Meal Replacement vs Protein Shakes – What Is The Difference?

(Last Updated On: December 9, 2018)

The health and wellness industry is flooded with tons of products that are supposed to help you get rid of those stubborn pounds. The main staple is typically the latest diet or a weight loss product like meal replacement shakes or protein shakes.

In today’s article, we will discuss the concept of meal replacements and protein shakes. We will talk about what each of these products is and what they are used for and also talk about how they are different from one another since it is very easy to get confused between the two.

Meal Replacement

Meal replacements are, as the name suggests, anything that can be consumed instead of a full-blown meal. They contain fewer calories and more nutrients than a normal meal. Meal replacements can be food items like meal replacement bars, or soups or even meal replacement shakes. These are basically substitutions for food.

In the U.S, the Food and Drug Administration’s rules are not used to define meal replacement. They are marketed as calorie controlling food items and beverages. Meal replacements are generally categorized by the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as food items or beverages or even powders containing a known energy and a macronutrient that helps to eradicate unhealthy food choices leading to various problems or complex meal planning while also providing the consumer with a 500 to 1,000 energy deficit.

Initially, these meal replacements were aimed towards the sports industries. They were used by athletes to get all the required nutrients while cutting down on unhealthy or unrequited substances in the body. Soon, these meal replacements became popular, and the general public also used them for weight loss and as basic health boosters.

This is a good idea for weight loss, but there are a few things that you need to keep in mind when choosing a suitable meal replacement. The health and fitness industry is brimming, and there are many options for meal replacements. Virtually every gym, grocery store or health food store stocks up on these items.

A good meal replacement is a one that contains all the essential macronutrients and micronutrients as well as substances like proteins, good fats in the form of saturated fats and other substances that are necessary for the body.

Since you will be replacing your meals with these products, you need to ensure that the meal replacement you choose also fills you up and doesn’t keep you starving. A good meal replacement fills an empty stomach while also helping you lose some weight.

Usually, meal replacements are available as shakes, powders, soups or bars. But if you do not want to eat anything store bought items then you can even make your meal replacement at home. It will be just as healthy and you will be ensured of the purity of your meal replacement.

A typical, healthy meal replacement must contain complex carbohydrate, some simple sugars and proteins and a tiny bit of fat. A good meal replacement must fit specific guidelines.

These guidelines dictate that a meal replacement must have 220 to 350 calories per serving along with less than 5 grams of fat per serving. Each serving must contain around 10 to 15 grams of proteins and a third of daily vitamins and minerals. A good meal replacement meets all these guidelines.

How to choose a meal replacement right for you?

First, you need to decide how you would like to choose our meal replacement. Would you like your meal supplement in the form of a bar for easy convenience? Or maybe you prefer sipping your meal replacement as a shake. Perhaps you want to choose a meal replacement in the form of soup that reminds you of a full-blown meal. So decide what you want and then choose accordingly.

You can even make your meal replacement. You can make a meal replacement bar using organic peanut butter, cocoa powder, low-fat milk, some protein powder, and honey.  The internet is flooding with hundreds of recipes that can help you to make your meal replacement. Just make sure that it contains about 220 to 350 calories and meets all the guidelines mentioned above.

Also make sure that you always, always read the labels of any item that you choose. Sometimes they really are not as great as the advertisements or the logo of the company might lead you to think. So get used to comparing different products and reading their labels.

How to replace your meals?

Just because meal replacement seems like a good and healthy option for cutting down on those pounds does not mean you should go overboard with it. Take it slow and give your body time to adjust to this new source of nutrients.

First, replace your breakfast with your choice of meal replacement. Since breakfast is an essential meal for weight loss, you are more likely to get better results supplementing this meal with a meal replacement. Once you get used to having your chosen meal replacement at breakfast for some time, you can also start having it as a snack or during lunch or dinner.

It is never a good option to replace all your meals with a meal replacement product. It is also as essential to eat a healthy meal. So our advice would be to swap your breakfast and dinner with your meal replacement and have lunch. Make sure that whichever meal you choose to eat is healthy and devoid of any junk food.

