This review article does head-to-head nutrient & product quality comparisons of two pairs of ready-to-drink protein shakes from Muscle Milk and Core Power.
The first pair sized up are their “regular” formulas, Core Power’s Performance vs. Muscle Milk’s Genuine.
And in the second comparison are the companies’ high-protein shake products, Core Power’s Elite vs. Muscle Milk’s Pro Series®.
Science resources included
As is my custom here on heydayDo, I will provide links to all of the relevant sports science & medical resources, clinical studies, and nutritional data used in this article.
What are we looking at?
To figure out which shake might be a better choice to include in our diet, I think it’s important to evaluate & compare these areas:
- Macronutrients (protein, carbs, fats)
- Sugar & sodium content
- Vitamin & mineral content
- Artificial &/or unwanted additives
- Protein source
So we’ll look at all of these factors while comparing the four protein shakes featured in this review.
Rise of the RTD protein shakes
It wasn’t all that long ago when an RTD (ready-to-drink) protein shake wasn’t a thing.
If you wanted a high-protein drink after a workout, you made one yourself: RTD shakes weren’t in the fridges of convenience stores or on grocery store shelves.
Before RTD shakes, there was Ensure
I’m just guessing, but I think somewhere along the line fitness supplement & beverage companies took a cue from pharmaceutical powerhouse Abbott Labs, who brought Ensure® to market in the early 1970s. (1)
Now understand, Ensure is no high-protein drink. (2)
A bottle of its Original recipe gives you just an egg & a half of protein in a corn starch & canola oil bath that has about the same amount of sugar as 3 ½ Krispy Kreme donuts. (3)
How to hype a supplement
But it was aggressively marketed as a ready-to-drink healthy nutritional supplement to doctors & hospitals, who in turn pushed it onto their patients. (4)
It sold like hotcakes, and the marketing model for RTD shakes was born:
- stuff it full of stuff, including vitamins & protein;
- paraphrase sports science lingo into catchy hype;
- have a great photoshoot. 😉
(Now they throw in a sweaty fitness model or well-known athlete swigging an RTD shake to “aid recovery”. Back then it was a smiling dude in a white lab coat with a stethoscope draped around his neck. I know, ’cause I was there…)
Evolution of health supplement marketing, 1970s vs. 2020s
RTD shakes are everywhere these days
A quick search on Amazon (“ready to drink protein shakes”) revealed dozens of companies selling pages’ worth of drinks marketed as either high-protein or meal replacement beverages:
Keep in mind the quality out there varies as widely as the product selection does, so being able to easily parse through Nutrition Facts labels is a handy skill to have.
Benefits of RTD protein shakes
I think the main thing that a ready-to-drink protein shake offers is convenience.
Whether you get them by the case from Costco, Amazon, Walmart — or pick one up at the store after your workout or whenever — you can just pop it open & protein up.
RTD shakes: easy way to get protein’s benefits
Adequate amounts of protein is one of the more important things you can do for yourself & your workout program. (22)
The benefits are numerous, and below I list a few of them.
Lose weight, keep muscle
Higher protein intake boosts your metabolism, which increases your calorie burn rate.
This not only helps with weight loss, but it also helps preserve your muscle during a weight loss program better than a low-protein diet can. (5)
Sends satiety signals
Protein can keep you feeling full for longer periods than carbs or fat can. (6)
#1 for muscle
Protein is the most effective macronutrient for building lean body weight. (7)
Core Power vs Muscle Milk review #1
OK, let’s compare their two regular formulas that come in 11 ounce sizes, Core Power’s Performance and Muscle Milk’s Genuine.
They’re both chocolate: I snagged a 12-pack of each at Walmart and went with my go-to flavor.
Buyer satisfaction ratings
Core Power Performance – 89%, 4.6⭐ 6,000+ online reviews
Muscle Milk Genuine – 87%, 4.5⭐ 5,800+ online reviews
For some reason, Core Power has two different Performance formulas on the market these days.
The nutrition info below is for their 11.5 oz. container that you see in my pics, since that’s what I bought for this review article.
Their other Performance recipe comes in a 14 oz. bottle and has a different nutritional profile.
Macronutrient comparison: Core Power vs. Muscle Milk
- Core Power has 50% more calories than MM
- Protein’s about the same
- Core Power has 4x the carbs
- CP has a boatload of sugar
- Fat’s about even
- MM’s sodium is a bit high for an 11 oz. drink
Here’s my breakdown of the percent of each macronutrient in these protein shakes.
I’m basing it on their calories, and using the standard approximate calories/gram for fat-carbs-protein of 9-4-4. (8)
(Since the FDA’s 9-4-4 guidance is only approximate, the numbers below don’t equal 100%. They’re both a little over 100% due to the fiber type in the Carbs.)
