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The Downside Of Muscle Milk RTD Shakes

I received an email over the weekend from a past client asking me about my opinion of the popular Muscle Milk ready-to-drink protein shakes.

There’s no question these shakes are among the top sellers due to their taste and excellent marketing by the manufacturer, CytoSport.

It doesn’t hurt either there’s a significant convenience factor with the pre-packaged shakes being ready to drink, no mixing or blending required.

However, before you run out and stock up on these shakes you’ll want to look at the big picture.

As always, there’s a trade off for convenience with processed food and drink. In today’s post we’ll dig into the ingredients and composition of the Muscle Milk RTD shakes, then you can be the judge for yourself.

More after the jump…

What this is NOT…

Let me preface this discussion by stating this isn’t a disguised sales pitch for some other competitive product. Nor is it a purposeful bash on Muscle Milk RTD shakes due to some hidden bias or agenda.

My objective when reviewing products is to look at all sides in an objective manner and simply present the pros and cons for others to make their own decisions. It’s all about cutting through the hype and marketing to getting down to brass tacks.

Sure, I’ll often make my own recommendations based on personal experience and knowledge gained from research over the past twenty years, but never-the-less it will still be my opinion.

While the purpose of this blog is to share my beliefs and opinions, I certainly respect opposing viewpoints and welcome the dialogue.

As you can tell from the title of this post, I’m not a proponent of the Muscle Milk RTD shakes and I’ll give you all my reasons why.

This isn’t to say the shakes are bad, harmful, or that it’s impossible to have the body you want while incorporating them into your diet.

It’s more about presenting a case there are better options. Let’s be honest…a lot of this talk is splitting hairs anyways since the bulk of your results will come down to how supportive your diet is to building muscle and burning fat (from natural foods) and what you’re doing in the gym.

Invariably, there will be someone who shoots back, “hey I use these shakes and I’m ripped with 8% body fat.” I don’t doubt that for a minute, but it won’t be BECAUSE of the shakes or any protein supplement for that matter.

Ok, you get the point, let’s move on to taking a closer look at the product.

See the screen capture below I pulled from CytoSports website on the ingredients list of the 17oz Muscle Milk RTD Chocolate Shake:

Calories: 160 per serving – 320 per container

Calories from fat: 70 – 150 per container

Total fat- 8 grams- 16 per container

Total carbs- 8 grams- 17 per container

Dietary fiber- 1 gram- 2 g per container

Sodium- 250mg- 540mg per container

Sugars- 2 grams- 4 grams per container

Protein- 16 grams- 34 grams per container

The FIRST thing that caught my attention is the serving size. The nutritional profile is shown per 8 oz serving, with two servings per container. Now in all fairness, CytoSport did at least show the totals per 17oz container as well.

This is more than can be said for most manufacturers, as it’s an old trick to break up the serving sizes to make the nutrition profile look better.

The point is most people will drink the entire container and not attempt to seal it back up and finish the other half later. Sure some will, but most will drink the whole container.

I’m not going to spend too much time pointing out the carb totals as that’s neither good nor bad. It depends on your unique needs and goals whether or not 17 grams of carbs is acceptable.

We’ll get into the protein totals in a minute. The two biggest areas I want to draw your attention to are the fat and sodium lines.

Fat content

A 17 oz serving of Muscle Milk RTD shakes contains approximately 16 grams of fat. It’s almost half of the total caloric content. Not that fat is bad, let’s not go down that road, but if you were to drink two of these shakes a day (one mid-morning and one mid-afternoon), you’d consume over 30 grams of fat just from the shakes.

That doesn’t leave much room for essential fatty acids like Omega-3′s and fat from natural food sources. A small amount of fat in a protein shake used for meal replacement/snack purposes is a good thing, but you’ll be better off consuming the bulk of dietary fat in whole foods and Omega-3 supplements like fish oil.

Yes, it’s true fat in the diet can help to burn body fat under the right conditions, but this is when blood glucose and glycogen levels are depleted. The combination of 16grams of fat and 17 grams of carbs is far from being an optimal ratio to trigger lipolysis (fat burning).

Regardless of whether or not you choose to use these shakes, I will make one definite recommendation. Back when I used to go to a local health club I’d see people drinking these shakes post-workout for recovery. Bad idea.

This is the one time I’d DEFINITELY not use these shakes due to the fat content…

Post workout you want fast-assimilating whey protein which can be sent to the cells quickly. First off these shakes are low in whey content to begin with, and furthermore the fat content and milk based protein result in slow release and assimilation.

Sodium Content

The sodium content in these shakes is relatively high, no surprises since it’s a processed drink and invariably it needs sodium content as a preservative agent. However, just know you’ll be taking in over 540mg of sodium with each shake. Drink two of these a day and you’ll already be at half the recommend sodium intake for the day.

