Muscle Milk is one of the most well-known protein drinks on the market and one of the few that’s available almost everywhere, including gas stations and grocery stores. But is Muscle Milk good for you? Its it a healthy source of protein or a highly processed drink-product that’s best avoided? Let’s take a look.
I consumed a fair amount of Muscle Milk protein drinks in my teens and early twenties.
I’ll be the first to admit that the marketing got to me back then. The Muscle Milk brand name is genius and is undoubtedly one of the reasons they’ve grown so popular.
But marketing is not reality. This should be obvious just by the fact that Muscle Milk doesn’t contain any milk. And the Muscle Milk fairy tale keeps getting more and more elaborate from that point forward.
To answer the question, “Is Muscle Milk good for you?” we’re going to need to take a look at a few different angles and discuss each of their products independently.
First, let’s see if Muscle Milk does what it purports to do in the first place: help you reach your goals.
Does Muscle Milk Work? What Will It Do For Me?
My guess is that most people who drink Muscle Milk do so after a workout to give their body protein for recovery.
There’s likely another subsection of the population that drinks Muscle Milk simply as a protein supplement (perhaps they feel they don’t get enough from real food).
And I’m sure, like with everything, there’s a percentage of people who drink Muscle Milk as some sort of meal replacement shake or weight loss drink (not a good use, as you’ll see).
Does Muscle Milk provide protein? Yes. Their products provide anywhere from 15g of protein per serving to 50g of protein per serving.
Almost all their protein products use a blend of casein protein and whey protein, which are preferred protein sources for most of the population.
If you’re into plant-based proteins, Muscle Milk products aren’t for you.
So yes, Muscle Milk is going to deliver protein that’s useful to your body. That was never really in question. The question is, what else is Muscle Milk putting in your body and are those other ingredients good for you?
A closer look at Muscle Milk Ready-to-Drink Protein Shakes.
Ready-to-Drink protein shakes are the most popular and ubiquitous of the Muscle Milk products. They’re super convenient and tasty and that’s why they’ll be the main focus of this article.
The first thing to note is that you can’t knock the flavor profiles Muscle Milk have created. Muscle Milk isn’t a protein drink you’re going to have to choke down by any means – it has treat-level flavor qualities.
You’ll likely find the taste impressive considering that most of the formulations have zero grams of sugar (we’ll get to how that’s possible in a moment).
Taste is a secondary concern, though. Our primary focus is on ingredients and healthfulness.
Let’s take a closer look at each line of Muscle Milk protein shakes…
Muscle Milk “Genuine” Ready-to-Drink Protein Shake…
The “Genuine” Muscle Milk protein shake is the one that people are probably most familiar with. It comes in Vanilla, Chocolate, Cookies & Cream, Strawberries & Cream, and Banana Cream.
I’m not going to breakdown the ingredients on every flavor. They’re mainly all the same, give or take a couple things to create the flavors. For most of the breakdowns, I’ll use the standard vanilla flavor.
Here are the ingredients in the Genuine line…
Water, Milk Protein Isolate, Calcium Caseinate (Milk), Sodium Caseinate (Milk), Soluble Vegetable Fiber, Less than 1% of: Natural and Artificial Flavors, Canola Oil, Sunflower Oil, Magnesium Phosphate, DiPotassium Phosphate, Cellulose Gum and Gel, Maltodextrin, Medium Chain Triglycerides, Potassium Chloride, Sodium Hexametaphosphate, Carrageenan, Acesulfame Potassium, Potassium Citrate, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Sodium Phosphate, Sucralose, Vitamin A Palmitate, Vitamin D3.
The first big things that stand out to me are the oils: Canola Oil and Sunflower Oil. No legit drink should need oils, especially inflammatory PUFA-based oils.
If you were just going to have this drink every now again, it’s probably not that big of a deal at less than 1% of ingredients. But, I think most people who are Muscle Milk drinkers are drinking this several times per week, if not daily.
The next ingredient I’m not fond of is Maltodextrin. This a type of carbohydrate that’s often used as a thickener. The problem is that the studies on it haven’t been super favorable…
A 2012 study found that maltodextrin increased bacterial adhesion to human intestinal epithelial cells and enhanced E. coli adhesion, which is associated with autoimmune disorders (source).
The last ingredient I’ll single out here is important because it’s how Muscle Milk gets its sweetness without any sugar – Sucralose.
Sucralose, known mostly by the brand name “Splenda,” is an artificial sweetener made by chlorinating sucrose and doing some other fancy chemistry stuff.
There’s some controversy over sucralose’s safety and it’s not uncommon for people to suffer negative reactions, especially of the digestive variety.
Since there are no long-term studies on the safety of sucralose, I like to err on the side of caution and avoid it and other fake sweeteners.
Is Muscle Milk “Genuine” Ready-to-Drink Protein good for you?
Muscle Milk Organic Ready-to-Drink Protein Shake…
Well, this seems promising.
Admittedly, before writing this article, I didn’t know Muscle Milk had an organic line of protein drinks. I’ve never seen in the wild.
