Protein supplements are big business. One brand that has gotten a lot of attention lately is Muscle Milk, which is touted by some professional athletes. It’s available as a powder, ready-to-drink shake, and bar, which you’re supposed to consume before, during, or after a workout—or any time, really—to increase strength and speed recovery from exercise.
If you engage in endurance exercise or serious strength training, you do have slightly higher protein needs. But do you need a protein supplement, especially if you’re just a casual exerciser? And is Muscle Milk, in particular, any better than other products?
What’s in it?
A serving of Muscle Milk powder (two scoops, mixed in 10 to 12 ounces of water) has 300 calories, 32 grams of protein, 12 grams of fat (half saturated), 16 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of fiber, and an array of vitamins and minerals. A 14-ounce ready-to-drink shake has 220 to 240 calories, 25 grams of protein, 9 grams of fat (mostly unsaturated), and 10 to 14 grams of carbohydrates. The proteins are basically in the form of whey and casein (as found in milk), while the fats are medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) and sunflower/safflower and canola oils.
Whey and casein—special proteins?
Protein provides the amino acids needed to build and repair muscle tissue. A 2009 review in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition concluded that a combination of whey and casein protein, which have different digestion rates, produces “superior gains in muscle mass compared with a single protein source or blends of protein with similar digestion rates.”
Still, as this and other research also points out, consuming any type of protein stimulates muscle protein synthesis, and no one knows what an optimal protein blend really is. There is nothing magical about the proteins in Muscle Milk, despite the implications on its website.