For many people on a weight loss program, whipping up a smoothie is the easiest way to come up with a healthy and complete meal. However, your standard smoothie might not contain enough fiber, protein, fat, vitamins, or minerals to make a real filling meal. What’s more, it might not sustain you till the next meal.
The best shakes for weight loss are meal replacement shakes as they provide several nutrients to replace a healthy meal. While protein shakes are also low in calories, it’s designed to be high in protein to help build and repair your muscles. Thus, both shakes provide a different purpose.
This article will give you the lowdown on what meal replacements and protein shakes are all about and whether they can help you lose weight. Read on to discover ways to make your shakes work for you, what to look out for when buying these high-protein products, and what to avoid.
What Are Meal Replacement or Protein Shakes?
Many people think that meal replacements and protein shakes are the same. Others confuse the two and use either one or the other, hoping to achieve the same purpose – weight loss.
Though seemingly alike, choosing the wrong product can put your weight loss efforts on a stand still. Besides, it can lead to a weight loss plateau or, worse, nutrient deficiencies.
The Differences Between Meal Replacement Shakes and Protein Shakes
Meal replacements and protein shakes are two different products – however, it’s possible to transform your protein shake into a meal replacement shake.
Meal Replacement Shakes
Meal replacements are the second best thing to a full meal. They are flavorful, can offer several other health benefits, and are nutrient-dense diets that typically replace one or two of your meals each day. They are also available in various formats, including protein powders or pre-measured mixes.
Meal replacements are designed for weight loss or its management. Hence, they are low-calorie and full of the essential nutrients needed for a complete meal. These nutrients include vitamins and minerals, proteins, fiber, carbohydrates, and fat.
Most meal replacement shakes contain between 200 and 400 calories per serving. As mentioned, they come as prepared mixes in a can, as meal bars, or in powder form – for mixing with water or milk. They thus provide a quick and convenient way to access a healthy, low-calorie meal while on the move.
Meal replacement shakes also offer more carbohydrates, fiber, and calories per serving than protein shakes though their protein level is normally lower than protein shakes.
Protein shakes provide your body with high-quality protein that is helpful in post-workout recovery. They are low in calories and also help to increase the amount of protein you consume every day.
Protein drinks lack carbohydrates and fats (most have less than 5 grams (0.05 kg) of carbohydrates) and no extra vitamins and minerals except those found in the protein source.
Therefore, they don’t have all the nutrients your body needs in a complete meal. Simply put, they are not meant to replace a meal.
However, they are excellent for providing fuel prior to or after your grueling workouts, as well as toning and repairing your muscles.
So, in a nutshell, meal replacements and protein shakes differ in their nutritional constitution. They are also designed for different goals; meal replacements assist in weight control, while protein shakes are mainly for athletic performance and building muscles.
Now, let’s find out whether these shakes can help you lose weight and if so, how.
They Are Low in Calories
Replacing your everyday meals with meal replacement or protein shakes can help you reduce your weight. This is because they are low in calories, and taking them lowers your daily calorie intake. They also make it easier to track your daily calorie intake, thus encouraging you to adhere to your diet.
Besides, the additional protein helps your body build and maintain muscle mass, allowing it to burn more calories, unlike a body with fatter content.
They Help Boost Your Protein Intake
Meal replacement or protein shakes provide you with an excellent way to reach your recommended 30 grams (0.03 kg) of protein per meal. One great benefit of a high-protein diet is that it helps boost weight loss.
How does this work?
You see, protein is necessary for you to feel full for longer. This feeling of satiety helps you consume fewer calories during the day. You also get fewer food cravings plus a reduced desire for those late-night snacks you’d normally indulge in.
Other positive outcomes of a high-protein diet include:
- More lean body mass
- Less body fat
- Reduced belly fat
- Better weight maintenance
- Provision of additional vitamins and minerals such as B-complex vitamins, iron, magnesium, and zinc
They Help You Avoid Unwholesome Meals
Since they are portable, meal replacements or protein shakes make convenient meals on the go. They also help you refrain from giving in to the temptation posed by unhealthy fast foods.
This tends to happen when you are short of time or feeling stressed, and the allure of fast food is much harder to resist.
Eating processed foods can derail your weight loss efforts since they are loaded with sugar, salt, refined carbohydrates, artificial ingredients, and most lack valuable nutrients. Meal replacement shakes thus provide you with a healthier alternative that’s easy to drink.
They Provide Nutrients Lacking in Your Diet
Meal replacement shakes specifically are formulated to include all the nutrients you need in a complete meal.
As a result, manufacturers fortify them with nutrients that fill any nutritional gaps that might result from you cutting back on your usual calories. These include protein, fiber, and essential vitamins and minerals such as calcium, iron, and vitamin D.
They Could Speed Up Your Weight Loss
The easiest way to shed unwanted weight is to achieve a calorie deficit, which translates to consuming fewer calories than you burn.