Note: You can purchase this product on Amazon if you can’t find it in stores locally.
The Organic version comes in Vanilla and Chocolate and unlike the “Genuine” variety comes with 9 grams of sugar.
Here’s a look at the ingredients…
Ingredients: Water, Organic Milk Protein Concentrate, Organic Cane Sugar, Organic Alkalized Cocoa Powder, Organic Canola Oil, Organic Sunflower Oil, Organic Natural Flavors, Potassium Citrate, Sodium Phosphate, Natural Flavors, Potassium Chloride, Carrageenan, Organic Stevia Extract, Sea Salt.
Once again, Muscle Milk chooses to go with inflammatory oils. For me, that rules out this drink.
Would I drink one in a pinch? Yes. Would I drink this every day or several times per week? No way.
And I’m not a health Nazi. The question is, “Why would I drink this so often when I can easily get my hands on a better alternative?”
Pretty much everything else about this drink is doable for me. Carrageenan isn’t great, but it’s typically something I can look past.
I’m most happy to see that Muscle Milk chose Stevia for their sweetener in this series. Stevia is a natural sugar substitute. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sweeten things like other substitutes do, which is why you see the addition of cane sugar in these recipes.
All-in-all, Muscle Milk made an effort to clean things up with this Organic series, but still fell short of the mark.
Is Muscle Milk Organic Ready-to-Drink Protein good for you?
Verdict: Not really, but if it’s the only option then it’s passable.
Muscle Milk Pro Series Ready-to-Drink Protein Shake…
Ready to go pro?
Muscle Milk’s Pro Series of Ready-to-Drink protein shakes packs 32 – 40g of protein. A significant jump up from the Organic and Genuine lines.
That’s not the only extra thing the Pro Series is delivering. There’s a lot more in terms of ingredient load…
Water, Milk Protein Isolate, Calcium Caseinate (Milk), Sodium Caseinate (Milk), Less than 1% of: Soluble Vegetable Fiber, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Inulin, Canola Oil, Cellulose Gum and Gel, Maltodextrin, Sunflower Oil, DiPotassium Phosphate, Magnesium Phosphate, Sodium Hexametaphosphate, Potassium Chloride, Sodium Phosphate, Acesulfame Potassium, Potassium Citrate, Ascorbic Acid, Carrageenan, Ferric Pyrophosphate, Dicalcium Phosphate, Sucralose, dl-alpha Tocopheryl Acetate, d-Calcium Pantothenate, Niacinamide, Zinc Oxide, Copper Gluconate, Vitamin A Palmitate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Chromium Chloride, Folic Acid, Biotin, Potassium Iodide, Cholecalciferol, Cyanocobalamin.
The Pro Series is heavy on synthetic vitamins, fiber additives, artificial flavors, and uses a wider variety of sugar substitutes.
Muscle Milk’s marketing bills this series the same as its other lines, with the addition of “meal replacement, on-the-go breakfast, and anytime snack” as “best uses.”
It’s clear that Muscle Milk sees this line as a viable meal replacement, which is why they packed it with synthetic vitamins.
At the end of the day, this ingredient panel is just as much, if not more, of a disaster as the Genuine line.
Is Muscle Milk Pro Series Ready-to-Drink protein good for you?
Verdict: No, especially not as a meal replacement.
Muscle Milk Protein “Smoothie” Shake…
This is yet another product line I didn’t know Muscle Milk was offering.
Their Smoothie protein drink is another meal replacement-style drink made with Greek Yogurt.
“MUSCLE MILK® Protein Smoothie Shakes are a convenient way to enjoy breakfast on-the-go or as a satisfying protein-rich snack.”
The smoothies come in Blueberry, Mango Tangerine, Peach, and Strawberry Banana.
Here are the ingredients for the Mango Tangerine flavor…
Water, Greek Style Low Fat Yogurt* (Skim Milk, Milk Protein Concentrate, Cream [Milk], Enzymes, Cultures), Whey Protein Concentrate (Milk), Soluble Vegetable Fiber, Less than 1% of: Cane Sugar, Pectin, Natural Flavors, Low Fat Yogurt* (Whey Protein Concentrate [Milk], Skim Milk, Cultures), Lactic Acid, Beta-carotene (Added for Color), Potassium Sorbate (To Preserve Freshness), Sucralose, Acesulfame Potassium, Stevia Extract.
Let’s be honest, you could nitpick any of Muscle Milk’s products if you wanted to completely rule them all out.
You could do that for most packaged products on store shelves, but that’s not my goal here.
I was feeling pretty thumbs-upish about this ingredient panel until I got to the end.
Why, Muscle Milk, why? Why more sucralose?
They started with cane sugar and added some Stevia as well. They’re sitting at 10g of sugar in a bottle, which seems to be their target.
For a drink like this, that’s not high at all. If that seems high to you, compare it to something like Naked Juice and you’ll feel much better.
Surely they could have found a way to add a little more sweetness without going the sucralose route?
Alas, I have to rule this drink out because I’m just not a fan of sucralose at all. I would have green-lit this if they had left that out.
