Protein powder vs meal replacement?
Protein powder vs meal replacement? Which one is right for you?
Get the scoop on protein powder vs meal replacement.
What is protein powder?
Protein powder is a protein supplement in powder form. It is used to increase dietary protein intake, and common types include egg white, pea, and whey.
Protein powder can be mixed with cold milk or water to make a protein shake. It can also be added to oatmeal, smoothies, and other recipes.
People like using protein powder because it is an easy way to add protein to their diet. Making a protein shake, for example, only takes a minute. It is also easier to swallow your protein than it is to chew it.
There are many reasons why people want to eat more protein, and most people start using protein supplements because they cannot easily get enough protein from real food.
What constitutes ‘enough’ protein is different for everyone, and what is easy for one person may not be easy for the next. For this reason, the decision to start using protein supplements should be yours and yours alone. Do not let anyone tell you that you need or do not need protein powder. Everyone is different, and you should only consider what makes sense for you.
I will add that most people can get more than enough protein from sources like eggs, fish, and legumes. I will also add that protein is just food, so do not expect it to do anything for you that normal food cannot.
What is a meal replacement?
A meal replacement is a product intended to replace the nutritional value of a meal, often with fewer calories. They are usually a good source of protein, but not always.
There are two main types of meal replacements, ready-to-drink meal replacement shakes and meal replacement powders. Meal replacement powders, like protein powders, must be mixed with cold milk or water.
People like using meal replacements as a convenient, on-the-go breakfast, lunch, or dinner. They are also championed as a weight loss food, which brings me back to the original question: what is the difference between meal replacement and protein shake?
Is protein powder the same as meal replacement?
For the sake of comparison, I am going to talk about meal replacement powders, as opposed to ready-to-drink meal replacements.
The main difference between protein powders and meal replacement powders is the nutrition profile. Protein powders tend to be high in protein, and low in everything else. This is because they are usually made with protein concentrates or isolates, foods stripped of everything but the protein. Meal replacement powders, on the other hand, tend to have a more balanced nutrition profile. Because they are intended to replace the nutritional value of a meal, they usually have fats, carbohydrates, and other nutrients in addition to protein.
Can you use protein powder as a meal replacement?
A protein powder can be used as a meal replacement, and a meal replacement can be used as a protein supplement. That said, every protein powder is different. Some protein powders have fats and carbohydrates and other nutrients, whereas others do not. The former make for better meal replacements.
Likewise, every meal replacement is different. Some meal replacements have lots of protein per serving, whereas others do not. The former make for better protein supplements.
The point here is that we can only generalize about the suitability of protein powders and meal replacements. The only way to know what is in your protein powder or meal replacement, and what it is best suited for, is to read the Nutrition Facts.
Protein powder or meal replacement?
Many people use protein supplements and meal replacements to help manage their weight, so let us start there. Believe it or not, both protein powders and meal replacements can help you gain and lose weight. This probably sounds confusing, so allow me to explain.
Losing weight is all about achieving and maintaining a calorie deficit – eating fewer calories than you burn. Gaining weight is all about achieving and maintaining a calorie surplus – eating more calories than you burn. Depending on how they are used, protein powders and meal replacements can help you achieve a calorie deficit or a calorie surplus.
Drinking a protein shake or a meal replacement shake in between meals, for example, will add calories to your diet and help you achieve a calorie surplus. Meal replacements have more calories than protein powders, and are probably better suited for this goal.
Replacing a meal or part of a meal with a protein shake or a meal replacement shake, on the contrary, can help you achieve a calorie deficit. The reason why this works has to do with hunger.
Hunger is a powerful sensation, and depriving your body of calories it thinks it needs is uncomfortable. Your body does not like to be uncomfortable, and it will not shut up until you give it what it wants. This is the main reason why losing weight is so hard – even the most stubborn person can only ignore hunger for so long, and will eventually eat (often more than he or she needs to).
The secret to weight loss is therefore to prevent hunger. In order to do so while maintaining a calorie deficit, you have to eat the right foods. Some foods are satiating, meaning they fill you up. Others are not. The trick is to eat more of the former, and less of the latter.
High protein foods are among the most satiating foods and can help with weight loss. They keep you feeling full for longer, which helps prevent cravings and overeating. Protein powder and high protein meal replacements are therefore a great way to increase the percentage of your calories that come from high protein, and help you lose weight. Protein powder may be better suited for this goal, but a high protein meal replacement can also do the trick. Our meal replacements, for instance, contain a whopping 30g protein per serving.
Before you start chugging shakes, however, you should know that not all protein powders or meal replacements are good for you. Unfortunately, most products out there are made with ingredients that are not healthy. Here are few of the top offenders.
Avoid food additives.
Most protein powders and meal replacements are full of food additives. Although they are not necessarily bad for you in small quantities, food additives can add up quickly, especially if you drink a protein shake every day. At higher quantities, food additives can cause gastrointestinal (GI) side effects.