While calorie reduction is the path to sustained weight loss, a low-calorie diet is not easy to maintain. This is because you might get hungry in between your meals and end up eating unhealthy snacks. However, with meal replacement or protein shakes, you feel full even as you consume fewer calories.
Most meal replacement formulations boast an optimal protein blend that balances both slow and fast release proteins. This mixture, combined with the extra fiber, works to keep you feeling full and satiated.
A study comparing meal replacements with a structured weight-reduction diet – in overweight individuals – concluded that the shakes are as effective as traditional weight loss diets. The good news is; meal replacement shakes might also help you maintain your new weight once you achieve the desired body mass.
They Are Convenient to Use
Meal replacements and protein shakes are simple and very convenient to use. You can take them anytime and anywhere – in your car, as you work, or while walking. They also fit easily into your daily schedule and complement any diet plan.
They are also available in many flavors so you can choose whatever suits your taste.
All the same, there are instances when meal replacement or protein shakes might not support your weight loss goals. Let’s find out more about this in the next section.
Why Meal Replacement or Protein Shakes Might Not Work for You
They May Contain Lots of Added Sugars
Meal replacement shakes could make it difficult for you to lose weight since they contain lots of sugar and hidden calories. The American Heart Association (AHA) advocates for 36 grams (0.03 kg) of sugar per day (for men), and 25 grams (0.025 kg) for women. But some of these products have up to 20 grams (0.02 kg).
The solution is to ensure that you check the product before purchase and confirm it has minimal sugar levels. Alternatively, make your shake at home using healthy ingredients. You can also prepare a home-made protein shake by mixing a soy-based or whey protein powder with liquids such as water or milk.
Other unhealthy additives in your meal replacement or protein shakes include corn syrup, artificial flavors, and preservatives.
You Could Miss Out on Whole Food Nutrients
Over-reliance on meal replacement shakes by substituting them for regular meals could also translate to you missing out on nutrients from whole foods. This is because it’s not easy to get every nutrient your body needs from one food source.
In addition, meal replacement components and nutrient blends can differ widely with varying quantities of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Therefore, it’s important to ensure that you consider a whole, nutrient-dense food as your first option.
The Dangers of Overconsumption
Protein shakes will not magically create muscles for you. Instead, they provide you with a convenient source for quality nutrition when a full meal is not a viable option.
Still, protein contains calories, and overconsuming protein shakes can make your weight loss journey much harder. This is especially true if you take protein shakes as well as your usual diet, but fail to exercise.
In general, eating too many calories – no matter the source – leads to weight gain. Given that weight loss is your goal, the key is to take in the right calorie amount. Thus, to determine your protein needs, use your body weight and activity levels as your basic guide.
Meal Replacement or Protein Shakes May Not Work for the Long-Term
Ultimately, meal replacement or protein shakes may not be a sustainable solution in the long- term. As much as they provide valuable vitamins and minerals, they cannot take the place of a diet full of wholesome foods.
Besides, whole foods also boast antioxidants, plant enzymes, and compounds that are not easy to pack in a bottle. Moreover, the amount of fiber they contain is far less than what you’d find in unprocessed vegetables and fruits.
It’s worth noting that effective weight loss calls for a change in your lifestyle. This includes putting a stop to unhealthy eating habits; otherwise, your efforts to use meal replacement or protein shakes won’t be worth much. Furthermore, you will regain any lost weight once you resume a regular diet.
Finally, dining is a social affair. Drinking your meals removes the social aspect of having meals with friends and family and isolates you from others.
Are Meal Replacements or Protein Shakes Healthy for You?
According to The European Union Commission Regulation, substituting two main meals of an energy-restricted diet every day with meal replacements aids in weight reduction. Also, replacing one of the main meals with such products daily can help you maintain your weight long after your weight loss journey is complete.
Plant-based protein and dietary fiber contribute to a feeling of satiety. This is because proteins take much longer to digest than other nutrients, while fiber fills you up. Fiber also helps to slow down the passage of food through your stomach. Besides, pushing this food through your digestive system calls for plenty of water, thus making you feel less hungry.
On the same note, your body cells require protein for optimum functioning since it is necessary for muscle, skin, and bone growth and repair. This makes the nutrient indispensable, and low levels could result in a sluggish metabolism, muscle loss, and slow recovery. What’s more, slow metabolism is detrimental to your weight loss goals since it might weaken your efforts.
Still, it’s important to mention that nutritional supplements have few regulations. Also, some products could bear misleading information meant to market their products as safe and effective.
Furthermore, some meal replacement shakes may contain inadequate calories and leave you feeling hungry, while others may have more calories than you need. They could also come with additives that make them tasty but not necessarily healthy or nutritious.
Hence, only buy your shakes from reputable brands and check online reviews to see what others are saying about the products.
When Should You Take Meal Replacement or Protein Shakes?
On average, an adult needs 46-56 grams (0.046-0.056 kgs) of protein every day as per the 2015–2020 American Dietary Guidelines. As such, if you are already eating a healthy diet, it’s not necessary to look for additional protein through meal replacement or protein shakes.
