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What are protein Shakes vs Meal Replacement Shakes

I asked Facebook these questions:

After checking out the comments; I answered them myself below:

I love asking questions on social media because you get to see how complicated answers can be.  You also get to see what information is out there and how people digest that information.

Here are some of my opinion, some facts and some of my thoughts:

Differences:

Protein shakes are supplements that consist of a high concentration of some sort of protein with less emphasis on fats and carbohydrates.  Soy and whey are two of the most popular types of proteins but there are many more.  Each has its differences, benefits and deficiencies. An additional consideration should be on how the protein is extracted from the base because it will also play a role in the potency of the final product that you consume.

Meal Replacement shakes are a supplement that typically consists a high concentration of protein, fats and carbs. Since every meal should contain protein, fats and carbs, a meal replacement shake is used to replace a meal.

Note:  The FDA doesn’t regulate supplements as closely as many people in the nutrition and fitness industries would prefer.  Therefore, the lines can be blurry as to how many macro nutrients of each can be included in different types of shakes.  Companies who sell these supplements know how to blur the lines even further by confusing the consumer with buzz words and then hide the bad things (like sugar) in the ingredients using terms you and I are unfamiliar with.  Reading and understanding nutrition labels is one of the most important things you can learn how to do.  This could possibly become another topic for discussion!

Why use one over another?

Protein shakes are typically used post workout.  However, this should not mean after every workout and not everyone needs or should consume a shake after a workout!  One of the purposes of consuming a higher amount of protein is to repair damaged muscle tissue.  These tissues are damaged during high intensity, strenuous workouts.  These workouts can be endurance or strength based.  If the workout isn’t strenuous enough then the protein shake isn’t necessary.  Oftentimes, people use protein shakes incorrectly and end up gaining weight, the wrong kind of weight, because they aren’t burning off the calories they consume through the shakes.  In general, my personal guideline for needing added protein equals workouts of over 60 minutes.  Not until I start going over 60 minutes do I even consider adding a protein shake to my diet plan. Anything less than an hour is probably not enough to require a shake. (Remember, this is a loose guideline and mostly for an endurance athlete like myself.  Body builders, or those looking to gain large amount of muscle would use different guidelines.)

Meal replacement shakes.

The purpose of these supplements is to do just what they say, to replace meals.  Instead of eating breakfast, you drink a shake, instead of eating lunch, you drink a shake.  To say they have no place in nutrition is like saying there is no place for lunch.  Shakes can be a very useful technique to add nutrition to your diet; especially for those who are busy, and cannot get the nutrition their body needs in any other manner.  Like protein shakes, there are tons of options, and the marketing can be confusing if not deceptive.  Finding what works for you based on your needs can be difficult, unless you know: 1. What your goals are and 2. How to read nutrition labels.  3. What to look for and look out for.

Shakes vs ‘real’ food.

In marketing today, you hear people say, “just eat real food”.  If we were back in the 1830’s, it would be a lot easier because that was all that was available.  However, we travel more, we work differently, we have different needs and our nutrition options have changed.  If you are not able to eat ‘real food’ or the real food you are eating isn’t getting you the results that you want, then Meal Replacement Shakes (MRS) are an option to consider!  Some of the benefits to replacement shakes are that they can reduce your calories for each meal while still giving you many of the nutrients that you need every day. Ask yourself if you might be able to get more nutritional benefit from a good quality meal replacement shake than from the food you have been eating?  If the answer is yes, then try MRS!

Additional benefits include: convenience. MRS are convenient to consume, even in your car. They are simple to make; add powder to milk/water and blend versus shopping, planning, preparing, cooking, then sitting down to eat.  MRS also taste great with many options to choose from and they fill you up decreasing your hunger; all the while, potentially giving you more of the nutrition that your current diet isn’t giving you.  Finally, by reducing your overall daily calories each day MRS can also help you lose unwanted fat.  Am I recommending MRS for everyone?  No.  But for many people, MRS is a much better solution to their current diet plan.

What should you look for in the quality of your supplementation?

Honestly, this is far above my education level.  There are so many factors that go into this answer that I would need volumes of books to answer it and that is only with the limited knowledge that I have.  A registered dietitian is the first place I would look to help answer this question.  Google might be able to provide a lot of insight, but it can also be confusing and conflicting.  I’d caution getting ideas from your friends. Of course, if something works for them it can be enticing to try it yourself. Do your research and ask a lot of questions.  What works for one person may be completely wrong for someone else.  Allergies, sensitivities, dietary restrictions, fitness goals, lifestyles, life choices (vegan, gluten) all play roles in what works for each person.  If someone you know is doing something that works for them, then, consider it but again do your research.  There are plenty of options to choose from.  I’ve found something that works for me and my needs and I’ve done enough research on it that I’ve chosen it for me and my family.  It might work for you but then again, it might not.  If you want more details, feel free to reach out.  (Tom@SargeFitness.com)

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