Meal Replacements vs. Protein Powders

If you’re wondering whether you should use meal replacement products or protein powders, you’re not alone. Ever since meal replacement drinks and powders have made their debut on the health & wellness market, the difference between these products and protein shakes and powders has been a bit vague. Both of these nutrition drinks and shakes have a particular nutritional profile and different purposes, so let’s dive into the main differences between the two and clarify them once and for all.


Main Differences in Nutritional Benefits

Even though each brand has its own unique nutritional benefits, there are some rules which apply to all meal replacements and protein powders alike. This being said, let’s take a look at the main differences in nutrients that both products usually offer.

Calorie Content

Meal replacements typically have a range of 250 to 500 calories per serving. This calorie content results from the product’s purpose of aiding in weight loss while replacing a typical meal, whether that is breakfast, lunch, or dinner, even snacks. The purpose is for you to feel full after taking it, so you don’t crave for more food over the next fewhours.

Protein powders, on the other hand, have less than 200 calories, typically from 100 to 200 calories per serving. This is because protein powders function as supplements rather than meal replacements, but you can always increase the number of calories by adding some honey, a banana, peanut butter, or some other ingredient that will boost the shake’s calories.

Amount of Protein

The amount of protein in different meal replacement products varies tremendously. The protein content can be as low as 10 grams per serving, to up to 40 grams per serving, the ideal amount being from 20 to 30 grams per serving/meal.

Protein powders’ main ingredient, on the other hand, is precisely protein. It can be derived from several sources like milk, eggs, or soy, so the protein content in these products also varies between different brands. Usually one scoop of protein powder contains between 20 to 30 grams of protein, so you can incorporate either one or two scoops in your shake, depending on how much protein you wish to consume.  

Amount of Carbohydrates

Considering the fact that meal replacements’ purpose is to substitute a complete meal with essential nutrients while promoting in weight loss, there’s an appropriate amount of carbohydrates which supports a weight loss diet. Typically, meal replacements contain between 30 to 50 grams of carbs.

On the other hand, protein shakes are used precisely for the protein they contain, so the amount of carbohydrates in these products is usually low, but nonetheless, present. Again, different types of protein powders contain different amounts of carbs, some only trace amounts, some have naturally occurring carbs from the soy or rice, while other brands additionally add carbohydrates in their products. Typically, the amount of carbohydrates can be as low as from 1 to 2-3 grams per serving, to up to 10 grams per serving.

Amount of Fats

Quality meal replacements contain a decent amount of healthy fats, like omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are essential for good health. These healthy fats aid in brain health, heart health, inflammation, and more, but most importantly, they also aid in weight loss. Ideally, a meal replacement product should contain around 15 grams of healthy fats per serving (100 grams).

Protein shakes, however, can contain from as little as 3 grams of fats, to no fats at all. Ultimately, the amount of fats depends on the brand and the type of protein.

Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients that total meal replacement products should contain. After all, the more diverse the vitamins and minerals, the better the meal replacement product. Let’s take Ambronite as an ideal example. It contains food-based vitamins including: A, D, E, K, C, B1, B2, B3, B6, B9, B12, B7, B5, and 14 food-based minerals as well. However, not all meal replacements include essential vitamins and minerals, so make sure to read the label before purchasing.

Protein powders typically don’t contain any vitamins and minerals, unless they appear naturally from the protein source.

Most Common Uses of Meal Replacements

The major reason why people use meal replacements is for weight loss. These products work by replacing one or two of your daily meals so that you consume less calories than  having a typical food-based meal. Moreover, meal replacements are fortified with all essential nutrients which can additionally boost your health in the process. When used for weight loss, one or two of the daily meals are replaced, most commonly breakfast and/or dinner. By replacing a meal with these products, you can also know the number of calories you’ve had over the course of a day so that you can stay on track with your diet.

Meal replacements can also be used for mere convenience if you don’t have the time to prepare and/or eat three food-based meals every day. Furthermore, meal replacements can be used for gaining weight as well. People who wish to gain weight but have a poor appetite can incorporate meal replacements as additional meal to their regular diet and increase the number of calories they intake daily.

On the whole, meal replacements can be used for:

  • Weight loss
  • Weight gain
  • Convenience
  • Increasing overall health

Most Common Uses of Protein Powders

Protein powders and shakes are products that can most commonly be found in almost any gym and fitness center, and there’s no wonder why. The most common use of protein powders is for building and toning muscle fibers, especially after a hard workout. After working out, the muscle fibers and tissues become minutely torn, so in order for the muscle to grow and become stronger, it needs protein. While eating foods high in protein, the body needs a few hours to digest the food so the protein can be properly transported to the muscles. On the other hand, drinking a protein shake after a workout accelerates this process so the muscles receive the protein fairly quickly, as quick as 30 minutes.

Besides for building and toning muscle, protein shakes can be used as protein supplements for those who lack protein in their diets. Mostly people who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet use protein supplements, as there are protein powders made from soy or rice.

In Conclusion

All things considered, the major difference between these two products is that meal replacements can be used as protein supplements since most contain a decent amount of protein, while protein shakes cannot be used as meal replacements since the only ingredient they have is protein, and sometimes a small amount of carbohydrates. So, if you wish to replace a meal and receive all essential nutrients like proteins, carbohydrates, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals, meal replacements are the product for you. On the other hand, if you wish to incorporate more protein in your diet or if you use it after working out for toning and building muscles, you can use either protein shakes or meal replacements, the choice is yours.