Besides, you can meet your daily protein needs by including healthy protein foods like eggs, chicken, and fish in your meals and snacks. Such protein-rich foods are also rich in essential nutrients like thiamin, calcium, iron, and niacin.
Still, you can opt for extra protein from meal replacements or protein shakes if you:
- Feel hungry after a vigorous workout but before your next mealtime is due.
- Have little time, like the convenience offered, and want to avoid eating fast food.
- Include daily exercise as part of your weight loss plan and need more protein in your diet.
- Can maintain a liquid diet for a given period.
- Have the willpower to stick it through.
Make a point to consult with your health care provider before taking meal replacement or protein shakes to ensure that you don’t miss out on essential nutrients.
Let’s now move on to discuss what makes a great shake.
How to Choose a High-Quality Meal Replacement or Protein Shake
Given the numerous brands of meal replacement or protein shakes available in the market, choosing an ideal product to use for weight loss is not exactly easy. It’s also worth noting that your choice matters a great deal and affects the success of your weight loss program.
The thing is – some protein powders pack more calories than others; hence, it might not be that weightloss-friendly. Therefore, the best protein powders to use in your weight loss shake are low-calorie powders. Some popular options include whey, soy, casein, and pea protein powders.
Below are some useful suggestions on what to look for in your meal replacement or protein shake. They will also help make your search much easier and less overwhelming.
- Go for a minimum of 25 grams of protein and as few ingredients as possible.
- Opt for shakes that provide dietary fiber or add fresh fruit.
- Check the label for red-flag ingredients like hydrogenated vegetable oils.
- Avoid products with artificial flavors, dyes, or coloring.
- Choose a protein source that gives your meal replacement shake a full amino acid profile, such as whey.
Is a Meal Replacement or Protein Shake Right for You?
This largely depends on your reason for needing a shake.
If you’re looking to lose weight, then you’ll want a meal replacement shake because it offers as much nutrients as wholesome meal. However, you’ll be losing weight because you will be digesting less calories.
If you’re looking to build muscle or need to repair muscles after strength training exercises, a protein shake would be best for you. A protein shake can also be beefed up with additional healthy ingredients to be more nutritious. However, a meal replacement shake will still be a healthier choice to replace a meal.
The Bottom Line
A successful weight loss plan depends on nutritious, healthy meals and snacks. Meal replacement or protein shakes, while generally healthy, cannot replace an actual meal adequately.
Thus, the only way to lose weight for the long-term is to ensure that you burn way more calories than you consume. Next, eat healthy foods, which include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. Finally, incorporate physical activity and adequate sleep as part of your daily routine.
Protein shakes help supplement your meals to help with muscle recovery while meal replacement shakes replace your meals. In other words, use meal replacements to help you lose and maintain weight and protein shakes to build lean muscle tissues and repair them after intense workouts.
Our Top Recommended Meal Replacement Shakes
|Shakeology is our most recommended meal replacement shake because it's a nutrient dense shake that includes:
Thus, making it perfect for weight loss, increased energy, digestive health, reduced cravings, and overall better health.
Plus, Shakeology has stood the test of time as it has been around since 2009 without compromising its whole food ingredients. Instead, Shakeology has improved their flavors in taste and potency, and has even added vegan and gluten free options.
|Ample Meal is an interesting meal replacement as it focuses more on healthy fats. Ample Meal includes:
With Ample Meal, you can get a nice fulling 400 calorie meal with 2 scoops or do a single scoop of 200 calories if your goal is weight loss. Similar to Shakeology, it’s free of all the artificial junk that most meal replacement shakes have today.
|MacroMeal is another interesting meal replacement shake as it contains a blend of fast, medium, and slow digesting protein that delivers sustained energy. MacoMeal also includes the following core ingredients:
Although not technically a meal replacement as it’s low in carbohydrates, people have found it to be filling because of the MCT oils and slow digesting proteins.
- Ideal Fit: How to Use Protein Powder As a Meal Replacement Shake
- Mayo Clinic: Protein Shakes: Good for Weight Loss?
- Verywell Fit: How to Lose Weight With Protein Shakes
- Medical News Today: Protein Shake Diet for Weight Loss: Meal Plans and Side Effects
- Healthline: Can Meal Replacement Shakes Help You Lose Weight?
- Gov: Appendix 7. Nutritional Goals for Age-Sex Groups Based on Dietary Reference Intakes and Dietary Guidelines Recommendations
- Pubmed: Losing Weight Without Dieting.Use of Commercial Foods As Meal Replacements
- Academic-Oup: Meal Replacements are As Effective As Structured Weight-Loss Diets
- NCBI: Efficacy of a Meal Replacement Diet Plan Compared to a Food-based Diet Plan
- EFSA-Online Library: Statement on The Conditions of Use for Health Claims Related to Meal Replacements for Weight Loss
- Heart: How Much Sugar Is Too Much?