Protein Shakes Vs Meal Replacement Shakes – How To Choose The Right One

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protein shakes vs meal replacement shakes

It’s easy to get protein shakes and meal replacement shakes confused. The packaging for both usually features the same type of words- “power,” “strength,” maybe even “explode.”

However, once you take a look at the nutritional content and the ingredients, the differences become strikingly clear. They both have their own advantages, and depending on your current situation one might be a better choice than the other.

What’s Inside Your Shake

Meal replacement shakes are intended to do just that- replace a meal. For this reason, they usually contain more calories than a typical protein shake. They are frequently used as a weight loss tool- they need enough calories to keep your body going instead of, say, a two-egg breakfast.

Protein shakes, on the other hand, are usually added to a normal diet in order to gain muscle. They typically contain less calories, and place a higher emphasis on protein. Meal replacement shakes contain some protein as well, but the majority of their caloric content comes from other sources, like fats. Typical protein content of an average protein shake is around 20 grams, compared to around 10 grams of a meal replacement shake.

The fat content in a meal replacement shake is much greater than that of a protein shake. Healthy fat functions as a good energy source for your body and makes you feel fuller, longer. That’s why it is more effective in a meal replacement shake.

A protein shake full of fat makes a tough workout. The carb content of these two shakes is often different as well. Although low carb options are available for both protein or meal replacement shakes, simple carbs are not so great for your diet. For that reason, they are usually left out of the meal replacement shake. Carbs can have their place in a dedicated workout routine, though, so it’s not uncommon to find protein shakes with complex carbohydrates.

The Extra Stuff

We’ve covered the fats, the calories, and the protein, but what about all that other stuff in your shakes? Meal replacement shakes often contain general multivitamins to promote your body’s wellbeing. They are designed to replace the vitamins that would have naturally appeared in a well-balanced meal.

Protein shakes can contain vitamins as well, but they can also contain a host of other supplements and workout boosters. These frequently include amino acids which aid in both the muscle recovery and muscle growth process.

Protein shakes can also contain other supplements that are advertised to increase performance or gain boosts of energy. Sometimes supplements like creatine are added to help your workout- although it’s important to remember that protein and other supplements don’t do much without the workout itself.

Timing

Another big difference between protein shakes and meal replacement shakes is when they are supposed to be consumed. Protein shakes are designed to help your body build muscle and to aid in the recovery process. For this reason, they are most commonly consumed immediately after a workout.

There are different types of protein as well- these can be found in both varieties shakes. Whey protein, for example, is a “fast acting” protein that is quickly absorbed by the body. It would be found in a post-workout protein shake. Casein protein, on the other hand, is absorbed much slower, and could be found in a meal replacement shake to provide your body with a more sustained source.

A meal replacement shake is designed to keep your body moving for a longer period of time without an actual meal. It’s not usually consumed before heavy exercise, and is instead drank at normal meal periods like lunch or breakfast.

Proper Usage

Both protein and meal replacement shakes have their place in health and fitness. They also don’t need to be consumed exclusively from each other. However, here is a simple rule of thumb when it comes to deciding what is right for you.

If you are looking to workout and build some lean muscle, opt for the protein shake after your workout. If you are looking to cut out a large portion of calories from your diet, opt for a meal replacement shake for lunch.

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Megan is an experienced Nutritional Therapist in women’s nutrition, children's nutrition, pregnancy and fertility. She is a health/nutrition content writer and a published author.

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