- Muscle Milk has a much higher protein content %
- Core Power is mostly carbs
- Most of those CP carbs are added sugar
Macronutrient bottom line:
As you can see, even though they have basically the same grams of protein they are quite different nutritionally.
Core Power Performance is almost half carbs, with 93% of them coming from added sugar.
Muscle Milk Genuine is almost ⅔ protein, with low carbs that are mostly fiber additives made from corn.
Muscle Milk’s sodium level should be noted by those who need to restrict their salt intake due to high blood pressure issues.
Here’s a pic of the ingredients in Core Power’s 11 oz. Performance protein shake:
Note: Core Power protein shakes are lactose-free, even though they use real low-fat milk.
This is due to the ultra-filtration process that Fairlife® — the makers of Core Power — use on all of their milk products. (10)
Below is a comparison from Fairlife’s website of their ultra-filtered milk compared to regular milk.
And here’s what’s in Muscle Milk’s Genuine protein shake.
Vitamins & minerals
Both companies have added Vitamins A & D to their shakes, and this fortification has been a common practice in the dairy industry for decades.
Vitamin D is added to prevent soft bones, and a synthetic vitamin A is put in low-fat milk or isolates to replace the vitamin A lost in the skimming process. (12)
And Muscle Milk goes further with more vitamin & mineral supplementation, adding vitamin C, potassium, phosphorus, & magnesium.
Any unwanted ingredients?
We each have our own standards regarding the different artificial food additives we’re willing to tolerate (or not) in processed products like these.
So I’ll just list the ingredients in each protein shake that some people prefer to avoid.
Core Power Performance
* Natural Flavors – since they’re not really natural (13)
* Carrageenan – a thickener made from seaweed that’s been linked to cancer & other health problems (14)
Muscle Milk Genuine
* Canola oil – it’s genetically modified, heavily processed, & linked to inflammation (15)
* Natural & Artificial Flavors – as mentioned above
* Carrageenan – as mentioned above
* Sucralose – artificial sweetener some nutrition experts say isn’t good for us**
* Acesulfame potassium – same issue as Sucralose, it too has some health experts questioning its safety**
** – I researched these two artificial sweeteners pretty deeply in my article Best Protein Powders Without Artificial Sweeteners. I can pass along that there isn’t much hard evidence proving that they’re the cause of the health problems they’re accused of.
Core Power only uses real low-fat milk for their milk protein.
As mentioned earlier, it is lactose-free milk thanks to their filtration process.
These are Muscle Milk’s protein sources:
They use no real milk in their Genuine protein shake — these are all hydrolyzed powders — and they say so on the bottle.
Note: Keep in mind that online prices change often, and it’s likely you’ll see numbers a little different from the ones I see today.
For this cost comparison, the 11.5 oz. Core Power Performance current price I used is here.
And Muscle Milk’s 11 oz. Genuine current price is here.
Fairly similar prices, tho’ Muscle Milk’s cheaper
As of today anyway, Core Power Performance is 6¢ cheaper (per ounce) than Muscle Milk Genuine, 15¢ vs. 21¢.
Note: Muscle Milk’s selling their Genuine in 14 oz. bottles, Core Power Performance is in 11.5 oz. bottles, which exaggerates their price difference per 12-pack.
But at the end of the day, Muscle Milk’s 25 grams of protein costs you about $3/bottle, while Core Power Performance’s 26 grams will run you $1.75/bottle.
1. My taste buds are very finicky and sensitive to artificial anything.
2. I believe we each have our own unique taste preferences.
3. My opinion on taste doesn’t matter much anyway.
(Reminder: I bought the chocolate-flavored for both.)
My biased taste buds find Core Power Performance to be a better tasting RTD shake than Muscle Milk’s.
I’m certain it’s caused by the artificial sweeteners sucralose & acesulfame potassium in Muscle Milk’s shake, since I know both of those artificial sweeteners bug my taste buds a little.
Well, plus the fact that Core Power Performance is stuffed full of sugar, and whose taste buds can resist sugar’s temptations? 😘
Core Power Performance vs. Muscle Milk Genuine
* They have the same amount of protein per serving & cost the same, but they’re not the same.
* While protein is almost ⅔ of Muscle Milk’s macros, it’s less than half in Core Power Performance.
* That’s because Core Power’s “high-protein shake” is actually almost 50% carbs, most of which is from added sugar.
* Muscle Milk Genuine uses more processed ingredients including artificial sweeteners, and its sodium content is on the high side.
* Irony of the day: Muscle Milk Genuine uses no real milk and yet is not lactose-free, while Core Power products use only real milk as their protein source and are lactose-free.
