As an active person, athlete  or somebody who is trying to lose weight we are always searching for the best protein shakes in the store. The grocery store can be confusing when choosing the best protein shake to buy. Sports drinks which you buy in a bottle are called Ready To Drink or RTD Protein Shakes. Sometimes you may notice that the container says Nutritional Shake or Meal Replacement Shake rather than Protein Shake. There is a difference between the two.  Protein shakes can be a great way to help with weight loss and muscle gain as well as a good snack on the go. But what is the difference between a protein shake and a nutritional shake or meal replacement shake ?

Protein Shakes

Protein Shakes are drinks which contain protein as the main ingredient. This can be a whey protein or a plant based protein such as hemp, pea, rice, soy or a combination of grains. They usually don’t have many other macronutrients, they tend to be lower in fat and carbs. Some plant based protein shakes will have a higher carbohydrate content than whey protein shakes due to the fiber content in plants which make up the protein source. You can make protein shakes at home using a powder or buy one that is already made which we call ready to drink or RTD protein shakes. They are good for both weight loss and weight gain however they typically need more calories added to them for weight gain.

Nutritional Shakes and Meal Replacement Shakes

A Nutritional Shake or Meal replacement shake is a shake that contains protein but also has other macronutrients such as carbs and fat as well as micronutrients which are your vitamins and minerals. It is a meal replacement in a shake. This may not be a full meal for many people especially athletes or those who are looking to dial in their performance. Oftentimes a nutritional shake is used during a weight loss program as a substitute to a meal which will still provide the nutrients needed for that meal. It’s not an ideal situation but it can work. Many of the MLM or quick fix diets promote nutritional shakes or meal replacement shakes because you have to buy those shakes from the company and they make money off of them. If you are trying to lose weight or on a weight loss plan I suggest making meal replacement shakes at home with your own protein powder, fruit, vegetables and antioxidants so you have a whole food nutritional shake rather than  synthetic vitamins and minerals.  The quality of the vitamins and minerals matter, cheaper versions of nutrients which are used in nutritional shakes by fortifying them are not always absorbed by our body. Then you are just wasting your money and possibly becoming nutrient deficient while reaching your weight loss goals.

For my athletes or elite performance your can use nutritional shakes and meal replacement shakes to help you gain weight by adding the to your meals rather than replacing meals with them.  The protein shakes I suggest for my athletes are technically nutritional shakes but for simplicity we call them protein shakes. If you are an athlete who needs to gain weight, email me and I’ll send you my protein shake handbook with recipes for protein shakes that help you gain weight as well as maintain weight, add muscle, perform and recover better.


What qualifies a shake as Meal Replacement VS Protein Shake?

In the United States, the term “meal replacement” is not defined in federal Food and Drug Administration regulations. In Europe meal replacements intended either to supplement or to replace totally normal meals are regulated as to their energy content.

They must provide the following info on the packaging:

  1. Intended to use in energy-restricted diets for weight reduction
  2. Provide between 200-400 calories
  3. Not more than 30% of the calories can be from fat (sorry keto fans)
  4. Must not be used for more than 3 weeks without medical advice.
  5. Vitamins and minerals have to be at least 30% of the today RDI.

Although the US doesn’t regulate this market, which is why all of the MLM (multilevel marketing) companies can rip people off by selling low calorie meal replacement shakes, they often follow these guidelines. I do not suggest using these for weight loss.

I suggest using nutritional shakes as a way to get in your nutrients when a meal is not available or you are in between workouts so you can absorb your nutrients quickly and get back to play. They are a supplement meaning they supplement, rather than replace food.They can come in handy for athletes who need a meal on the go or a replacement between meals. But they shouldn’t be used by general population as a meal replacement to reduce calories. You will not feel full from drinking a shake.