A meal replacement shake is designed to provide you (almost) a full meal’s nutrition. There is no doubt that they are convenient and an effective way to grab a low-calorie, healthy meal while on the move. But do they help with weight loss?
A meal replacement shake helps with weight loss as it contains a lesser number of calories compared to an average meal – typically not more than 400 calories. Most meal replacement shakes contain protein, fiber, fat, and carbs in healthy and satiating amounts, reducing food cravings in the process.
A meal replacement shake certainly works for weight loss. However, to lose a healthy amount of weight with diet shakes, you need to understand how these shakes work. Keep reading to learn everything you should know about meal replacement shakes for weight loss and health in general.
How Do Meal Replacement Shakes Help with Weight Loss?
Meal replacement shakes are no magic bullets. In other words, they will not make you lose weight overnight. Do not expect to lose weight by sipping on these weight-loss shakes alone or without any effort from your side.
To learn about their effectiveness, you must know how they work. The following are the primary ways in which meal replacement shakes work.
Reduces Calorie Intake Feasibly
To lose weight, reducing calorie intake is essential. When your calorie intake is limited, your muscles’ fuel stores – called glycogen – start running low. Once this happens, your body shifts focus to its fat repositories and burns them for energy.
This process is called ketosis. Low-energy diets usually get recommended to people with obesity issues or people who must lose a significant amount of weight within a short time.
But doing low-calorie diets isn’t that easy, as hunger could then become a major problem. This is where diet replacement shakes enter. Meal replacement shakes are usually prescribed as they strike the right balance or ensure you consume fewer calories and also do not feel unfed.
Multiple studies (Meal Replacement Beverage Twice a Day in Overweight and Obese Adults) indicate that replacing a meal or two a day with a meal replacement shake could accelerate the weight loss journey.
In fact, a study found that individuals on a certain meal replacement plan lost more pounds in three months compared to participants on a reduced-calorie, food-based diet.
Also, fewer people on the meal replacement shake diet plan stuck to the diet than those on the solid food diet. Some studies found meal replacement shakes helping people with diabetes lose weight much more effectively and healthily.
Its High Protein Content Facilitates Weight Loss
Meal replacement shakes are available in various types. However, the ingredient commonly found across the different types is protein. Protein is a great macronutrient for weight loss.
A high-protein diet results in increased satiety, which ensures you eat lesser calories during the day.
According to a study (The effects of consuming frequent, higher protein meals on appetite and satiety during weight loss in overweight/obese men), men on a protein-rich diet exhibited lesser cravings and a decreased desire to binge-eat late in the evenings compared to those who consumed lesser protein.
The protein found in meal replacement shakes is typically sought from milk or soy.
However, more recent meal replacement shakes are moving away from the use of soy and using instead a mixture of rice protein, quinoa, flax, and pea protein.
High-protein diets are also linked with several other health benefits, which include:
- Lean body mass
- Less belly fat
- Decreased body fat
- Improved weight maintenance
In a study (A controlled trial of protein enrichment of meal replacements for weight reduction with retention of lean body mass) that compared high-carb meal replacement shakes and high-protein meal replacements, the weight loss difference between the two was pretty much zero.
However, the high-protein replacement meal group lost increased body fat. Moreover, their LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels came down too.
Kindly note more protein doesn’t always mean greater weight loss. Make sure you consume the correct amount of protein to lose weight and also maintain muscle.
If you go overboard with protein, the additional energy could completely negate your everyday calorie deficit. And if your protein consumption causes a calorie surplus, you could end up storing all those additional calories as fat.
Debunking Myths Attached to Meal Replacement Shakes
Several myths are surrounding weight-loss shakes. Let’s debunk some of the most common ones.
Meal Replacement Shakes are Too Complicated
A meal replacement shake is, in fact, the opposite or the simplest way to lose weight healthily.
Since these weight-loss shakes are portion- and calorie-controlled, following the meal replacement shake diet is a lot simpler than taking up diets wherein you have to calculate the calories each time you put anything into your mouth.
You’ll Be Limited to Bland, Repetitious Shakes
Meal replacement shakes owe a lot of their popularity to space travel and the astronauts who relied on meal-replacement diets to keep them afloat (quite literally). These meal replacement shakes have come a long way since then, both in terms of taste and variety.
They are no longer chalky-tasting and have multiple flavors to boot. The flavor options often include the following: chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, cookies and cream, mint, café latte, and many more.
Besides smoothies, meal replacement shakes are also available as soups, bars, and even prepackaged meals.
If you need a break from liquid food but do not want to break your diet, prepackaged meals could help you change things up without hampering your weight loss process.