* Their buyer satisfaction ratings are identical.
Core Power Elite vs. Muscle Milk Pro review
Here we’ll compare the “next-level” versions of protein shakes from these two companies.
The main difference between Core Power & Muscle Milk’s regular formulas and these Elite & Pro Series formulas is the additional protein that’s been added.
Both Core Power Elite & Muscle Milk Pro Series have 60% more protein than their regular formulas, Performance & Genuine, respectively.
Buyer satisfaction ratings
Core Power Elite Chocolate – 94%, 4.7⭐ 12,000+ online reviews
Muscle Milk Pro Series Chocolate – 88%, 4.5⭐ 13,000+ online reviews
These are their Nutrition Facts panels side by side, with Core Power Elite on the left & Muscle Milk’s Pro Series on the right.
I bought the chocolate versions of each of these again.
Note: And I’m using Muscle Milk’s 40g of protein version of their Pro Series for this comparison, since they have two formulas of this out on the market — one with 32g of protein & this one with 40g.
My macros takeaways
- Both are definitely high protein drinks
- Their protein amounts are about the same
- Core Power has 20% more calories
- Carbs are about the same
- Their fats are about the same too
- MM Pro Series’ sodium is a little high again
Macronutrient bottom line:
These two “upgraded” RTD protein shakes are much more similar to each other than their regular formulas were.
The bigger differences are actually between their respective regular shakes and these (really) high protein drinks, as you’ll see below.
Core Power Elite vs. Performance
- Elite has big increase in protein, big drop in carbs
- Carb drop is from removing the sugar
- Elite is the real protein shake here
And here’s the same comparison between the two Muscle Milk RTD shakes.
Muscle Milk Pro Series vs. Genuine
- Big increase in protein raises it to 80% of macros
- Carbs are about the same
- Fat cut by more than half, likely from less milk fat
Here’s a pic of the ingredients in the Core Power Elite protein shake:
And here’s what’s in Muscle Milk’s Pro Series shake:
Vitamins & minerals
Once again we see Core Power & Muscle Milk fortify their RTD milk shakes with Vitamins A & D like most milk product makers do.
Note: On MM’s Pro ingredients label you won’t see “Vitamin D” written because they’re listing it under its chemical name, cholecalciferol.
And like they did with their Genuine formula, Muscle Milk supplements their protein drink with additional vitamins & minerals.
This time they went all out, putting in 20 different vitamins & minerals.
(You can tell which ones they added by looking at the Nutrition Facts panel – it’s all of the vitamins & minerals with Daily Values of 25% or more.)
Any unwanted ingredients?
For Elite, Core Power has the same two “not universally loved” ingredients that were in their Performance formula — Natural Flavors & carrageenan.
Plus they add two more since they’re using the artificial sweeteners sucralose & acesulfame potassium in Elite too.
Muscle Milk’s Pro Series has the same five potentially undesirable ingredients that were in their Genuine protein drink.
They’re the same four Core Power puts in Elite plus canola oil.
Core Power Elite
- 100% low-fat milk, just like their Performance drink we looked at earlier
Muscle Milk Pro Series
- The same 3 milk protein powders we saw in their Genuine formula
Core Power Elite’s current price is here.
Muscle Milk’s Pro Series’ current price is here.
Core Power Elite Chocolate & Muscle Milk’s Pro Series Knockout Chocolate have pretty similar prices as expected. Muscle Milk Pro is just a penny more per ounce, or 14¢ a bottle more.
Interesting that Core Power Elite is 2 bucks less per case, but each bottle has two more grams of protein in it than the Muscle Milk Pro, 42g vs. 40g.
I’ll call this one a draw, with advantage given to Core Power’s Elite RTD shake.
Real milk > processed powders
I think the reason Core Power’s Elite taste a little better to me is their use of 100% real milk for their protein source, compared to the 3 hydrolyzed milk protein powders in Muscle Milk.
Core Power’s Elite has none of the sugar that was in their regular version, so it doesn’t taste as good to my taste buds as that sugary milk concoction they call Performance.
The sugar was swapped out for the same two artificial sweeteners that Muscle Milk uses in both of their protein shakes featured here.
So there’s some taste similarity between Elite and MM’s Pro Series as a result.
Core Power Elite vs. Muscle Milk Pro Series
* These two upgraded high-protein shakes are similar in a bunch of ways, very similar.
* Both have:
- similar amounts of protein
- similar macronutrient balance
- similar artificial sweeteners
- similar cost
- roughly similar taste – slight edge to CP’s real milk
- similar battleship gray color on packaging
- similar buyer satisfaction ratings
Related protein articles here on heydayDo
I hope that my article Core Power vs Muscle Milk is useful to you, and I wish you well on your fitness journey.