We’ve all heard of Muscle Milk, which probably brings to mind imagery of bulging biceps or a sweaty professional athlete like Shaquille O’Neal taking a big swig from the small carton. The product officially hit the market back in 2000 in powder form; today its well-known ready-to-drink beverages still hold their spot in the dairy case in most stores.
Maybe you know it as a protein drink or nutritional supplement, or maybe you’re just now realizing you have no idea what Muscle Milk actually is. We don’t blame you – the name itself can be misleading. In fact, the brand has been called out more than once over the years, through lawsuits and FDA warnings, for deceptive marketing.
What does “muscle milk” mean? It certainly implies that the drink supports your muscles or makes you strong, but what is it, exactly? Is it a specific type of milk? Is it milk that’s been fortified and supplemented? Is there even milk in it at all?
The short answer: muscle milk is not actually milk. If you want the long answer, keep reading to find out what muscle milk is actually made of, and what to be aware of if you drink it.
What is Muscle Milk made of?
As the brand defines it, Muscle Milk is a line of protein-containing products; while it comes in the form of various protein powder mixes, the ready-to-drink protein shakes are more often confused with milk because they’re drinkable. The products are intended for athletes and active people who are looking for exercise performance and recovery support.
Muscle Milk is not actually milk and can’t be characterized as such – it’s actually a water-based beverage. However, it does contain derivatives of milk in its ingredients: namely milk protein isolate, calcium caseinate, and sodium caseinate. Milk protein isolate is a concentrated blend of the two major proteins found in milk, whey and casein. Calcium caseinate and sodium caseinate are both nutritional supplements derived from the casein protein in milk.
Other ingredients include corn fiber, sunflower oil, and natural and artificial flavors, along with a long list of vitamins and minerals that the beverage is fortified with for added nutrition. Muscle Milk also contains several ingredients that are considered more questionable, such as sucralose (aka Splenda) and acesulfame potassium, which are artificial sweeteners, as well as additives like carrageenan which is believed to have potentially harmful side effects.
Muscle Milk shakes can contain anywhere from 20 grams to 40 grams of protein per beverage and varying amounts of carbs and fat, depending on the product. Most products are a good source of vitamins and minerals like calcium, fiber, vitamin A, and vitamin D.
What you should know about Muscle Milk
Most people drink Muscle Milk to add protein to their diets, build muscle, support athletic recovery, or help with weight management. Whether you already drink Muscle Milk or are interested in trying it, there are few things worth clearing up about the protein beverage since its packaging can cause confusion.
Muscle Milk is not milk, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s completely dairy-free. The drinks are often marketed as non-dairy protein shakes, but you’ll notice that bottles of Muscle Milk now include some fine print: “Contains no milk / includes milk proteins”. So if they don’t contain milk, but do contain milk proteins, are they actually dairy-free?
While Muscle Milk can legally make that claim, at the end of the day its main ingredients are milk derivatives. Since casein and whey can still trigger allergies in some people, Muscle Milk may not be safe for those with a milk allergy. This also means that Muscle Milk isn’t considered vegan-friendly.
Lastly, Muscle Milk markets itself as non-dairy and lactose-free because the fat and lactose found in cow’s milk has been removed from the milk proteins that the drinks contain. However, since these ingredients are still derivatives of milk, they are left with small amounts of lactose – so those that are severely lactose intolerant may still experience side effects.
Muscle milk is not milk, but it’s made up of the major proteins that are found in milk. Several of its main ingredients – milk protein isolate, calcium caseinate, and sodium caseinate – are all derivatives of milk. However, Muscle Milk is not considered a type of milk; it’s a protein shake or nutritional supplement beverage.
While the lactose and fat have been filtered from the milk proteins used in Muscle Milk and several products claim to be non-dairy, Muscle Milk cannot be considered 100% dairy-free because its main ingredients are derivatives of dairy milk.
Muscle Milk states that some of their products are safe for those with lactose intolerance, and it may be better tolerated by some. But since it’s not completely free of lactose and most likely contains certain levels of the milk sugar from its milk-derived proteins, it may not be suitable for those with more severe lactose intolerance.