Meal Replacement Shakes Aren’t Safe
A meal replacement shake is healthy and safe for consumption. The shakes comprise a mixture of ingredients – most are healthy, but some unhealthy.
However, they do not contain anything that deems them unsafe for human consumption, particularly if taken sensibly or under the guidance of a health professional.
Some people think that limiting solid food intake could cause headaches, fatigue, insomnia, diarrhea, or constipation.
These “side-effects” are minor problems that first-time dieters experience during the initial stages of dieting on pretty much any diet plan.
These are signs that your body is acclimatizing to your new way of eating. Once your body fine-tunes itself to the new and improved you, these “side effects” will go away.
As far as side effects linked with meal replacement shakes go, there is zero evidence that proves weight-loss shakes cause serious or more side effects than other forms of dieting.
Meal Replacement Shakes Keep You Feeling Hungry
As mentioned earlier, meal replacement shakes are formulated to pack in the maximum amount of protein and fiber one can pack into a liquid food.
The portions might look small, but the high protein and fiber content ensure you feel full longer and do not find the need to devour calorie-rich snacks in between meals.
Though you may end up snacking on unhealthy food, a meal replacement shake will never be the cause of indulgence.
Meal Replacement Shakes are Poor-Quality Diets
When people limit the quantity of food they consume, the lesser food portions can make it quite challenging to meet the recommended daily nutrition intake requirements needed for good health.
Meal replacement shakes, however, are not found guilty of causing nutritional deficiencies in their consumers. This is because these shakes are fortified with minerals and vitamins that meet or even exceed a healthy individual’s daily nutrient requirements.
Some Words of Caution
By now, it should be clear that meal replacement shakes do help with weight loss. The weight loss results achieved would vary between shakes since not all are made the same.
However, there are certain things you need to be mindful of when using meal replacement shakes for weight loss.
Don’t Do Meal Replacement Shakes Forever
Meal replacement shakes are great for weight loss, but make sure you don’t do them indefinitely or long-term.
You should certainly not cut out whole foods for meal replacement shakes. Look at diet shakes as some form of therapy. Therapies are meant to detoxify your body.
Regardless of how rejuvenating they are, you don’t do them forever. Similarly, don’t do meal replacement shakes for too long.
The severe calorie restrictions that come with meal replacement shakes could lead to unintended side effects, like sub-par intake of specific nutrients, decreased metabolism pace, and a feeling of disconnect with satiety or hunger signals.
Fiber helps boost satiety and could assist with weight management in the long term. A meal replacement shake can never compare to the fiber content of whole foods.
They Do Not Pack in All Nutrients
Eating whole foods and healthy meals will always be more beneficial to your health than drinking a shake.
Though meal replacement shakes contain macronutrients and several other nutrients, they often lack antioxidants, enzymes, and plant compounds which whole foods provide.
It’s difficult to put all those beneficial substances into a can or bottle. Even the fiber content in these shakes is hardly comparable to the fiber composition of actual foods such as vegetables, fruits, and legumes.
Also, as mentioned before, these shakes contain some unhealthy ingredients – such as added sugars, artificial flavors, corn syrup, and chemical preservatives.
Some weight-loss meal replacement shakes could contain more sugar than protein. It’s, therefore, important to read the product label before buying.
Liquid Foods and Solid Foods are Not the Same
The human body doesn’t react to liquids and solid foods the same way. In other words, the calories sourced from liquid food – such as meal replacement shakes – will not satisfy your hunger as the calories obtained from whole foods.
When you chew and swallow food, certain biological reactions are beneficial to the human body. And all of this counts when things come down to weight maintenance and general health.
Won’t Alter Your Unhealthy Eating Habits
A meal replacement shake won’t replace or change your bad eating habits. They just replace a meal or two. What you choose to eat for other meals or snack on are things meal replacement shakes do not determine.
If you continue eating junk food in large quantities while on a meal replacement shake diet, the shake won’t help you become healthier or lose weight.
Meal Replacement Shakes are Not for Everybody
Meal replacement shakes are low-energy diets. They cannot replace real food – particularly when it comes to food for kids, individuals with eating disorders, pregnant women, and those on medications such as insulin to address their rapid weight loss concerns.
These meal replacement shakes could also exacerbate certain mental health problems due to not eating real foods.
Why Can’t You Do Meal Replacement Shakes for Life?
It’s not impossible to do meal replacement shakes for life, but it’s simply not practical and also not advisable.
After a few months on meal replacement shakes, most people would start missing real food and the pleasure attached to its consumption, regardless of how effective the shakes are at helping them lose weight.
Meal replacement shakes are just not as fun or pleasure-filled as whole foods to keep doing them indefinitely.
