Can a protein shake replace a meal?

The bottom line is that the best way to keep fit and healthy is to live an active lifestyle and eat a healthy, whole foods diet. But we all know that life happens, and so we often find ourselves short on time, having to eat on-the-go, and opting for convenience over nutrition.

Enter the protein shake. Low in calories, high in protein and easy to drink when you’re out and about, protein shakes are a tempting replacement for a meal, especially if you’re trying to lose weight. However, protein shakes were not made to replace meals, and it’s important to differentiate between a straight-up protein shake, and a shake marketed as a meal replacement.

What are meal replacement shakes?

As the name suggests, meal replacement shakes are designed to replace a meal. They’re a good option for people who want to lose weight as they’re often lower in calories than a full meal, or for people who have a busy schedule and don’t have the time to whip up a nutrient-dense meal every morning.

Most meal replacement shakes contain between 200 to 400 calories with a good amount of fibre, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and protein - although they often contain a lot less protein than a protein shake would. Because they’re meant to be consumed instead of a meal, it’s important to look at exactly what is inside of your meal replacement shake before you consume it. You want to ensure you’re getting all the same nutrients you’d get from real food, like Vitamin A, Vitamin C, the B Vitamins, zinc, iron, magnesium, potassium and a whole lot more (all of which you can find in our WHOLE vegan meal replacement, which provides 22 essential vitamins and minerals!). 

Replacing breakfast or your go-to unhealthy snack with a nutritious meal replacement shake can help reduce your calorie intake when trying to lose weight. Meal replacement shakes are normally pretty high in protein, helping you reach your daily intake and keeping you feeling fuller for longer, which should also help cut out the less healthy snacks. Drinking a meal replacement shake high in vitamins and minerals is a much healthier alternative to a convenient fast food meal, full of sugar and artificial ingredients.

If you are cutting calories, packing in all the micronutrients your body needs can be especially difficult. As meal replacement shakes are designed to provide everything you should consume in a meal, they can also help fill the nutrient gaps in your diet - although they can’t work wonders! Your other meals should also be nutritionally dense and balanced, as meal replacement shakes aren’t a magic pill for weight loss. 

What are protein shakes?

Unlike meal replacement shakes, protein shakes are not designed for weight loss. They’re much better suited to weight gain, ideal for athletes, gym goers and those looking to up their protein intake to increase muscle and strength. 

Protein shakes are not meant to replace meals, but are instead intended to supplement a regular diet and increase protein intake. They contain a lot more protein (usually around 25 grams per serving), have less than 5 grams of carbs and don’t contain many added vitamins and minerals other than those naturally provided by the protein source. 

As protein shakes are not meant to replace a meal, they shouldn’t be used as a meal replacement. Their role is to supplement a full, rounded diet and make it easier to meet your protein requirements, and they don’t contain all the nutrients you would need if using it as a meal replacement. A protein shake should be consumed before or after exercise as more of a snack than anything else. 

However, if you have a favourite protein you’d like to use in a meal replacement shake, or just fancy whipping up your own quick, nutritious meal for on-the-go, it’s pretty easy to make your protein shake well-rounded enough to constitute a proper meal. You just need to make sure that your homemade meal replacement shake contains all the nutrients you would otherwise be getting in a normal meal.

How to make a meal replacement with protein powder

1. Choose your carbohydrate base. Most protein shakes are pretty low on carbohydrates as the focus is on protein, but we need carbs to sustain us if we’re replacing an entire meal! Popular carby choices include oats, bananas, and even your choice of milk will add some carbs to bulk out your shake.

2. Add your protein! We recommend our PERFORM vegan protein, which packs in 25 grams of plant-based protein, 6 grams of BCAA and a range of superfoods including reishi mushroom, acai berry and lucuma.

3. Choose your fruits and veggies. A lot of us don’t get enough greens in our diet as it is, so packing the kale, spinach and colourful veggies into your meal replacement shake is a great way to ensure you’ve dosed up for the day.

4. Choose a fat. Add in some nut butter, avocado, or your favourite seed for extra protein and fibre!

5. Add any optional extras to make your shake ultra-personalised, nutritious and tasty. We wouldn’t recommend adding a load of sugar or artificial sweeteners after creating your shake-y masterpiece, but we wouldn’t say no to a sprinkling of sweet berries or cacao powder.

You’ll find plenty of ideas for livening up your protein shakes over on our recipes pages

However, if you really do want a quick and convenient fix (without having to whip out and wash up the blender), try out WHOLE, our vegan nutritional shake. Not only does it provide 20 grams of protein for just 150 calories, but it also includes some superfood ingredients you might not have in your kitchen cupboard, like an expertly formulated micronutrient blend, 5 billion probiotics per scoop for healthy digestion, omega-3 fatty acids, and a herbal anti-inflammatory blend of ashwagandha, turmeric and ceylon cinnamon.

How many meals can you replace with protein/meal replacement shakes?

Meal replacement shakes aren’t going to do all the work on their own, and you still need to eat, chew and digest real food. If your aim is to lose weight, studies have found that people who chew their food feel fuller for longer, even if they’re consuming the same amount of calories. 

An example of a way to consume both a meal replacement shake and a protein shake in a healthy and sustainable way would be:

  • Replace breakfast with a meal replacement shake

  • Eat lunch

  • Protein shake for a snack

  • Eat dinner

The main takeaway is that the majority of your calories should still come from real, whole food, regardless of your goals or why you’re considering consuming a shake to replace a meal. Protein shakes on their own don’t constitute a meal, and should only be used as supplementation alongside well-rounded meals; however, you can safely consume a proper meal replacement shake for one meal a day, provided your other meals are just as nutrient-dense.