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Protein Shakes vs Meal Replacement Shakes for Weight Loss (And When)

You’re probably as confused about protein shakes vs meal replacement shake for weight loss as I was several years ago. You’ve probably heard that if you drink protein shakes you’ll lose weight, but now there are so many different opinions and types, as well as how many protein shakes a day, confusion has set in.

There are some major differences in the two different shakes, and it’s important to know when to use them for best results. What they both have in common is helping you meet your daily protein goal.

jar of protein shake with a straw with a measuring tape and weights laying beside it

When you’re trying to achieve your weight loss goals, you’ve got to ensure that you get enough protein. Protein is also important, because it will help with fat loss, muscle gain, and your general health. So, regardless of what your fitness goals are, the chances are that a protein packed protein shake or meal replacement shake, can improve your overall health.

Truth is, you will probably see that both can be beneficial for you to reach your goals. Now you need to know the best time to use each one.

What is a protein shake?

A protein shake is a nutritional supplement from whey protein, naturally found in dairy. Protein shakes can also be made from vegan sources, such as pea protein, rice, soy, hemp and other plant proteins for those intolerant of dairy.

Having a variety of flavors on hand can make them easy to drink often. A delicious flavor like this grape whey protein powder keeps you looking forward to drinking them!

In a good brand, the whey has been low temperature processed and hydrolyzed to maintain the highest nutritional value and digest easily. One scoop will be about 100-150 calories with 20-30 grams of protein.

Protein shakes are primarily used for pre and post workout protein consumption. These shakes have minimal fiber and other macros so that your body can quickly digest it to be received by your muscles for the recovery and growth.

While protein shakes can be used for weight loss, it’s important to note you would be better to choose a meal replacement shake outside of the pre- and post-workout window.

There is one exception to this. If you are having a meal that doesn’t include at least 20-30 grams of protein, a simple protein shake can be beneficial. (A meal replacement shake used in combination with a meal could be too many calories.)

This type of protein shake can also be used to supplement a meal, but not to replace a meal. A simple protein shake will not have all of the nutritional components to keep you full very long or to provide your body with the energy needed as a meal would.

What is a meal replacement shake?

The meal replacement shake is also made primarily from whey protein, but also has a good portion of carbs, fats and fiber. A good quality shake has the balance needed to mimic a whole foods meal with the nutrients to properly fuel your body, making it an excellent choice as a whole foods meal alternative when needed.

Meal replacement shakes can also be vegan, using hemp, pea, soy, rice and other plant based proteins instead of dairy. Always check to ensure the ingredients include all 9 essential amino acids for a complete protein source.

Like a protein shake, the meal shake can be found in powder form or a premixed ready to drink form.

Meal replacement shakes typically have between 200-300 calories, 20-30 grams of protein per scoop. Some powders taste better if mixed with a dairy such as almond milk (fewer calories than milk), while some better qualities will only need water to taste good.

Always mix with a shaker bottle to ensure the powder is completely dissolved. Some bottles come with an agitator to assist.

Why are Protein and Meal Replacement shakes so expensive?

When you first look at the price of protein powders, they seem to be expensive. A 2lb container can be $50 or more. Word from the experienced, don’t grab the cheapest one you can find.

The cheaper brands are not the quality you want to be fueling your body with. They can contain fillers and less than optimal ingredients to create that cheaper product.

When we break down the cost of a good quality meal replacement shake, at $55 a container, with 30 servings, that would only be $1.83 per serving! Remember, this is replacing a meal. When is the last time you spend less than $2 on a good healthy meal?

Why is Protein Important to Weight Loss?

woman in fitness clothing drinking protein shake

You body requires protein for repair and building of tissues such as muscles, organs, hair, skin, nails, and basically building blocks for practically everything. Protein is vital for our body!

In order for our body to use protein for everything it needs, it must get enough. Otherwise, our body will choose where to use the protein allowing less important areas of our body to be undernourished with protein.

Eating enough protein to build muscle back during weight loss as well as the basic body needs can be difficult. (When we lose weight without enough protein, we lose muscle, which also decreases metabolism. This works against our goal of keeping the weight off. By maintaining muscle mass, or muscle toning, we can increase metabolism.)

Protein supplements help to fill in those gaps.

Protein powder shakes are a fast and reliable way to achieve your daily protein intake goals, which is measured in grams of protein. This isn’t the weight of protein, it’s the macronutrients of protein. When eating foods, you can look on the nutritional label for the macronutrients composition of it, or in the food tracking app you are using.