Humans eat food, not just to survive, but also for the happiness and joy they derive from eating. This is why people dine out with friends and family at restaurants, host dinner parties at home during the holidays, or organize a buffet at a wedding reception.
If the act of eating food is not pleasurable or interesting, it could turn into a mundane activity, and people may probably not feel compelled enough to eat for survival as a result.
Also, if meal replacement shakes are done continually, the absence of joy and pleasure attached to food could result in dieters resorting to unhealthy food or eating copious amounts of unhealthy food for the pleasure aspect alone.
This is why it is important to strike the right balance between regular food and a meal replacement shake to maintain weight loss through dieting.
One meal replacement shake a day could keep the weight off and can also be used as a tool to refocus on weight if some pounds pile up after some time.
How Long Can You Do Weight-Loss Shakes?
So, the question arises, how long could you do diet shakes? Let’s assume you are losing weight healthily and safely with two weight-loss shakes, a couple of healthy snacks, and a fairly modest dinner a day.
According to experts, most people who primarily consume weight-loss beverages as their meals usually last on a diet for three months. They then switch to regular foods or replace a shake with solid foods to maintain their weight.
If you do meal replacement shakes for longer – like a year or two – they would cease to be more effective than other dieting forms that do not consist of meal replacement shakes.
If that’s the case, you might as well do solid food dieting instead of weight-loss shakes.
Also, if you are going to do meal replacement shakes for longer, do it under a health professional’s guidance.
People who do weight-loss shakes under the supervision of a medical professional are likely to lose a lot more weight compared to people who resort to just general dietary advice.
How to Pick the Right Weight Loss Replacement Shake for Your Goals
Diet replacement shakes can be easily found online, in local pharmacies, and the health food aisles of supermarkets.
However, not all shakes have the right formulation, or some could be particularly high in refined sugar, which would work against your weight loss efforts.
If shopping for a high-protein shake, look for ones with minimal sugar and more fiber. The ingredients list should contain items you are familiar with or can at least read.
Not falling for the branding and reading the ingredients label is the first step toward buying the ideal weight loss meal replacement shake.
The protein grams in your shake must always be greater than or at least on par with the number of carbohydrates you consume. Carbohydrates come in different forms and types. White sugar, for instance, is a carbohydrate.
As a general rule of thumb, your weight loss shake should have the following:
- Protein – 15 grams (at least) per serving
- Fiber – 3 grams or more per serving
- Sugar – 10 grams or less per serving
- No corn syrup, hydrogenated vegetable oils
- Vitamins and minerals – 33% Daily Value (at least)
As mentioned above, protein is a vital nutrient to look for in meal replacement shakes. Whey protein is commonly found in meal replacement shakes as it helps with helping you feel full.
If you would like a few product recommendations, check out the following:
Beachbody Shakeology shake – Shakeology is a premium health food shake that is nutrient dense with the following core ingredients: proteins, superfrutis & antioxidants, prebiotics & probiotics, adaptogens, supergreens & phytonutrients, vitamins & minerals.
Although having more than enough protein, fiber, and carbohydrates to be considered a meal replacement shake, it also has several other nutrient groups to benefit your overall health. It’s not just for weight loss. Order Shakeology Here
Orgain Organic Nutritional Shake – is a solid shake that’s organic and also flavor-rich. It’s a good basic meal replacement shake that tries to be as natural as possible and is already packaged and ready to go.
If you don’t like to buy packaged stuff or are extremely wary of added ingredients such as excess refined sugar, you can make your own shakes as well.
The following are the ingredients you’ll primarily need for your homemade meal replacement shakes:
- Milk (dairy, almond, soy, or any other kind)
- Whey protein powder
- Honey or any other natural sweetener
If you fancy weight-loss shake recipes, watch this video for four recipes:
Healthy Eating Tips and Tricks to Maintain Weight
Since weight-loss shakes aren’t sustainable in the long term and you need to keep that weight in check at all times, it’s recommended you focus your attention more toward healthy foods.
Here are a few important tips that will help you sustain weight loss without having to rely on meal replacement shakes.
Turn Your Focus Toward Whole Foods
Fiber-rich breakfast cereals could be almost as effective as meal replacement shakes for weight loss as fiber increases satiety. Fiber is found in abundance in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits.
Half of your plate should consist of vegetables, with the remaining plate filled with animal proteins and starches. Vegetables provide water and fiber, which help you stay full. Not to mention, they are also densely packed with a host of nutrients.
When you get off the meal replacement shake diet, putting back some weight almost immediately is normal as a significant amount of the weight loss during the diet may have been due to water loss.