Ingredients List

Here are the ingredients listed on the package:

Water, Calcium and Sodium Caseinate, Milk Protein Isolate, Blend of Vegetable Oils (Sunflower and Canola Oil), Cocoa Powder, Medium Chain Triglycerides, Maltodextrin, Fructose, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Potassium Citrate, Whey, Vitamin Mineral Blend, Cellulose Gum, Soy Lecithin, Sodium Hexametaphosphate, Monosodium Phosphate, Potassium Chloride, Acesulfame Potassium, Salt, Carrageenan, Sucralose.

Instead of dissecting each ingredient, let’s look at some of the most important factors here.

Protein content

As you can see the bulk of the protein in this shake is made from Calcium and Sodium Caseinate, followed next by Milk Protein Isolate. Not to get into an entire protein debate, let’s just say that it’s pretty widely accepted that Calcium and Sodium Casienate are NOT your optimal sources of high quality protein.

Whey protein is all the way down in the ingredients list and we’re not sure which type of whey protein is even used. There are big differences in the processing of whey and the end product.

I can only speculate on why the cheaper and lower quality proteins from Calcium and Sodium Caseinate are used as the bulk ingredients. My hunch is it has something to do with shelf-life. Let’s just say you don’t see containers of Calcium and Sodium Caseinate for sale at your local GNC for a reason. These forms of protein are typically used in processed food and drink.

Once again this isn’t necessarily bad, it is what it is. You’re getting a processed drink in a ready to consume container that has to sit on a shelf for who knows how long. This is going to come with trade off’s, I don’t care how you cut it.

You just want to look at the bigger picture when browsing a product label and saying to yourself, “Wow, it’s got 34 grams of protein.”

Ok, but what kind of protein is it, what quality is it, and how well will I assimilate the amino acids from the protein into my cells?

Bottom line…

The biggest downside of this product can’t be changed because it’s the very nature of what it is.

A processed and refined shake made ready to drink.

I believe the two biggest draws for this product are the taste (yes, I’ve tried them and they do taste really good), and the convenience factor.

In today’s protein powder/ shake industry those are two very smart marketing edges to go after. Not hating on CytoSport, hey this is good business on their part.

The question becomes, are they worth the investment and are there better alternatives for you the consumer?

Here’s the thing, if I’m traveling and going through airports, I’ll always choose a Muscle Milk RTD Shake over fast food or a convenience store snack.

But for my day-day routines, I think there are much better alternatives. Blending up you own shakes from high quality protein powders in the morning and carrying them in a small bag cooler with you to work or the gym is an option.

This gives you the ability to blend in your own ingredients like fiber, flax seed meal, probiotics, etc. Plus you can cut down on all the preservatives and artificial ingredients.

Let’s face it….something blended only hours or minutes before made from better starting ingredients is going to always trump something made in bulk quantities in a manufacturing plant and placed on a shelf for possibly months before you drink it.

Yeah, I know the convenience factor. But let’s just be honest, there’s a trade off here like we discussed.

Eating whole natural foods like a chicken breast or soft boiled eggs isn’t always a snack option for people on the go. I’ll be the first to admit this, which is exactly why I’ve packed two shakes in a cooler and taken them with me to work for as long as I can remember.

I know I’m never “too busy” to take 30 seconds and down a protein shake. The key thing is preparation. If I didn’t have my shakes already made up I might be eyeballing that snack machine like the next guy.

Of course you can always pack your own whole food snacks from raw vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, eggs, tuna fish, greek yogurt, and the list goes on.

The point is, yes, you’ll have to make a commitment to preparation and carrying a small cooler to work, but in the end it will be worth it.

The better the food and drink going in (the LEAST processed), the better the end result for your body.

For what it’s worth, I don’t see enough upside solely out of taste and convenience to choose Muscle Milk RTD Shakes for my snack options.

Is it better than some other processed shakes and other foods? Yeah, there’s an argument to be made with that. But then again, I don’t want to get into the debate of picking the “best of” processed products.

If you’re using these shakes and they’re working for you, far be it from me to tell you to quit.

I simply think we’re all better off to keep progressing towards reducing the amount of processed food and drink in our diets.

In my opinion there are better options for snacks and shakes that can provide higher quality nutrition. I’ll continue to endorse those options to my clients, albeit they also involve teaching a commitment to preparation.

In the end that’s probably the best lesson I can teach anyways.

What say you?

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Personal Training Studios. He specializes in helping people achieve a body transformation with burst training exercise and whole food nutrition. You can receive a FREE no-obligations trial of his Charleston personal fitness programs and start experiencing the Shaping Concepts difference today.

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Category: Supplements.