Oh, and hopefully this didn’t escape you: there’s no actual fruit in these smoothies.
Is Muscle Milk’s Protein “Smoothie” Shake good for you?
Verdict: Sadly, no, but it won’t kill you every now and then.
Muscle Milk 100-Calorie Protein Drink…
Before I even look at the nutrition facts for this, I can pretty much guarantee a disaster. Anything billed as “low-calorie” typically translates to “chemical shit storm.”
The good news here is that they don’t have to drop too many calories to get to the 100-calorie mark. After all, the “Genuine” line only sports 160 calories in 17 ounces.
Oh, you know what? It seems their primary calorie reduction method is simply to give you a smaller bottle.
The 100-calorie bottles are only 11 ounces (and thus comes with a reduction in protein as well).
They do have a different ingredient profile, though…
Water, Milk Protein Isolate, Calcium Caseinate (Milk), Sodium Caseinate (Milk), Soluble Vegetable Fiber, Less than 1% of: DiPotassium Phosphate, Magnesium Phosphate, Cellulose Gum and Gel, Maltodextrin, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Canola Oil, Potassium Chloride, Sodium Hexametaphosphate, Sunflower Oil, Carrageenan, Acesulfame Potassium, Potassium Citrate, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Sodium Phosphate, Sucralose, Titanium Dioxide (Added for Color), Vitamin A Palmitate, Vitamin D3.
Basically a lot of the same stuff, just a slightly different variation.
They have a “Light” series, too, which saves you a whopping 10 calories (seriously) over the normal “Genuine” version (150 calories vs 160 calories).
Why? Marketing. Put “light” on something and the stoopid dieting crowd will throw their wallets at it.
Before I give you my verdict, it should be noted that calories are mostly meaningless in practical application.
Is Muscle Milk’s 100-Calorie Protein Drink good for you?
Verdict: You didn’t think I was going to say “yes” did you?
Do Muscle Milk’s promises align with their products?
Here’s where the rubber really meets the road for Muscle Milk.
I’ve been highly critical of marketing on products like Naked Juice, Ideal Protein, the 21-Day Fix, and even Starbucks (for their coconut milk marketing) because the health and fitness industry is pretty much a dumpster fire when it comes to truth in advertising.
Muscle Milk has a “Learn” page that provides soundbites about their company, their products, and the need for protein in general. This will serve as a good measuring stick of their integrity.
Here’s a breakdown of their claims…
WHAT WE’RE ALL ABOUT
You know your body. You care about what you put in your body. You know your body needs protein. You recognize that protein isn’t just about muscles, intense workouts or something only found at the gym. Protein is a fundamental to help you live and perform better.
Key on this line: “you care about what you put in your body.”
Now, reflect back on the ingredients lists I showed you earlier.
Is this a good example product-message alignment? Sounds like all talk, to me.
OUR PRODUCTS PROVIDE – QUALITY
Our protein is expertly formulated with high-quality ingredients and key nutrients. All MUSCLE MILK® Protein Powder products are NSF® Certified for Sport®, ensuring that they are safe and free of banned substances.
I wouldn’t call fillers, additives, fake sugar substitutes, preservatives, and artificial flavors “high-quality ingredients.”
OUR PRODUCTS PROVIDE – TASTE
We pioneered great tasting protein and continue to offer an array of flavors. Need a cookie fix? Grab a Cookies ‘N Créme flavored MUSCLE MILK® shake. Craving chocolate? Of course we have that. We offer nearly 50 different flavors across our protein shakes and powders.
They’re right on the money with this one. Their products do taste great. But, that’s pretty easy to do when you’re breaking your other promises and creating products that aren’t good for the human body.
OUR PRODUCTS PROVIDE – CREDIBILITY
We helped build the protein category and continue to remain a leader in the industry today. We’re a trusted partner with dozens of collegiate athletic programs, world-class professional athletes and elite training facilities. We work closely with sports scientists, sports dietitians, strength coaches and other experts to ensure we’re producing the highest quality products.
Who are these sports scientists and dietitians?
What dietitian thinks fillers, additives, fake sugar substitutes, preservatives, and artificial flavors are the way to go?
OUR PRODUCTS PROVIDE – VARIETY
Whether you’re a high school athlete trying to get to the next level or a mother of two trying to get to yoga class, we offer a wide range of protein products that feature the nutrients your active lifestyle demands.
Sure. Okay. Whatever. #ObviousPositioningisObvious
By and large, their marketing is all hype. They’re not committed to “high-quality ingredients.” They’re not committed to healthfulness. They’re committed to marketing mediocre products to the masses.
Wrap-Up: Is Muscle Milk good for you?
Bottom line answer: Almost all Muscle Milk products contain fillers, additives, fake sugar substitutes, preservatives, and artificial flavors. Since there are many better alternatives to Muscle Milk, it’s best to avoid this brand of protein drink.
If you’re generally not interested in nitpicking and being a health Nazi, drinking a Muscle Milk from time to time won’t hurt you. Just don’t make it a staple in your dietary lineup.
What do you think? Are you a Muscle Milk fan? Give us your take in the comments…
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