With protein shakes skyrocketing in popularity over the last decade, Muscle Milk is a brand that is a household name. Known for its eye-catching packaging and range of flavors, Muscle Milk promises to deliver a large amount of protein and nutrition per serving – all in a bottle that you can pick up in your convenience store.

But while its high protein content is useful for those seeking to increase calories – bodybuilders and frequent exercisers, for example – Muscle Milk contains other ingredients that may cause more harm than good. In this article, we’ll take a look at Muscle Milk, its benefits and downsides, and discuss whether it’s as good as it touted.

What is Muscle Milk?

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Usually sold premixed in single-serving bottles available at the supermarket and in powdered or bar form, Muscle Milk emphasizes its nutritional content and high-quality ingredients. Some marketing angles for this brand is the claim that it makes a good meal replacement,  an excellent exercise drink that promotes great performance in the gym as well as helps encourage muscle growth.

Despite its name, Muscle Milk contains no milk at all – a fact that has been a source of controversy in the past. The protein in Muscle Milk instead comes from proteins derived from milk, such as milk protein isolate. As such, Muscle Milk markets itself as being suitable to those with lactose intolerances and therefore a healthier option than its competitors.

The Nutritional Content of Muscle Milk

One serving of Muscle Milk contains on average between 20 grams to 34 grams of protein. Servings usually consist mainly of water (or milk) and milk protein isolate along with whey protein and sodium caseinate, which together give the drink its high protein content. Muscle Milk also contains natural and artificial flavors.

A quick look further down the ingredients list, though, and you’ll find some additions in Muscle Milk that might cause you to raise an eyebrow. Not only is there sunflower and canola oil and several artificial sweeteners (maltodextrin, sucralose, and acesulfame potassium) but also added carbohydrates, and a host of other ingredients added to the mix like sodium phosphate, potassium chloride, and sodium hexametaphosphate – none of which exactly scream health.

Why is Muscle Milk Not Good For You?

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Well, it’s Muscle Milk’s other ingredients that cause concern. While the protein per serving of Muscle Milk is high, so is the carbohydrate content – 16g per serving – as well as, worryingly, 6g of saturated fat per serving, and 12g fat in total.

While carbohydrates and fats in moderation are no bad thing, it’s the combination of these things in a seemingly healthy drink that could cause consumers to be unknowingly ingesting additional calories – including unhealthy calories contained in saturated fats – while trying to stay fitter.

In fact, in 2013, the company that created Muscle Milk, CytoSport Inc., paid $5.3 million in a class-action lawsuit over its use of the word ‘healthy’ in marketing materials. The lawsuit asserted that despite the ‘healthy’ branding of the product, Muscle Milk servings contained the same total and saturated fats as Krispy Kreme donuts. While some of these fats are medium-chain triglycerides, healthy fats that help with energy production (and even weight loss), the saturated fats in the oils added can contribute to increased cholesterol levels.

Along with the additional calories, which may disrupt any weight loss goals, the other ingredients added to Muscle Milk could have adverse effects on your health. For example, sodium hexametaphosphate, which is added to foods as an emulsifier and thickener, has been proven in animal studies to cause swollen and pale kidneys, bone decalcification, severe skin irritations, and hyperplasia when consumed in excess quantities. Other ingredients, like sodium phosphate, may contribute to kidney disease.

So with Muscle Milk, the protein and the calories aren’t the problems: it’s all the other stuff that could be, as well as the effects that the excess calories could have on your fitness plan.

What Are the Benefits of Drinking Muscle Milk?

By this point you may be thinking: okay, so if Muscle Milk is so bad for me, why do people drink it?

There are some clear benefits to drinking Muscle Milk, which we’ve listed below.

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Helps Build Muscle and Exercise Performance

When combined with a healthy diet and a regular workout routine, the high protein in Muscle Milk can help you build lean muscle and strength. The added fats and carbohydrates, too, meaning that if you’re using it as a meal replacement it has a fairly round nutritional profile – and can improve exercise performance due to the carbohydrates giving you an energy boost.

Help With Weight Gain If That’s What You Are Looking For

Muscle Milk can also help those looking to gain weight, either through building muscle or otherwise. One serving of the original Muscle Milk product contains 320 calories (and 34 grams of protein), which if consumed post-workout will add a significant boost to your caloric intake – and, if you drink more than one per day, could speed up weight gain even more, if that’s your goal.

Fortified With Minerals and Vitamins

Muscle Milk is also fortified with additional vitamins and minerals which can help to boost your health. The nutritional information of Muscle Milk lists it as containing a host of vitamins that you’d find in your daily multi-vitamin. Also, the additions of vitamins A, C, and E, as well as taurine, mean that Muscle Milk could carry antioxidant properties that are beneficial not only for muscle health but your general immune system and ability to combat illness. The addition of vitamin D, too, can help boost mood and immunity, particularly in darker winter months.

