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Protein Shakes or Meal Replacements? (Which is Better?)

Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers | Senior Coach
Last updated: August 4, 2023
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It always surprises me how many of my clients start using supplements in the wrong way based on something they heard at the gym or saw online.

And when it comes to protein shakes and meal replacement shakes, there seems to be this idea that they only work for certain types of athletes.

So, before you mess up your weight loss and fitness goals with the wrong products, let me show you how and when to use a protein shake and meal replacement product.

Quick Summary

  • Protein shakes can replace meals, and stacking them with meal replacements is common in athletic or bodybuilding regimes.
  • Protein supplements aid in muscle repair, recovery, and weight loss.
  • Meal replacement shakes provide tailored macros and calories for weight management or muscle growth.

What Do Protein Supplements Do?

medicine supplements

Protein supplements aim to boost your protein intake in a concentrated form to support the repair and building of muscle tissue [1].

One of the most commonly used types for athletes is whey protein, and it's mostly taken within 30 minutes of finishing an exercise routine.

The physical exercise itself may cause micro damage to muscles, which you would normally feel as soreness and stiffness.

By taking protein drinks with water or milk, you may boost your available amino acids that are needed to shorten the recovery time.

But an increase in protein consumption has also been shown to play a role in body weight loss [2]. Here’s a list of the lowest calorie protein powders that might be good choices for losing weight.

What Do Meal Replacement Shakes Do?

glass of shake

Meal replacement shakes and protein shakes aim to give a very specific combination of macros and the number of calories to replace a meal and make you feel full.

I also get asked a lot if meal replacements or protein shakes make you fat. Good news, they don’t. They’re designed to replace your meals, thus, might aid in weight loss.

If you have weight loss goals, then you should choose meal replacement drinks with fewer calories per serving than the meal you are replacing. By filling you up, boosting hunger control, and creating a calorie deficit, you could use them for successful weight management and weight loss journey.

Alternatively, there are some meal replacement shakes that deliver a large volume of calories to support a muscle growth phase. So, don't assume that a meal replacement shake has just one intended purpose.

Can Protein Shakes Be Used As Meal Replacements?

Yes, protein shakes may be used as meal replacement drinks, but this is mainly suitable for people who are trying to lose weight. Many studies have shown that replacing high-fat and high-carb meals with a protein shake could lead to faster fat reduction.

However, if you're aiming to bulk up and build more muscle mass, then protein shakes alone may not be a suitable option.

You'll simply struggle to get enough energy from protein shakes, and a too-large volume of protein may also make you sick.

Here's a better option.


Can You Stack A Protein Shake And Meal Replacements?

supplements and shake

Yes, you can stack protein shakes with meal replacement drinks, and for performance athletes and bodybuilders, that is going to be a very common stack. This may also help to further boost calorie intake in addition to regular meals.

I've seen some serious bodybuilders take in 5,000 calories from their meals and an additional 2,000 from meal replacement shakes.

Of course, you'd need a serious workout routine several times a day to avoid putting on fat rather than muscle.

When Should You Take Protein Shakes?

A man drinking a pre-workout drink

In most cases, you should take protein shakes or meal replacements within about 30 minutes of completing your physical training routine.

This is when your muscle protein synthesis will kick in to repair any damaged muscle fibers. The harder you train, the more protein you'll need.

If your goal is to replace a meal, then I would suggest only using protein powders to replace breakfast or lunch. It's especially important when you're using protein powders with caffeine content since it might cause you to become unable to sleep at night or experience jitters.

Using them as a main meal replacement for dinner time could leave you missing out on other vital macros, as well as vitamins and minerals.

Protein Powders Reviewed: Herbalife Protein Powder Review

When Should You Take A Meal Replacement Shake?

You should take a meal replacement shake at the normal time you would otherwise be having a meal. In most cases, these shakes are designed to replace smaller meals like breakfast or lunch.

However, with a very intense exercise program, you may also need to boost your diet with extra calories, and using one of these shakes could help you get in more energy without facing large volumes of food.

Other Resources:

Making The Right Decision For Your Goals

man using phone

When I work with clients to get their diet right, it always has to start with the specific goals.

If you need to lose some pounds or you're in a cutting phase, then protein shakes are often the better option as they may limit your energy intake.

However, for muscle and general weight gain, I would say that you should focus on taking both protein shakes and a meal replacement. It could make it a lot easier to get the right macro balance and protein source.

If you've had some good experiences with stacking them, then please share your comments on our social media pages.


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