When losing weight, it’s important to use a trusted calculator or app to know how many grams of protein, fats and carbs you should be eating daily, and then track your daily macros to ensure you get the correct amount daily.

Example of Good use of Meal Replacement Shake to Lose Weight

Here’s the scenario: you’re trying to lose weight, and one of your main problems is that you feel like you’re hungry all the time. So, usually, you opt for a large portion of fast food around lunch time, because you find that your desk job doesn’t provide you with enough time to cook throughout the week.

Weight gain comes with too much fast food and too high a calorie intake, so you decide to make a change and a better choice, to achieve your fitness goals. Your problems are twofold: you’re feeling hungry all the time, which results in you eating too much food, and you’re feeling like your crunched for time at work, which results in you eating take out. This is where a meal replacement shake comes in.

If you eat a meal replacement shake instead of take out at work, you’ll consume fewer calories than you would eating fast food, without compromising fullness (meal replacement shakes have relatively low calories, high nutrients).

And when it comes to your busy schedule, meal replacement shakes are even more convenient as fast food, so you can manage making one to have at work!

Here’s the bottom line: meal replacement shakes are awesome ways to replace unhealthy foods, with the essential vitamins and nutrients that your body relies on from whole foods.

Also, I’m happy to report that meal replacement shakes can taste really good, like a real treat if you opt for a high quality.

Should I use a meal replacement shake to lose weight?

shaker bottle with chocolate meal replacement shake with scoop and container of powder beside it

Meal replacement drinks are a better source of nutrients for your body, than the high processed, and fast foods that you may be used to eating are. When I started my weight loss journey, I drank 2-3 shakes a day until I was educated about healthier food choices. I lost over 35 lbs in about 3-4 months using meal replacement shakes.

I still drink them regularly now to maintain good health and body composition.

They can be beneficial for you if:

  • You want to lose weight.
  • You are unsure how to eat healthy balanced meals.
  • You crave sweets.
  • You are tired of failed weight loss efforts.
  • You want a convenient way to lose weight.
  • You need a quick on the run, healthy meal.
  • You feel hungry most of the time.
  • You don’t want to lose muscle mass as you age.
  • You want to look and feel younger.
  • You want to have more energy.

When actively trying to lose weight, it is common to drink 2-3 shakes a day, and eat a well balanced regular meal.

When it comes to health and fitness, you can’t guess. As much as I wish it were that easy, you’re going to have to be conscious of what you’re eating, when you’re trying to lose weight.

So, meal replacement shakes are great, because they help you to consume the important nutrients instead of not eating at all. Often people think they just need to reduce calories and reduce nutrients and calories too low.

It’s best to replace 1-2 complete meals with a meal replacement drink, if you have a hard time sticking to healthy, daily meals, that are nutrient dense. If you crave sweets after dinner, you can even have 1/2-1 scoop.

level 1 meal replacement jug of protein powder

Meal Replacement Bars

To change things up a bit, you can have a meal replacement bar on hand. These 1st Phorm bars come in a variety of flavors, high quality and are very filling.

Similar to the meal replacement shakes, they have the nutrients and macros to be complete meals or snacks.

Flavors in my favorite brand are:

  • Peppermint Bark (seasonal)
  • Salted Caramel
  • Pumpkin Spice Crunch (seasonal)
  • Choco Chip Cookie Dough
  • Birthday Cake
  • Blueberry Muffin
  • Chocolate Crunch
  • Chocolate Mint Cookie
  • Chocolate PB Pretzel
  • Peanut Butter Lover

I keep a variety of bars in my pantry and my car for when I am on the go.

When do I use a Protein Shake?

Protein shakes are best when used for pre- and post-workout nutrition. These supplements don’t have many carbs and fats since that would slow down digestion. Designed for muscle recovery and growth, it’s important to get the protein directly to the muscles soon after working out.

To increase repair and growth further, you’ll want to add 1/2 scoop Ignition to your protein for post workout consumption.

Taken prior to a workout can fuel the body making it ideal for muscle anabolism.


While protein shakes vs meal replacement shakes for weight loss are very different, both can play a significant role in helping you reach your health goals. By using the best meal replacement shakes and protein drinks, you can remain in enough calorie deficit to lose weight while providing your body the healthy diet and essential nutrients needed.

Now that you have an understanding of when the best time to use the different protein drinks, you can maximize your specific goal.

Weight management is best maintained by a continued use of protein supplements as a better option to meet protein needs.

As always, it is best for you to be aware of your own medical condition and seek the advice of your doctor.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to me for additional information on how you can utilize supplements such as these for a long term healthy lifestyle. For more specific protein supplement advice, please subscribe below.

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