Meal replacements vs Protein shakes: 9 genuine differences.

Meal Replacements Vs Protein Shakes


Eating healthy is a tough task, everyone knows it. That’s the reason people have been drifting towards meal replacement shakes, protein bars, low-calorie snacks to keep their calorie count low. 

The effectiveness of Protein shakes (especially whey protein) have been tried and tested for many decades now, it has been a top choice of bodybuilders, meal replacement shakes are quite new to the fitness industry and have been swiftly building its ground.

Meal Replacements Vs Protein Shakes is a confusing subject and many people have been trying to replace their protein shakes with the meal replacements shakes without knowing the real difference which made us write about the topic. Do these meal replacement shakes really live up to the hype? We will find out.

Whats the basic difference between meal replacement vs protein shakes? meal replacements are made to replace a whole meal while protein shakes are created to supplement with a meal. Meal replacements contains 300-400 calories and majority of protein shakes contains 120 calories. Additionally, protein shakes are clean source of all muscle building aminos and meal replacements contains protein, carbohydrates and fats. Many meal replacements are fortified with essential vitamins but their nutritional transparency is usually misinterpreted.

Don’t worry, we are going to dig deep into the differences to help you choose the best option. Before we look into meal replacement shakes vs protein shakes let’s get to know little details about both. 

Protein Shakes Basics

Protein is an essential macronutrient that helps build muscle, repair tissue, and regulates hormones. Bodybuilders and serious lifters have been using protein shakes as a tool to fulfill the body’s protein need for optimum growth and recovery.

Protein shakes can be derived from various sources, it can be:

  • Whey protein: milk based
  • Beef protein: from Beef
  • Albumin protein: from eggs
  • Protein blend: a blend of whey, casein, soy, etc.  
  • Plant-based protein: from peas and other plant sources.  

Since protein supplements can be derived from different sources its essential to choose one for the comparison. I will be considering whey protein vs meal replacement shakes since whey is the most popular and widely consumed form of protein supplement. 

Whey protein contains a complete amino acid profile that makes it one of the best muscle building supplement. 

Meal Replacement Shakes Basics

Manufacturers of these “meal replacement shake” claims to be a healthier alternative to the conventional whole food. 

Meal replacement shakes arrived in the health market with a promise to deliver all required nutrients to the bodies. While protein shakes were consumed to maintain muscle protein balance, meal replacement shakes are advertised to fulfill the body’s need for all macronutrients and other essential vitamins too.

Why people have been taking meal replacements? 

  • To replace these shakes with one or two daily meals, these shakes are build to maintain satiety while being low in calories. 
  • These shakes have been marketed as a weight-loss supplement that delivers all the key nutrients. 
  • They are also sold as a great source of protein and key vitamins for complete bodily needs. 
  • People who are too busy to prepare their meal are also drifting towards these instant sources of nutrition. 

How much of these claims are true will be discussed in the further part of this article. 

Meal Replacements vs Protein Shakes

The protein supplement has a well-established market for the last 2-3 decades but meal replacements supplements are comparatively new to the fitness industry. 

If you are confused about the effectiveness of meal replacements and whether these should be switched with protein shakes, this article is just for you. Let’s get our discussion started. 

Calorie Comparison

Meal replacement shakes contain between 250-400 calories per serving since they are designed to be more filling and improve satiety. 

On the other hand, protein shakes deliver between 100-130 calories per serving. 

It’s not just the calories that matter, its also about the nutrients those calorie is coming from. While the calories of protein shake are coming majorly from 20-25 grams of protein content, calories of a meal replacement shake come from protein, carbs, and fats. 

Does high-calorie content make these meal replacement a better choice for someone on bulking? 

No! they don’t. The reason is meal replacements are designed to make you feel fuller for a longer period of time. Additionally, meal replacement does not contain a complete amino profile for optimum muscle building. Having some BCAA and glutamine in the supplement is not enough, it has to have an optimum ratio of all 9 Essential Amino Acids for muscle gain and fast recovery. 