How often should you use meal replacement?

Another important is how much or how long should you replace your meals with a meal replacement? Well, remember that this is a temporary and short-term option. Using a meal replacement is not a sustainable or cheap life-long option.

Depending on your current weight and weight goals, you should decide how often to use a meal replacement. If your desired weight goal is only a few pounds, then limit your meal replacement to twice or thrice a week.

But if you have a long way to go, then try to use it four or five times a week. Eating a meal replacement every day is not a good option. Also, you will get tired of eating the same thing every day so try to shake things up a bit.

Meal replacement is a great way to kick off your weight loss goals and get to your ideal weight. It teaches the importance of eating healthy and portion eating. It is not an ideal long-term practice. So once you hit your ideal weight, slowly stop eating you meal replacement and switch your meals to ‘real’ food.

But make you do this transition slowly. So if you had meal replacement at lunch and breakfast, then slowly start having a proper lunch and after a few days replace your breakfast with ‘real’ food. This will help your system acclimate.

A few pointers

While meal replacements are a great option for anyone who wants to lose weight, it does not ensure enough fiber, calcium and other such nutrients. So fill up on the nutrients with your other meals that you do not get from your meal replacement.

Meal replacements give more noticeable results when it is accompanied with exercise. So exercise if you don’t already. Also, drink plenty of water. It is crucial to stay hydrated every day, but it is essentially important when you are trying a new meal or diet. So don’t forget to hydrate yourself.

A few options we recommend

  • Huel: This is a vegan product is made of ingredients like oats, flax seeds, pea protein, triglycerides from coconut and many more healthy ingredients. It contains 28 vitamins and minerals in total. It contains sucralose which works as an artificial sweetener. Huel packs a punch with over 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acid, which is good for your health. It is available in various flavors like vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, cappuccino, and chocolate mint. Check out the latest prices on Amazon.
  • Soylent: This is one of the most popular meal replacement product in the market right now. It has 25 added nutrients including Vitamin K and chromium. Soylent is another vegan product, and it is available as powders as well as drinks. The powder is chocolate flavored while the drink is available in different flavors such as strawberry, vanilla, cacao and original. It is made using ingredients like soy protein isolates, sunflower oil, isomaltulose and vitamins, and minerals. Check out the latest prices on Amazon
  • Ambronite– This is a natural 100% vegan products keeps all its ingredients natural. It has the quality of 18 real food like oats, apple, almond, flaxseed along with 40+ nutrients.  It is naturally sweet without the addition of artificial sweeteners. Check out the latest prices on Amazon.

So those were 3 of the meal replacement we like and recommend. There are a lot of options out there to choose from. So choose wisely.

Meal replacement is also helpful for weight loss in patients with diabetes. Since it contains low to no sugar, it is very effective in weight loss and control of insulin.

Protein shakes

Protein shakes are basically drinks made of protein powder dissolved in water along with other ingredients like some vitamins and minerals. These are a supplement to your diet and they help to provide your body with a high amount of protein.

Despite being marketed as a meal replacement, proteins shakes shouldn’t be replacing your meals. They are supplements, the key word here being supplements. This means that they should be taken along with your diet.

Proteins are very important in the body as it is the building blocks of the body. They help in the formation and repair of muscles and tissues and fibers. Most enzymes and hormones in our body contain proteins. Deficiency of proteins causes muscle cramping, weakness, soreness, and gastrointestinal problems and many more.

In case a diet contains low levels of proteins, a protein shake is recommended. Just like meal replacements, protein shakes were first used by bodybuilders to help to build their muscles but now it has gone mainstream and anyone can benefit from protein shakes.

Normally it is advisable to get your protein from food but sometimes due to dietary restriction makes it difficult to meet the body’s protein demand. Deficiency of proteins is most common in vegan diets or in people who are lactose intolerant. In such cases, they have to find an alternate way to get their proteins and that is by protein shakes.

Protein shakes are also most beneficial for people who want to gain muscles. Most gyms these days have a stock of purchasable protein shakes. For muscle gain, the protein requirement is 25 to 40 g per meal.

