Q: Can I use protein powder as a meal replacement?
A: No, we do not recommend using protein powder as a meal replacement.
We’re often asked this question by people who are looking to lose weight. It seems like an easy solution, right? By replacing an entire meal with one protein shake you’ll eat less and lose more weight. But protein powder does not contain adequate calories or nutrition to replace a meal. You should think of a protein powder as more of a “snack-replacement”.
A protein shake isn’t a nutritionally complete meal
A typical protein shake contains 120-150 calories when mixed with water and contains primarily protein. A typical (main) meal should consist of at least 300 calories and a mix of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. By using a protein powder as a meal replacement you would also be missing out on many of the nutrients found in whole foods that are not added to protein powders.
Drinking a protein shake for breakfast or lunch will likely leave you feeling hungry and lead to binge eating later in the day. Research published in 2012 from Wageningen University in the Netherlands shows that food chewing time is closely linked with feelings of satiety. Protein does help you to feel fuller for longer however should be consumed alongside whole foods. Replacing whole foods with protein shakes may be great for weight loss short term, however this isn’t a sustainable long term solution.
But don’t throw out your protein powder just yet!
Protein shakes are still extremely helpful on your weight loss journey. A protein shake mixed with water is the perfect snack to help fuel weight loss. Supplementing with protein powder will help you reach your daily protein goals and preserve lean muscle mass while dieting.
If you’re looking for a lower calorie meal option you can use protein powder in a smoothie with added fruits and vegetables. We recommend using your choice of milk (dairy or non-dairy) along with a healthy fat such as chia seeds or peanut butter – just don’t go overboard!
Still want a meal replacement shake?
There are a number of meal replacements or nutritional formulas on the market that you won’t typically find at your sports supplement store. These meal replacements contain 200-300 calories and a higher amount of carbohydrates, sugars, and fat than a protein powder. They are also enriched with added vitamins and minerals to support daily nutrition. These typically contain less protein than a protein powder but are more balanced and suitable for replacing a main meal. Just watch out for the sugar content!
The bottom line
In most situations it’s not healthy to replace an entire meal with a simple protein shake mixed with water. We understand sometimes life is busy and it’s convenient to just mix up a shake. It’s okay to do that occasionally but a healthy diet should be made up of whole foods for adequate daily nutrition. Protein shakes are great to use as “snacks” between meals to help you reach your daily protein goals and preserve lean muscle mass while dieting. They can be used as the base of a meal, for example in a smoothie with fruits and vegetables.