Meal Replacements Vs Protein Shakes

Protein Content

Meal replacements shake contains lesser protein than a whey protein shake. Additionally, most of the meal replacement shake contains a blend of protein from a different source, which makes me question the digestibility, quality, and absorption rate of protein.

The quality of protein matters allot. Most buyers watch for the total quantity of protein in meal replacement shake but what you should be actually checking is the content of Essential Amino Acids (EAA). 

I don’t want to mention the name of any company but many meal replacement companies are offering low-quality Non-Essential amino acids (because of their low cost) that are good for nothing. 

Fact is, if you are looking for muscle-building benefits then a whey protein shake is definitly going to be a better option. 

Carb Content

Meal replacements contain a heck lot of carbs that will keep you energized for a few hours but is that a healthy way to reduce weight? 

When it comes to cutting down weight in the right way, nutritionists always suggest going low carb and high protein diet, right? No matter what your health goal is, added sugar is not the best option. We all know it’s empty calories.

Having a multi-ingredient salad with a protein shake is always going to be a healthier option for weight loss. 

Long-Term Metabolic Effects

Protein shakes are not about reducing the number of calories, they help in preventing muscle breakdown and promotion of protein synthesis to keep the metabolic rate high. 1 pound of muscle burns an extra 50 calories a day while at rest. 

Meal replacement shakes helps in a quick drop in body weight by a few pounds because of a sudden reduction in calories. But once your body adapts to the low-calorie diet, you hit a plateau. 

Lowering down calories for long period drop the metabolic rate which will make the weight loss process more difficult.  


Some guys would cross-question, but meal replacements contain vitamins and minerals too. But would you invest in a meal replacement just because it contains vitamins and minerals? Investing in a good multivitamin would be a far better choice for me. 

Don’t expect your protein shake to deliver a punch of full-spectrum vitamins and minerals, protein shakes are not developed to serve that purpose.

Nutrition Point of View & Transparency

Protein shakes are focused on providing a complete range of Amino profile for muscle development. Protein shakes are quite transparent with the ingredients you get per serving.

Meal replacement shakes are focused on delivering nutrients plus keeping you fuller for a longer period of time. But from the nutrition perspective meal replacement shakes have its drawbacks

  • Meal replacement supplements contain too much sugar that is not nutritious at all. 
  • Vitamins and minerals are synthetic, I would prefer a smoothie prepared from fresh fruits and greens.
  • Meal replacements are packed with vegetable oils and thickeners (like maltodextrin)to keep you feel fuller for a long period.  

Digestive Health

Protein shakes can be a little hard for someone with lactose intolerance or sensitive gut, but it will work well for most of the population. 

Meal replacement shakes contains sugar, artificial flavorings, vegetable oil, thickeners and other hidden ingredients that can trigger inflammation and gut issues. 

Post-Workout Fuel

I would never recomend a meal replacement shake as a post-workout fuel because of their inability to provide a full range of essential amino acids. 

Protein shakes are still the best choice of post-workout fuel for fast recovery. 

Who Is A Winner?

For me, meal replacement shakes are just marketing gimmick that is helpful in restricting calories but will also hamper overall health in the long term. 

On the other hand, protein shakes are a clean source of amino acids that help in improving quality of life, muscle development, and improved metabolism. 

Can meal replacement shake replace protein shake?

Meaning of “Supplement”: A thing added to something else in order to complete or enhance it.

Protein shakes are supplements to complete the protein requirement of the body and to accelerate the muscle-building process. 

On the other hand, meal replacement shakes are being used as a replacement for the whole meal to lower down the calories. 

If you want short term weight loss results then a meal replacement can surely help in reducing a few pounds but then it will affect your metabolic rate and thermogenic capabilities in the long run. 

In my opinion, clean eating and a high protein diet is still the best choice to improve body composition. 

Thanks for reading. Questions welcomed in the comments as always. 

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