The Skinny on Protein Shakes Vs Meal Replacement Shakes

One of the most common mistakes I see people make is choosing the wrong type of shake for their fitness goals. At first glance, it may seem easy; “Just choose the one with the most protein and the fewest calories right?” Wrong! Here is everything you need to choose the right shake for you.

Protein Shake

drinking protein shakeThe protein shake is the most common shake. Unfortunately, the name “protein shake” is used so loosely, many people call any shake that has protein in it a protein shake even if it’s not really a real protein shake. Let me explain.

You see, not all protein shakes are created equal. You have protein shakes that are high in calories and fat for weight gain and/or muscle gain (like bodybuilders and football players). There are low carb, low calorie options created for calorie-conscious dieters (like me!). You also have protein-infused supplement shakes that are marketed for the older population (like Ensure).

protein powderIn addition to how much protein, fat and carbs are in your protein shake, there are many other factors to consider. For instance, there are different types of whey protein and whey blends. The two most popular are whey isolate and whey concentrate (undenatured and denatured).

Whey isolate has slightly more protein, gram for gram, than whey concentrate, but undenatured whey concentrate has loads of immunity benefits to support overall health, including far higher amounts of growth factors that can be effective for both athletes and “normal” people just wanting to be in good health. Undenatured whey is particularly good for people who are looking for products to support anti-cancer and immune stimulating activity. (Click here to read Bodybuillding.com’s article on whey isolate vs whey concentrate)

Vegan smoothiePlant based protein for vegans, vegetarians and people who are lactose intolerant have also become very popular. Vegan friendly companies use a wide variety of plant based protein sources like soy, hemp protein, brown rice protein and pea proteins. However, soy protein is now red flagged as one of the worst sources of protein for muscle development as well as overall health.

Once you decide what type of macro nutrients and protein you need, then there are all the chemicals to consider. Do you want a protein powder that is filled with toxic chemicals and artificial sweeteners or do you prefer going the organic natural route?

Lastly, protein shakes are not ideal for replacing a meal because they are lacking nutrients. If you are looking for a post workout shake to be consumed right after a workout or at bedtime for overnight muscle recover, then you want to invest in a high quality protein powder. However, if you want to use protein shakes as a snack or meal replacement, then you need to get a meal replacement shake. They both are useful, but they both are very different.

This is my protein shake’s label for comparison.

Notice, I chose a low-calorie, low-carb, low-fat powder. The protein is not extremely high, but I opted for a higher grade very bioavailable (easily absorbed) protein (undenatured whey) which is optimal for my overall health, as well as muscle development. Some protein powders boast high protein content, but are loaded with fillers or proteins that are not usable protein. What that means is you still get all the calories, but you may not be getting all the protein. 72 calories of the 90 calories are strictly from protein alone. 

TIP: Notice the label is small with few ingredients. No artificial chemicals, no fillers. Just protein and sweetener basically. 
IsaPro Protein Shake

Meal Replacement Shakes

meal in a cupThink of a meal replacement shake as a complete meal in a cup. A meal replacement shake is required to meet strict dietary standards in order to be get the “meal replacement shake” title. And, for good reason. It must replace an entire nutritious meal.

If you see a meal shake that is under 100 calories, that is not a meal replacement shake because it is too low in calories. Another thing to look for is if the shake seems to market itself as a meal replacement shake but it doesn’t say “meal replacement shake” on the label.

A good meal replacement shake should be very filling and satisfy all your nutritional needs, not just your protein needs. If you have a shake and are starving an hour later, something is probably wrong. To maximize absorption, and to give your body the fuel it needs to run well, your meal replacement shake should be loaded with nutrients just like a traditional balanced meal. As a result, you should feel full, energized and satisfied.

protein shakeMeal replacement shakes should be jam-packed with vitamins and minerals, just like you should be getting from the perfect whole food meal. Each meal should have the perfect balance of protein, carbs and fat. If a meal replacement shake is lacking enough macronutrients, you may feel hungry and unsatisfied. This is why you may get hungry one hour after drinking a protein shake. Protein shakes lack all the nutrients of a real meal. However, a really good meal replacement shake can keep you full for hours.

Expect the label on a meal replacement shake to look completely different than a label on a protein shake. A meal replacement shake needs to have fats, carbs and fiber to energize you and keep you feeling full. The protein content should be high (ideally over 20gms of protein) to support muscle repair and good health. Finally, the label should have a lot of ingredients listed because it should have a lot of real nutrient-dense whole food in it. Remember, once again, it’s a meal.

This is my meal replacement shake’s label for comparison.

Notice my shake has only 240 calories (which is a really low calorie meal) with 24g protein, 24g carbs (a perfect 1:1 ratio of protein to carbohydrates), 6g fat, 23 vitamins and minerals, probiotics and digestive enzymes. That is a LOT of nutrition packed in only 240 calories. There is no way you can get that in a lean cuisine, or even a home-cooked meal for that fact.

TIP: Just want a snack? Just cut your serving in half for a perfectly balanced 120 calorie snack!

IsaLean Meal Replacement Shake Label

This is the ingredient label for my dairy-free meal replacement shake for comparison.

Notice the ingredients include recognizable foods like brown rice, kale, beets, olive, flax seed, pumpkin, sweet potato, apples, chia and squash! 

dairy free meal replacement shake

There are SO many more things I would love to share with you but hopefully that helps you figure out which type of shake is for you. And, likely, you will want to utilize both (like me!) and this blog will help you know what to take and when to take it.

Click here to contact me if you would like more information on the line of supplements I use.

Owner of Lift Vero and motivational "pfitness, pfood and pfaith" blogger in Vero Beach, Florida.

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