Different type of protein shakes

There are various types of protein powders used to make protein shakes. Protein powders are concentrated sources of protein derived from various plants or animals. Some of these are dairy-based while others are derived from a plant source. Some of the protein powders are:

  • Whey protein – Whey protein is one of the most popular types of protein powder used. It is a good absorbent and is quickly absorbed in the body. It is dairy – based so not ideal for vegans. Whey protein contains all the essential amino acids that are required by the body for optimum growth.
  • Egg protein –These are derived from egg whites. Eggs have the highest concentration of proteins found in any food. They are rich in all essential amino acids.
  • Casein protein – This is also derived from animals. However, it is not as quickly absorbed by the muscles. Casein protein also contains all the essential amino acids.
  • Hemp protein – This is a plant-based protein powder. It contains a high amount of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and is, therefore, a very good source of it. It is high in all essential amino acids except lysine.
  • Soy protein – This is the most common option of protein for vegans. It is derived from soybeans so is a plant-based protein powder. It contains all essential amino acids and also is a good source of soy isoflavones, which is good for the health.
  • Rice protein – Another example of a plant-derived protein. As the name suggests, it is extracted from rice. It too has a low amount of lysine.
  • Pea protein – It is becoming a very popular option these days. It is extracted from the pea plant, so is plant-based. It contains a low amount of methionine and cysteine, which are a type of non-essential amino acids.

There may also be some brands that have a mixture of many protein powders.

Protein shakes for weight loss

I am pretty sure that the first thing we think about the protein shakes is bulky bodybuilders. While most popularly protein shakes are a post-workout drink that helps in muscle gain, it is also useful for weight loss.

Protein is known to help in the decrease of weight. It helps in weight reduction by reducing your appetite and cravings, It does this in two ways.

It either suppresses appetite by increasing the levels of certain hormones like GLP – 1, PYY and CCK. These are appetite-reducing hormones that are they help in suppressed or reduced hunger. Proteins also decrease the level of ghrelin, which is a hunger-increasing hormone. High level of ghrelin make you hungry.

Another way protein helps in reducing weight is by making you feel full for a longer period of time. This is because proteins are complex molecules and require a longer time for digestion.

There are a lot of studies and researches proving the effectiveness of protein for weight reduction, especially around the belly areas. Proteins also increase metabolism and also help to prevent regain of weight.

Few pointers

Proteins are great for weight loss but in limited quantity. Protein still contains calories and if you take in too much of protein, your weight loss will be hampered.

Also, protein shakes are not the same as meal replacements so do not take in protein shakes instead of your meals. Rather use protein as a supplement alongside a balanced diet.

Protein is most effective when coupled with exercise. So do not skip exercise because otherwise, it will not be as helpful in your goal of reaching your ideal weight.

Few options

We will list a few of the protein shakes that we personally loved.

  • Quest– It is not just delicious but has combinations of all the required nutrients. It helps to maintain and build muscles as well as lose weight. It contains 23 grams of protein per serving. This shake has low carb and is sugar-free as well as soy and gluten free. So great for people with gluten allergy. It comes in several different flavors like chocolate, cookies and cream, strawberry etc. Check out the latest prices on Amazon.
  • GNC Total Lean Lean Shake – This protein shake is specially designed for weight loss. It has a delicious taste and is rich in fibers. The Lean Shake works by making you feel full for a longer period of time. It is available in 11 tasty flavors. It is derived from oats and, therefore, it is vegan-friendly. Check out the latest prices on Amazon.
  • Evolve Real Plant-Powered Protein Shake – It is 100% vegan and made from non–GMO pea protein. It is available in yummy flavors like mocha, almonds, vanilla, and chocolate. These shakes are ready-to-drink and have a long shelf life so you can buy them in bulk. Check out the latest prices on Amazon.

protein shake weight loss

When to drink protein shakes?

It is very important to make sure that the time you consume protein shakes at is appropriate. The ideal time for drinking protein shakes is either before a workout, during a workout, and after a workout.

