Protein Shake with Milk or Water: Which one is best?

When it comes to drinking protein shakes with milk or water, we know everyone has a taste preference. Some prefer the thick, creaminess of milk, whereas others prefer a lighter option. But there’s certainly a healthy dose of broscience out there on the subject. So let’s clear the confusion by explaining the pros and cons of each. 

Should you have a protein shake with milk or water?

The answer to this question comes down to your goals. Do you want to gain mass or be in a calorie deficit? 

Protein shakes with milk have more calories and extra protein. So if your goal is to increase your protein intake, mixing protein with milk is a great choice. Water adds zero extra calories, making it the obvious choice for those looking to limit their calorie intake.

To clear things up, we asked Simon Jurkiw, a qualified sports nutritionist, strength and conditioning specialist, and Product Director at Bulk™. “Choosing between milk and water all depends on your goals”, said Simon. “If your goal is to gain weight or muscle, then milk is a good option with the extra protein and calories. If you want to lose weight, water makes sense as you’re saving yourself calories. 

Having said that, adherence is an important factor too. This is where taste is a serious thing to consider. If you absolutely prefer protein shakes with milk and know you’ll be more consistent in taking it, maybe it’s worth those extra calories.”

Protein shakes with milk

Extra protein in milk

350ml semi-skimmed cow’s milk has around 12-13g protein. Combined with a whey protein shake, this is a whopping 30-35g per shake. If you were to have a shake a day, using milk instead of water gives you 84-91g extra protein per week. That makes quite a difference. Getting in this added protein is very welcome, whether you’re bulking or not. 

More calories

350ml semi-skimmed milk has about 160–170 calories, so while you’re getting extra protein, you get extra calories too. In two shakes, you’re easily looking at an extra 300 calories a day. These extra calories are great for those in a mass-gaining phase. 

The creation of a calorie surplus is advocated by sports nutrition practitioners when attempting to optimise resistance training-induced skeletal muscle hypertrophy (1). In other words, combining well-executed resistance training with a calorie surplus is necessary for making gains.

If your goal is to be in a calorie deficit, then an alternative to cow’s milk could be plant-based milks. Offering the same creamy, plant-based milks offer a similar experience to cow’s milk while also being fewer calories.

Slower digestion

Whey protein is digested in the stomach and small intestine and takes about 1-2 hours to digest. However, when mixed with milk, the digestion process of whey protein can take longer. Milk contains proteins which cause the whey to coagulate, meaning it hangs around in the stomach.

But slower digestion doesn’t mean it harms the process of muscle building and repair. This is actually a good strategy if you’re looking for a gradual release of amino acids.

When it comes to how much protein your body can absorb, whey protein itself can be absorbed at a rate of around 10 grams per hour, while cooked egg protein absorbs much slower, at a rate of about three grams per hour.

Better taste

This one is a little more subjective. Many people prefer the taste of protein shakes with milk instead of water because milk can add a smooth texture to the shake, which offers a richer, creamier taste. You’re drinking a milkshake, after all. 

Protein shakes with water

Fewer calories

As we mentioned earlier, 350ml semi-skimmed milk has around 160-170 kcal. These are additional calories for those looking to lose weight. So switching the dairy liquid for H2O would be the better option if this is your goal.

Enjoying a protein shake with water is much more suited for people on a calorie-restricted diet, aiming to get into a calorie deficit. 

Quicker absorption and digestion

Yes, mixing protein powder with water can lead to quicker absorption and digestion compared to mixing it with milk. Specifically, according to Jurviw: “If you’re having a shake post-workout, then mixing with water will result in faster digestion and absorption of the protein in the muscle.”

This is because milk contains additional nutrients, such as lactose and casein, which slow down the absorption and digestion of the protein. Water, however, is a simpler liquid that does not contain any extra nutrients, allowing the protein to be absorbed more quickly. 

Better suited to certain protein powders

Some protein powders, such as Clear Whey Isolate, are only really suited to water. Mixing these powders with water offers a clear, light and refreshing drink. Milk cannot be used for such a texture, and combining fruity flavours like Apple & Blackcurrant may not offer the best-tasting experience.


Unlike milk, water is pretty accessible anywhere. This means you can turn up to the gym with a powder-filled shaker, and fill it up whenever you need it. This offers a fresh experience, while also ensuring you don’t spill your shake in your gym bag.

This is particularly useful if you need to carry your shake around all day,  doing an evening workout after a day at the office.

protein shake with water

What’s the best alternative to milk or water for protein shakes?

Choosing a plant-based milk is a great option, allowing you to get the creamy, thicker texture of milk with fewer calories. Plant-based milk is also dairy-free.

Here are some non-dairy, plant-based milks that mix well with whey protein:

  • Almond milk
  • Oat milk
  • Coconut milk
  • Soya milk


Consuming protein shakes is beneficial whether you drink it with milk or water. It’s not accurate to call one better than the other, since it depends entirely on your goals, tastes and preferences. If your goal is to build muscle mass, mixing protein with milk is a better option. For those looking to limit their calorie intake, water is recommended.

However, if you love the taste and texture of protein shakes with milk, then you may consider sticking to that, even if you’re restricting calories. As we said, consuming them is good either way – so a bit of milk isn’t going to derail your diet.

Frequently asked questions

Which is better for weight loss: a protein shake with milk or water?

Probably water. Water has 0 calories whereas 350ml of milk (a standard serving for a protein shake) has around 160-170 calories. Therefore, water is a better option for those looking to maintain a calorie deficit.

However, adherence is important too. If you have a huge preference for the taste and texture of protein shakes with milk, this is fine too. You just need to fit it in with your macros or calories. 

Should you have a protein shake with milk or water before bed?

This again depends on your goals and the answer is much the same. If your goal is to build muscle mass, mixing protein with milk is a better option. For those looking to limit their calorie intake, water is the best option.

Milk is a natural source of micellar casein – a slow-digesting protein that gives milk its white colour. Casein is often referred to as a ‘bedtime protein’ due to its slow absorption rate making it an ideal supplement to take before bed. For this reason, some people choose to have a protein shake before bed with casein-rich milk rather than water. 

Do protein shakes taste better with milk or water?

It depends on personal preference. Mixing protein powder with milk generally creates a creamier and thicker texture, which some people prefer. Milk can also add some subtle sweetness to the shake.

However, if you are looking for a lighter and more refreshing drink, mixing it with water creates a thinner texture and a more neutral taste. This is especially the case for Clear Whey Isolate. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide which taste and texture you prefer.

Can you mix vegan protein powder with milk?

Yes, you can mix vegan protein powder with milk alternatives such as almond milk, soya milk, oat milk or coconut milk. Vegan protein powder is made from plant-based sources such as peas, brown rice or hemp. These mix easily with your preferred milk alternative to create a creamy and nutritious protein shake.

Can you mix almond milk with protein powder?

You can certainly pair protein powder with almond milk. In fact, many popular plant-based milk can be used. 

Almond milk is a popular non-dairy milk alternative that is often used as a base for shakes. It has a mild, slightly nutty flavour that pairs well with most powders, creating a smooth and creamy texture. 

Additionally, 350ml almond milk has around 60 calories, whereas the same quantity of milk has around 160-170 calories. This makes it a great option for those on a calorie-restricted diet who don’t want to give up a thicker shake.

Do you put milk or protein powder in the shaker first?

Either way is fine. However, the best way is to add a bit of liquid in the shaker first, stir to make a vortex, then add the powder. Stir it a bit, then add the rest of the liquid. Now shake. This method should prevent the powder from sticking in clumps at the bottom.

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