bodybuilder to do when faced with all of these choices in alternative milks?
Pull off the nutrition labels and lay them on the table in a side-by-side tournament of champs based on their protein, calcium, and calorie content, that’s what.
Raising a Glass to Milk
Before we talk about alternative milks, let’s talk about good old cow’s milk. It’s what we know, it’s what we love, and the easiest way to talk about alternative milks is going to be by holding them up to the classic standard.
One cup of 2% moo juice contains about 124 calories. That’s from 12g of carbs (from natural sugars) and 4.9g of fat. However, that also comes along with 8g of calcium and almost a third of your daily recommended calcium.
Milk nutrition can vary a little, but for the most part it comes as God made it. Alternative milks, however, are a little different. Next, we’re going to take a tour through the alternative milks section, checking out nut milks, soy milk, and oat milk.
Further, we won’t just look at how many calories each option brings along, we’ll look at where those calories come from. Spoiler alert, most alternative milks have more added sugar than we might like.
How Nut Milks Stack Up
Nut milks are made, essentially, from ground nuts and water. However, you just know that as long as someone is making milk in the nut factory, they’re going to do some stuff to it. Every brand of nut milk is going to have slightly different nutritional stats. Different nuts also come with slightly different nutritional portfolios.
We could’ve looked at different nuts and the nutritions of their varying milks, but right now the dominant nut milk on the market is almond milk. So, that’s what we looked at.
For the purposes of this article, we decided to look at Almond Breeze unsweetened “original” almond milk. If you want to give it a try, and can find it near you, that’s great. However, they aren’t sponsoring this post and we at HTBM don’t necessarily prefer this brand over other brands – we just chose a brand for educational purposes.
The first two ingredients are almonds and water, although there are some additional ingredients, mainly natural flavors, and some vitamins and minerals. But, remember: not all almond milks are created equal.
The stats: thirty calories coming from one gram of dietary fiber and 2.5g of fat. Also along for the ride is 35 percent of your recommended daily calcium and a single gram of protein. Remember though, this is “original” and “unsweetened” almond milk. If you don’t buy unsweetened and opt for vanilla or chocolate almond milk, you’ll likely find more carbs and calories therein.
Now, using these stats as the representatives for nut milks everywhere, how does this stack up to mammal milk?
The Nutritional Side-by-Side
All of the sugar in cow’s milk is natural but it still has way more fat and sugar than almond milk. Further, much of the calcium in almond milk is an artificial addition, but it’s still calcium. So far, on the energy and minerals front, nut milks are crushing it.
However, you’re here to bulk muscle and you want to know about protein, right? Well, if you’re keeping score at home, you probably noticed that cows milk has WAY more protein than nut milks.
We see this scenario play out in the solids game too: sure, nuts have a lot of protein as far as plants are concerned. But, as far as foods are concerned, they pale in comparison to animal products. This is the same situation.
In Soy Milk’s Corner
Now, let’s take a look at another frequent favorite in the alternative milks: soy milk. Much like nut milks, soy milk is made from grinding soy beans and adding water. Also much like nut milks, soy milks often come with added flavors and sweeteners.
As was the case for nut milks, we picked a “brand representative” – this time Silk brand “original” soy milk. The rule is the same: we picked this brand for illustrational and educational purposes but other brands should be comparable, provided that you go with unflavored soy milk. Once again, flavored varieties are likely to have more added sweeteners as well.
Again, the first two ingredients are soy beans and water as we would like to expect. However, vitamins, minerals, and (at least generally) a bunch of sugar are added.
The Nutrient Question
Unflavored soy milk comes in at 110 calories per serving, with those calories coming from 4.9g of fat, 2g of dietary fiber, and an unfortunate 5g of added sugars. Also in that mix: 8g of protein and another 30% of the day’s calcium.
Compared to the Cows?
From a numerical perspective, given the inputs we’re looking at, Soy milk has all of the same stats as cow’s milk but a few fewer calories. We don’t like that those calories come from added sweeteners, but hey, it’s still fewer calories.
Got Oat Milk?
Ready for a zany mixup? Oat milk isn’t made by grinding up oats and adding water. Instead it’s made by adding water to oats, and then grinding it up. Common ingredients include some of the same vitamins and minerals that we saw in soy milk and nut milks, but this alternative milk is less likely to have added sweeteners.
We chose “original” oat milk from Planet Oat as the category representative. You know the disclaimer: other products from Planet Oat or a similar product from another company could have very different nutritional numbers than those that we look at here.
By the Numbers
Oat milk comes in at 90 calories. That’s below cow’s milk or soy milk, but still well over nut milks. And where do those calories come from? 1.5g of fat 2g of dietary fiber, and 4g of added sugars.
The good news? 2g of protein, but only a quarter of the day’s recommended calcium.
Compared to Cows:
Oat milk has quite a few fewer calories, and quite a bit less calcium and a quarter of the protein. We’ll crunch all of the numbers in a minute, but oat milk may not be the dietary hero we need. It might be the dietary hero we deserve.
The Final Tally
So, to tally the scores, Nut milk has one eighth the protein of cows milk for a quarter of the calories, with calcium content being essentially comparable.
Even with all of the added sugar, soy milk comes in just under cow’s milk in terms of calories, landing way above nut milk, but with about the same calcium and protein representation as cows milk.
Meanwhile, oat milk has the least calcium, almost as many calories as cows milk, and a quarter of the protein.
The Alternative Milk Champion?
So, who gets the HTBM “Best Alternative Milk Award”? We’ve got to say soy milk. Nut milk is a strong contender considering its low calorie presentation – and if all you’re looking for is low calories, you’re welcome to reach for the nut milk – but its low protein offering failed to impress.
At the bottom of the ranking is oat milk. It has a weak showing for both calcium and protein, even if it did shave off a few calories along the way.
One thing that we didn’t consider in this article is flavor – largely because it’s so subjective. But, as we’ve said before on this site, it doesn’t matter how nutritional something is if you won’t eat it. If you’re really curious about alternative milks, try them all. Maybe you like oat milk so much you’re prepared to overlook some of its other … deficiencies.
Must We Fight?
We set this article up as a little tournament for fun. But, the fact is, you don’t need to choose one alternative milk for the rest of your life. Considering none of these options “outperformed” milk, you don’t need to choose an alternative milk at all – unless you’re lactose intolerant.
What we recommend instead is considering how you use milk in your daily life, and how you want to use it in your diet. Then think about where or whether you can swap out alternative milks in some occasions.
For example, if you make a protein blendy, consider using nut milk instead of cow’s milk – you’ll cut calories and your blendy powder will bring along all of the protein that nut milks lack. If you are looking for something new to put in your morning coffee, soy milk brings the sweet while still shaving calories and bringing along all of the protein and calcium that you expect from cow milk.
The Alternative Lifestyle
We don’t have stock in cows. But, it’s hard to beat mother nature. All things considered, soy milk gives her a run for her money. Does it shave enough calories for you to perpetually replace cow milk with soy milk in your diet? That’s up to you.