When you workout, there is friction between your muscle tissues. This friction can result in breaking down of muscle fiber. Having a glass of protein shake before a workout will minimize a muscle damage during training.

If you drink a protein shake during a workout, then the repairing process of your muscle fibers will begin quickly. And the repairing process of your muscle fibers will speed up more if you drink protein shakes after your workout.

The timing of your protein shake consumption is especially important if you do a lot of strength building exercises and training.

Comparing Meal Replacement and Protein Shakes

We talked about meal replacements. We also talked about protein shakes. Now we will compare the two and see the core differences between them.

They both help and weight loss and helps improve body composition and while lots of products share similarities with each other, they do have clear-cut differences between them.

Functions

Meal replacements are used to replace your meals and consumed instead. While protein shakes are not designed to be consumed instead of meals. They are used as a supplement and taken alongside a balanced diet. That is the most obvious difference between the two.

Calories

Obviously, since meal replacement is consumed instead of meals, it will contain more calories than a protein shake. Meal replacement contains calories anywhere from 220 to 350 per serving. While whey protein generally contains 101 calories per serving. Meal replacement, therefore, tends to have higher calories than protein shakes but lower calorie than an actual meal.

Protein Content

This is another obvious difference between the two. Meal replacement typically contains 10 grams to 15 grams of protein per serving while protein shakes contains about 25 grams of protein per serving to even 40 grams of protein.

This is because protein is an all protein supplement while a meal replacement needs to contain all the macromolecules that are present in a meal and requires by the body as it replaces a meal.

Carbohydrates

A meal replacement consists of a higher amount of carbs than a protein shake. A protein shake contains about less than 5 grams of carbohydrates. This is because protein shakes are not meant to be a full blown meal supplement. Meal supplements, on the other hand, contain a high amount of carbs as they are intended to be full meals and needs to have the nutritional value that is similar to a real meal.

Fats

Once again protein shakes have a low amount of fat content relatively. Meal replacement contains about 5 grams of fats while the protein shakes contain 3 grams of fats or less than that. The difference is not much and that is why they are both helpful in weight loss.

Vitamins and Minerals

Protein shakes are generally not a good source of vitamins and minerals when compared to a meal replacement. Usually, the minerals and vitamins present are those provided by the protein source.

However, this is not the case for meal replacement. As they are meant to replace a meal they have a similar nutritional profile as that of a real meal. Which is why comparatively meal replacements have a higher quantity of vitamins and minerals.

girl protein shake

General use

While protein shakes do tend to help in weight loss, they are not primarily made for it. Well most of them are not. They are more useful in building muscles. They replace fats with muscles. While meal replacements have the main goal of weight loss.

So if you want to primarily lose weight, then meal replacement is a better option but if you want to replace fats with muscles than go for protein shakes.

Available forms

Most protein shakes are available as either ready-to-drink or as protein powders. While meal replacements are in the forms of ready-to-drink shakes, in powder form, like bars or soups.

Duration of usage

As we have already established meal replacements are temporary options. They should not be taken in daily. This is however not the case for protein shakes. Since protein shakes are a supplement, you can consume it every day in limited quantity.

Honest Opinion

We like both the protein shakes and meal replacement shakes because they are both unique in their functions. You should choose the products that help you to achieve your goals. Although you can use protein shakes for weight loss, you will get a better result with meal replacements. And when you are trying to build muscle, protein shakes are a better bet.

Whether you choose a meal replacement or a protein shake, you should also exercise along with it. Without exercise, your results will not be very observable and the products will not be very effective.

Before you plan to incorporate a meal replacement or even a protein shake in your diet, consult a nutritionist or a dietician. Try to compare the two and see which one gave better result to people with the same goals as you.

An important thing to remember in case of meal replacements is that they are supposed to be just as fulfilling as your normal meal. If you feel starved or hungry, then try to switch to another meal replacement product or eat some healthy food. Do not starve yourself because that will only result in more harm than gain.

Do not overdo it, just be patient and let your body adjust and give you the result of the changes incorporated.

We hope that we have been able to provide you with some useful tips and have given you some useful insights with our in-depth comparison and explanation of the two products.

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