Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a meal replacement drink and a protein drink? I get this question all the time. It’s really important to know the difference so you can make the best choice based on your health goals.
A meal replacement drink contains significant amounts of the three macronutrients: carbohydrate, protein, and fat. As the name implies, it is meant to relace a meal. The balance between carbs, protein, and fat are meant to mimic a small meal (or large meal—depending on which drink you choose). For a typical meal replacement drink, the carbs can range anywhere from 15-45 g of carbs (the equivalent of 1-3 carb servings). Protein can range anywhere from 7-40 g (the equivalent of 1-5 protein servings). The fat content can range from 5-15 g (the equivalent of 1-3 fat servings). Typically they are fortified with vitamins and minerals too, so it’s like taking a daily multivitamin.
Which drink you choose is up to your health goals. The one drawback to meal replacement drinks, is the amount of added sugars, which can range anywhere from 4-24 g (the equivalent of 1-6 teaspoons)! Here are some ideas:
- Boost Original, Ensure Original, or Carnation Instant Breakfast only have about 1.5 servings of protein, a little over 2 servings of carbs, and 3 teaspoons of added sugars. Because of the added sugars and low protein, I rarely recommend these drinks. They could be used as a snack replacement if you are trying to gain weight.
- Boost High Protein, Ensure High Protein, Carnation Instant Breakfast High Protein, Slim-Fast, Special K, etc. These types of drinks have a higher protein content and provide about 2 protein servings. The carb amount is around 30g on average. These drinks are great for meal replacements because of the balance between protein and carbs.
A protein drink is high protein and low carb/sugar. They contain at least 20 g of protein and at most 40 g (3-5 protein servings). They have little or no added sugars or fat. They are meant to add more protein to your diet and don’t provide energy (carbs). Protein drinks are a perfect supplement for you if you struggle to get adequate protein at every meal. In fact, I prefer to call them “protein supplement drinks” to remind my clients that they supplement the meal, not replace the meal. If you rely on protein drinks only at your meal, you might be tired, hungry, and sluggish because you are not eating any complex carbohydrates.
Some examples of protein supplement drinks that I recommend and my clients love:
- Premier Protein
- Boost Max
- Ensure Max
- Fairlife Nutrition Plan 30g Protein
- Fairlife Core Power
How might you use a protein supplement?
- After a hard workout at the gym, drink a protein drink and eat a piece of fruit within 1 hour of finishing your workout. Your muscles will soak up the protein to start re-building and the carbs will fuel the muscle building process.
- Drink a protein drink for lunch when you don’t have time to leave the office. Eat a banana, box or raisins, whole grain crackers, or an apple for carbs (brain power) and fiber (fullness) with it.
- Drink one for breakfast to round out your favorite high-carb breakfast (oatmeal, whole grain toast with avocado, whole wheat tortilla with peanut butter, etc.)
If I had to choose my personal favorite, it is the Fairlife. I love to drink one for lunch and eat a banana on my busiest work days. The combination of carbs, fiber, and protein keep me satisfied and fueled for a few hours until I can eat a balanced snack.
Do you need help with your diet? Check out my Intentional Eating 101 Program.
Now that you know the difference between protein drinks and meal replacement drinks, which one are you going to choose? Comment below to share your ideas.