What are the Side Effects of Muscle Milk?

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Despite the positives of Muscle Milk, however, there also could be some unwanted side effects that come with consuming it – and before you grab your next carton or tub of the protein product, give these a look.

Unwanted, Unhealthy Weight Gain

The high calories in Muscle Milk could mean that you’re unwittingly adding unneeded caloric sources to your diet. Drinking Muscle Milk, then, could get in the way of weight loss or weight maintenance.

Kidney Damage

Ingredients like sodium phosphate and sodium hexametaphosphate may cause your kidneys some trouble in large quantities. This is important to consider in combination with the large amounts of protein in Muscle Milk: as excess protein is processed through the kidneys, and high-protein diets can be harmful to those with kidney issues.  If you have kidney concerns, make sure you take this into account.

Might Be An Allergen

Muscle Milk may trigger allergies to whey protein, casein protein – and even to cow’s milk. While the product is marketed as being suitable for people with lactose intolerances, the proteins that make up the drink are still all derived from cow’s milk and can trigger unfortunate side effects for the large number of people who can’t digest these properly. Muscle Milk may also be problematic for people with more specific whey protein and casein allergies.

Contains Cadmium, Lead, and Other Metals

Muscle Milk has been found, along with other protein supplements, to contain unsafe levels of cadmium, lead, and other harmful metals. Studies conducted on Muscle Milk found that it contained high levels per serving of cadmium, lead, mercury, and arsenic – metals which, of course, are poisonous in higher quantities. Drinking regular servings of Muscle Milk can cause unwanted ingestion of these and may lead to some pretty nasty side effects.

Is Muscle Milk Better With Milk or Water?

If you’re still sold on Muscle Milk and have some of their powder to hand, you might at this point be wondering what the best way forward is with it – and whether, given the ingredients already in Muscle Milk, it might be better to drink it with water instead of adding it to milk.

Both can have benefits and downsides. Mixing Muscle Milk with cow’s milk or another milk product will boost your calcium intake, as well as adding additional carbohydrates and fats – and protein! – to your serving. If you’re looking to increase exercise performance or boost your caloric intake, as well as add additional vitamins and minerals to your diet, this might be the way to go. This is a great option for people looking to build muscle or bulk up. It’s also creamier and may well taste nicer than plain old water.

However, as adding it to milk will add extra calories, if you’re looking for a leaner option, water might be your best choice. Also, Muscle Milk has carbohydrate and fat content already, so you’ll get a dose of each of these even when mixing it with water – as well as the vitamins and minerals added to the protein mix – and the only calories you’ll be getting are from the powder.

Bear in mind with water, though, that the taste may suffer. It’s also worth remembering that with all this talk about carbohydrates and fats, it’s easy to get scared away from them. But, they are good for us… it’s just about everything in moderation! Mixing it with milk will supply your body with carbs and fats that you may need, too.

So, we’d say:

If you’re looking to put on muscle or weight, and need an extra boost – mix with milk. For weight loss, or keeping it lean – mix with water.

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Alternatives to Muscle Milk

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Instead of drinking Muscle Milk for your protein and exercise needs, there are a few alternatives that you could consider.

The first one is – regular cow’s milk! If you don’t have lactose intolerance, whole or skim milk is a great choice if you’re trying to add additional protein or fat into your diet – and it’s largely free of all the stuff that they add into Muscle Milk and other protein products. If you’re looking to boost your fats, whole milk is the way to go. The slow absorption rate of milk, too, means it’ll leave you satisfied for longer after a workout. For vegan options, soy milk is an option that has a high protein content.

If you’re craving pure protein, though, there are loads of alternatives to Muscle Milk on the market, in drink or powder form, which could even be cheaper and have fewer additives. Whey protein products are readily available online or in stores, and other products like soy protein isolates and pea protein isolates offer vegan supplemental choices.

Just make sure, before you investigate any alternatives, to check the ingredients before you buy. If you’re avoiding Muscle Milk due to certain additives, you want to make sure that whatever you’re purchasing doesn’t have the same ones!

Conclusion

Muscle Milk may be a convenient choice for those looking to build their lean muscle or gain weight – but, for many people, the additional calories may mean that it’s an unhealthier choice than they may think.

Muscle Milk’s added ingredients also cause some concern; and the presence of harmful metals and ingredients that could cause kidney strain means that we would recommend trying to increase your protein intake from other whole food sources.

One thing’s for sure, though – its popularity isn’t decreasing, so be in the know next time you see a row of Muscle Milk bottles at your store!