The fitness/wellness industry is a NOISY place! And without proper knowledge and information, many people spend tons of time on money on things that are just not worth it.
A common point of confusion for many people is the difference between a protein powder (aka a protein supplement) and a meal replacement shake.
Personally – I am a fan of protein supplements when used strategically around workouts or to supplement your daily protein needs. Getting adequate protein in is important for building lean muscle tissue and changing body composition.
Typically a protein supplement will be made from an animal product (whey, casein, egg white, beef isolate) OR will be plant based (made from rice, peas, etc).
Protein supplements will usually be between 90-130 calories per serving and will be mostly protein with little to no carbs/fats.
For sake of example – check out this nutrition label from one of my favorite protein powders – Equip Beef Isolate. As you can see there is only 1g of carbohydrate per serving, 0.5g of fat per serving and a hefty amount of protein (24g per serving!).
Meal replacement shakes are usually 150-300 calories + per serving and are a mix of protein, carbohydrates and fat. They are usually meant to replace a meal.
Here’s an example of a nutrition label from an Isagenix IsaLean Shake. As you can see there is a good amount of protein (24g), carbohydrates (24g) and fat (6g).
Many supplement companies tend to lure consumers in to relying on their meal replacement shake products for weight loss. In my opinion this is a slippery slope because instead of teaching people how to eat real food to reach their goals – it teaches them how to rely on shakes & product$. Truth is this is what a lot of these companies want.
Personally, I’m not really a fan of “meal replacement shakes” because I feel that we should be relying on real food as much as possible. Truthfully, no matter how “clean” many of these products claim to be – nothing can really ever compare to real food. Many people feel that when they “drink” their calories they end up less satisfied than they would be if they were to actually eat a meal.
For most of my clients, I highly recommend getting a high quality protein powder (i.e. a grassfed whey protein like SFH, NKD Nutrition or Muscle Feast if dairy is tolerated or a high quality beef isolate like Equip) to help supplement protein needs and support muscle growth and recovery.
However I do not recommend a meal replacement shake for folks as I would rather have them learn how to control portions and get in adequate nutrition by eating mostly real food. Of course, you have to go with whatever decision feels best for you – but in my experience learning how to rely on real food for most (or all) of your nutrition needs will set you up for long term success in the long run as you will be able to make your own decisions and not have to rely on shakes/products for life!
Here is a simple infographic I made that describes the main differences between protein powder vs. meal replacement shakes – feel free to download & share!