So, if you put on weight within a few days after the dieting period, do not panic or blame your regular meals.
The best way to eat is by adopting food or eating habits that can be done long-term. Even more important is discovering sustainable behaviors that permit adaptation and flexibility.
Sticking to a strict or rigid diet fosters dieting behaviors and substitutes the inherent sense of trust you have in your body with something external, like a diet, a meal plan, or some ‘approved foods’ list.
Once you no longer depend on external cues to tell you how much and what to eat, you tap into your body’s innate wisdom, also referred to as intuitive eating.
Listening to your body and making food choices accordingly is a sustainable plan because you were born with it.
If you are sipping on meal replacement shakes longer than usual to lose weight, make sure you eat responsibly during other times.
You can do meal replacement shakes for lunch and dinner/breakfast and lunch and eat a healthy low-fat, sensible breakfast/dinner that requires minimal food preparation.
Diet shakes could help you sail through the day, but you will still not be able to escape the thought of calories and nutrients completely.
This is why even when diet shakes make up for two of the three important meals of the day, you need to be wary of what you eat during the other meal.
Most people on meal replacement shakes tend to lose track of their regular meal for the day, especially with their dinner. That’s because most people eat their dinner to relieve their work and other accumulated tension during the day.
Going overboard during dinner (and after that) could completely undo the good work done by meal replacement shakes.
An ideal dinner for those on a weight-loss shake diet would comprise:
- Cooked poultry, lean meat, or seafood (4 to 5 ounces or 114 to 142 grams)
- Sweet potato or medium-baked potato or half a cup of cooked pasta or rice
- A cup of boiled or cooked vegetables, such as cooked broccoli
Two meal replacement shakes, which usually won’t amount to more than 450 calories, could leave you feeling too hungry at times or may make it almost impossible to show restraint at dinner.
Therefore, it’s recommended you make a couple of mid meal snacks that are approximately 400 calories in total.
You can snack on some vegetables, salad, seeds, etc. if your total calorie intake is close to 800 calories before dinner, this way you will not feel ravenous at the dinner table.
Talking about snacks, do them based on your overall nutrient intake. For instance, if your protein consumption is less, snack on some nuts or a boiled egg.
You may also do deli turkey for dinner to compensate for your shake’s lower protein level. On the other hand, if your shakes have more protein and fewer carbs, snack on fruit.
Shakes can be a convenient, healthy option when you are too busy and cannot make lunch.
If you think hunger will still be an issue, opt for one shake instead of two shakes and eat regular food for the other two meals.
Earmark the solitary shake for the evening as eating less during late evenings is better than eating less during the active hours of the day. Also, eat a lot more healthier for breakfast and lunch since there is just one meal replacement shake at work.
Create a Proper Eating Plan
Some people like to structure things in their life, including the food they eat. If you are one of them, work with a dietitian to learn the ideal food for your body and weight loss goals.
Several health care experts typically recommend the 80/20 approach. For the 80 percent of your eating period, you must try to fill half of your plate with vegetables, and each of the remaining two quarters equally with healthy protein and whole grains.
For the remaining 20 percent, you could indulge, but do not go all out.
This eating approach throws out the mentality of eating everything or nothing at all and the tendency to restrict food intake and binge in cycles that most people fall prey to when trying to eat healthily throughout the day.
A meal replacement shake is a convenient and more practical way to lose weight, thanks to its calorie reduction and zero food preparation aspects.
Replacing a meal or two with a shake could help with weight loss. However, to ensure those lost pounds do not show their face again, a proper long-term diet plan is imperative.
A meal replacement shake can be part of the long-term plan but should only play a smaller role. Clean eating habits must play a bigger part.
A diet replacement shake helps with weight loss and can also come in quite handy if you are undernourished due to your tendency to miss a certain meal, like your breakfast.
Regardless of whether you take up meal replacement shakes for weight loss, to put on weight, or for any other reason, get in touch with a registered dietitian or your physician.
If your goal is weight loss, you should know that you cannot lose weight healthily and safely on weight-loss shakes alone. Incorporating a few other healthy strategies such as exercising, eating clean or not eating junk food, etc. are absolutely critical.
- Healthline: Can Meal Replacement Shakes Help You Lose Weight?
- Cheat Sheet: Do Meal Replacement Shakes Really Work?
- EatingWell: Do Weight-Loss Shakes Really Work?
- Inverse: Scientists Debunk Meal-Replacement Myths: Shakes, Diets, and Vitamins
- Web MD: Diet Shakes: Sipping to Slimness
- ABC News: The science of weight-loss shakes: How meal replacements work
- Verywell Fit: Calorie Deficit for Losing Weight