Many food additives are hard to digest and sit in your gut for longer than they should. This gives your gut bacteria more time to ferment (eat), and as they eat, these bacteria produce gas, which causes bloating, cramps, and nausea.
In the short term, gas also slows colonic transit (the amount of time it takes food to travel through the colon), which can lead to constipation. In the long term, food additives disrupt regulatory pathways in the intestine and trigger the development of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and systemic inflammatory disorders.
Keep an eye out for artificial sweeteners too. Artificial sweeteners are poorly absorbed by the gut, which means that they feed your hungry gut bacteria. They also alter the composition of your gut microbiota (the collection of microorganisms that help you digest food). This can lead to serious GI problems and widespread inflammation.
Finally, artificial sweeteners, especially sugar alcohols like xylitol, can cause diarrhea because they draw water into your gut. Now you might finally have something to blame for those post-protein shake trips to the bathroom.
Here is a list of the most common food additives in protein powders and meal replacements:
acacia gum, acesulfame potassium, artificial flavors, aspartame, carrageenan, cellulose gum, dextrin, dextrose, erythritol, gellan gum, guar gum, gum arabic, inulin, locust bean gum, “natural” flavors*, maltodextrin, rice syrup solids, soy lecithin, silica, sucralose, sunflower lecithin, xanthan gum, xylitol
When it comes to identifying food additives, go with your gut. 😉 As a rule of thumb, they are the ingredients that you cannot pronounce. Food additives are not the only thing to look out for when buying protein powders and meal repalcements, however. There are several other ingredients that can upset your stomach.
egg whites, coconut, cocoa, monk fruit
Protein Matrix Comprised of (Whey Protein Concentrate, Whey Protein Isolate, Calcium Caseinate, Micellar Casein, Milk Protein Isolate, Egg Albumen, Glutamine Peptides), Polydextrose, Sunflower Creamer (Sunflower Oil, Corn Syrup Solids, Sodium Caseinate, Mono- and Diglycerides, Dipotassium Phosphate, Tricalcium Phosphate, Soy Lecithin, Tocopherols), Natural and Artificial Flavor, MCT Powder (Medium Chain Triglycerides, Nonfat Dry Milk, Disodium Phosphate, Silicon Dioxide), Lecithin, Cellulose Gum, Salt, Yellow 5, Sucralose, Acesulfame Potassium, Papain, Bromelain.
*This is the actual ingredient list of one of the best-selling protein powders in the United States.
Dairy-based proteins like whey can casein are byproducts of cheese and yogurt production. They are known to cause digestive issues, especially for people with lactose intolerance and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Over one in three Americans are lactose intolerant, and the prevalence of IBS is somewhere between 10 and 15 percent in the United States. It follows that you may be lactose intolerant or have IBS and not even know it.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a poorly understood condition, and it is unclear why dairy triggers symptoms. Lactose intolerance, on the other hand, is clearly understood. People with lactose intolerance are unable to fully digest lactose, the sugar in dairy. As you just learned, partially digested food feeds the bacteria in your gut, which produce gas.
Avoid protein concentrates and isolates.
Finding an additive-free, dairy-free protein powder or meal replacement is hard. Finding an additive-free, dairy-free protein powder or meal replacement made with real foods is next to impossible. Why? Most protein powders and meal replacements are made with protein concentrates and isolates, foods stripped of everything but the protein. They are listed on the ingredient list as “pea protein,” for example, as opposed to “peas.”
We will not go into the details, but protein concentrates and isolates undergo heavy mechanical and chemical processing before becoming protein powder or meal replacement. Sometimes, manufacturers use chemical solvents like hexane to separate the protein from the food. This means that what you end up putting into your body looks nothing like real food.
The potential problem here is that your gut might not know what to do with ingredients like these. Your gut prefers the real thing, not some heavily-processed imitation, so protein concentrates and isolates might be hard to digest for people with sensitive stomachs.
Instead of protein concentrates or isolates, we use egg whites and chickpeas. Egg whites are simply broken, pasteurized, and dried before becoming protein powder or meal replacement. Chickpeas are just dried and ground. Minimally-processed ingredients like these are easy to digest and a stomach-friendly alternative to protein concentrates and isolates.
Unless you have a sensitivity or allergy to eggs, egg white protein is the best protein for people with sensitive stomachs. Egg whites are low in fiber, low-FODMAP, and have the highest protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS) of any whole food. Our customers have experienced fewer digestive issues with egg white protein than with any other type of protein.
If you cannot eat eggs, try our chickpea protein powder. We like chickpeas because, compared to other plant protein sources, they are high in soluble fiber. Unlike insoluble fiber, which can have a laxative effect, soluble fiber increases in size as it moves through your digestive tract. This can help make your bowel movements easier and more regular.
“I just finished my first bag and ordered 2 more! I Iove this stuff! I have IBS and every protein powder hurts my stomach…except drink wholesome!”
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.