Muscle Milk is one of the most popular sports nutrition brands in the US. It’s sold at Walmart, CVS and many other large retailers, and the brand suggests that their products can “help rebuild muscle after exercise.”
But does Muscle Milk contain an effective protein dose for building muscle? What’s actually in Muscle Milk beyond milk, and is it good for you or unhealthy? Does Muscle Milk contain any questionable additives? And how does it compare to other popular ready-to-drink protein shakes like Premier Protein?
In this article we’ll answer all of these questions and more as we analyze the ingredients in Muscle Milk based on medical studies to give our take on whether or not it’s good for you.
We’ll compare Muscle Milk to Premier Protein and pick our winner, and share our thoughts on why drinking regular milk may be a better option than drinking Muscle Milk.
The ingredients in Muscle Milk Genuine Protein Shake Cookies ‘n Crème flavor are shown above.
One serving provides 25 grams (g) of protein, which is an effective dose for building muscle according to a 2013 clinical trial.
If the only ingredients in this protein shake were water and milk protein, we would consider recommending it. However, there are a number of additive ingredients that may be questionable from a health perspective.
Natural and artificial flavors is listed on the ingredient label, and artificial flavors may have toxic effects according to a clinical trial published in the Brazilian Journal of Biology.
Sucralose is an artificial sweetener that’s clinically shown to have negative effects on insulin function, as we discussed in our article on is Propel Water good for you.
Acesulfame potassium is another artificial sweetener that was found to worsen intestinal function in a 2021 clinical trial.
Potassium phosphate and sodium polyphosphates are food stabilizers and preservatives, and a 2012 medical review on phosphate additives in food concluded the following:
“...the public should be informed that added phosphate is damaging to health.”
The researchers in the above-linked trial found that individuals with high-normal phosphate levels in their blood were more likely to die, and more likely to experience cardiovascular events than those with lower levels.
Overall, we do not consider Muscle Milk to be good for you in light of the inactive ingredients highlighted above.
Nearly anything approved for sale as a food product in the US is acceptable in moderation, but we don’t see the purpose in consuming a food product with so many additives when the same protein dose can be achieved without all of the additives.
But how does Muscle Milk stack up to Premier Protein? We’ll compare the two brands in the next section of this article.
Muscle Milk vs. Premier Protein
Premier Protein is another highly popular ready-to-drink protein shake. It has a very similar formulation to Muscle Milk.
As we documented in our review of Premier Protein Shakes, that brand also uses flavoring additives, phosphate additives and artificial sweeteners.
In fact, the only relevant difference from a nutritional perspective is that Premier Protein has a large blend of vitamin and mineral additives and Muscle Milk only has two (vitamin D and vitamin A).
We consider Muscle Milk to be slightly healthier than Premier Protein Shakes, because regular consumption of fortified protein shakes may cause vitamin overdose, as documented by the CBC.
Getting vitamins and minerals from whole foods seems to be the best choice from a nutritional perspective.
But what’s the healthiest Muscle Milk product? We’ll discuss that in the next section.
What’s the Healthiest Muscle Milk Product?
Muscle Milk sells a wide range of products beyond just ready-to-drink shakes.
Their powders are a much healthier option than their drinkable shakes in our opinion.
As shown below, the only ingredient in the unflavored 100% whey protein powder sold by Muscle Milk is whey protein:
This protein powder is also NSF Certified for Sport, which is a third-party certification that ensures it’s accurately labeled and free of banned substances.
We don’t currently recommend this protein powder because the brand doesn’t clarify whether it’s sourced from pastured animals or conventionally-raised animals (and animal products from pastured animals are clinically shown to be more nutritious, although this matters less for a “processed” food product like whey protein).
We consider Muscle Milk’s unflavored 100% whey protein to be much healthier than the Cookies ‘n Crème shake, and consider it to be healthier than most protein shakes on the market given its lack of unhealthy additives and third-party certification.
For consumers intent on purchasing from Muscle Milk, this is the product we’d recommend.
Muscle Milk Sued over Protein Content
In 2020, Muscle Milk was sued over allegations of false advertising.
The company overstated the protein content of some of their products according to Top Class Actions.
The above-linked article also suggests that Muscle Milk claimed their products contained l-glutamine, while none was found in independent testing.
This lawsuit was settled at the time of publishing this article, and Muscle Milk’s manufacturer agreed to pay $12 million.
We find this information to be highly concerning given that the protein dose is one of the most important criteria when consumers are choosing a protein supplement.
Our Clean Protein Picks
Bulletproof Collagen Protein is our top overall protein powder pick, and costs only $1.32 per serving at the time of updating this article.
The main reason is its formulation: Bulletproof's protein powder only contains one single ingredient: collagen protein sourced from grass-fed animals.
As the core structural protein in skin, supplemental collagen is clinically shown to reduce visible signs of skin aging like wrinkles, which is a secondary benefit not offered by other types of protein like whey protein.
Promix Whey Protein is our top whey protein powder, and costs only $0.93 per serving at the time of updating this article when you purchase the 5 pound bag.
This brand uses grass-fed whey protein and no sweeteners or flavoring additives. Whey protein is a "complete" protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids.
Complement Organic Protein is our top vegan protein powder.
The only ingredients in this protein powder are a blend of nutritious plant proteins: organic yellow pea protein, organic pumpkin seed protein, organic almond protein, organic sunflower seed protein and organic chia seed protein.
All three of the products mentioned in this section are entirely free of additive ingredients that we consider to be unhealthy or unsafe.