Meal Replacement Vs Protein Shakes: What's The Difference?

Meal Replacement vs Protein Shakes: What’s the Difference?

 Last Updated on June, 2024

Meal Replacement Shakes Vs Protein Shakes. Two of the products consumers often find confusing before buying.

Many individuals think that both of these are the same, but it isn’t. Meal Replacement Shakes and Protein Shakes are vastly different, with each fulfilling different needs.

But differentiating them from one another is not as difficult as you think. In this article, I’ll break down all the differences that you need to know before choosing between a Meal Replacement Shake or a Protein Shake.

Along with that, I will also let you decide what’s the best Shake to achieve your goals.

So all you have to do is just continue reading!

What is a Meal Replacement Shake?

Meal Replacement Shakes lemon on the table

First, let’s start with the basics!

If you don’t know what a Meal Replacement is, here’s what you need to know.

Meal Replacement Shakes, as the name suggests, are intended to replace a full meal. This means you can replace your breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

These Shakes are packed with nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. But often have fewer calories than that of an actual meal.

Along with other essential nutrients, the protein source is also high in here. (1)

Meal Replacements not only come in the form of Shakes. You can also get them as meal bars and powder, which you need to prepare by mixing with milk or water. This can be useful for someone who’s not a fan of Shakes. 

When it comes to grains, fruits, and vegetables, Meal Replacements does not include any of those. However, they’re able to provide you with the nutrients that you would get from those foods. Also, with the number of proteins included in these Shakes, you can expect to feel fuller for considerably longer.

Meal Replacements, Since they’re low in calories, they can be great if your goal is to lose weight or maintain it. They can also help you with weight gain if that’s your thing. 

But before you go on and try out a Meal Replacement Shake or powder, you need to know that replacing all three of your meals is not recommended. One or two is fine, but three can be overkill, keep that in mind.

What is a Protein Shake?

Protein Shakes on the table

Next Up, Protein Shakes, These are Dietary Supplements. (2)

These Shakes are made by combining protein powder with water or other liquids.

Protein Shakes contain Protein as their primary ingredient. This can be Plant-based Proteins such as hemp, rice, pea, and soy. Even casein protein and whey protein can be seen too.

Other ingredients in these Shakes can include branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), flavorings, and vitamins. (3)

They often tend to be lower in carbohydrates and fats, but you can expect a protein shake that has plant-based Protein to be higher in carbs.

These Protein Drinks not only come in powdered form, though. You can also get a best ready-made shake, which you can drink on the go.

A Protein drink can be helpful in a lot of ways, such as enhancing muscle growth, helping with weight loss and maintaining a healthy metabolism, increasing lean muscle gain, and preventing muscle loss. (4)

If you want to gain weight, Protein Shakes can help with that too, but you’ll have to add more calories. (5)

Requirements of a Meal Replacement

Currently, there are no proper regulations for a Meal Replacement product in The United States for total diet replacement or even partial replacement.

You can see these Shakes marketed and regulated medical foods, conventional foods, and foods for distinct dietary use.

However, in Europe, Meal Replacements are intended to do what they’re supposed to do, which means they can be used to supplement or replace meals. 

The European Union recommends that a Meal Replacement should meet the below-mentioned Regulatory Requirements if they’re to qualify as Meal Replacements.

meal replacement  shakes on the floor
  • Energy: Between 200–400 calories
  • Fat: 30% or less than the total energy in the product
  • Protein: 25-50% of the total energy in the product
  • Vitamins and Minerals: 30% or more than that

Worth reading: How to Make a Meal Replacement Shake With Protein Powder?

Meal Replacement vs Protein Shakes: The Difference

Now that you know the basics Let’s talk about Differences.

As I mentioned earlier, Protein Shakes and Meal Replacement Shakes are different, and each one is intended to fulfill different goals.

So to help you decide the best Shake for your needs, let’s run down the differences.

Meal Replacement

Replaces a Meal or Two 

The main difference between a Good Meal Replacement Shake and a Protein Shake is this. These shakes are intended to replace a meal or two, be it breakfast, lunch, or dinner. No matter what, you can skip two of them per day.

The reason why you can safely substitute two meals is that Meal Replacement Shakes contain calories, macronutrients, essential vitamins, and minerals that’s enough to keep you full for hours while also providing you with enough nutrition needed.

Helps to Lose Weight 

Since you’ll consume fewer calories by having Meal Replacement Shakes, you can expect to experience weight loss.

Consuming fewer calories is key to losing weight. Even several studies have proven that replacing a meal or two with Meal Replacements Shakes can help you if you’re trying to lose weight. (6)

To check how much weight you can lose with meal replacement shakes, click here!

They Provide Some Protein

Not all Meal Replacement Shake is a High Protein Meal Replacement Shake. Even though they provide Protein, it’s not up to the amount of what a Protein Shake is able to provide.

Calories Per Serving, Fiber, and Carbohydrates are Typically Higher

Meal Replacement Shakes provide higher Calories Per Serving, Fiber, and Carbohydrates than Protein Shakes.

All of this can be very beneficial for your health as it can help you with healthy digestion, keep your blood cholesterol levels in check and help you feel full.

Protein Shake

Not Intended to Replace a Regular Meal

Protein Shakes are primarily food supplements, not replacements. They are intended to supplement your regular diet and can turn out to be more helpful when consumed before or after a workout. These Shakes are able to help you gain muscle mass.

So don’t expect a Protein Shake to provide you with enough calories, vitamins, and nutrients for a day. You’ll still need to follow a healthy diet.

Related: What if i drink protein shakes and don’t workout?

They Enhance Your Protein Intake

Protein Powders and Shakes contain a lot of very high-quality protein. Typically up to 25 grams of Protein are available in a Protein Shake. However, as I said before, they are low in other nutrients and stuff.

Can Help You Build Muscle

If you increase protein consumption, you can expect to build up muscles faster. Lifting weight regularly can tear up your muscle’s fiber, and these Shakes, when consumed, deliver enough Protein to your muscles and help you to build them faster.

Low Calorie

These Shakes are low in calories mainly because they’re not intended to replace a full meal.

Not only that, but they also have a lower fat count, plus typically contain carbohydrates less than 5 grams.

Vitamins and Minerals

Protein Shakes do not contain many vitamins and minerals you would otherwise find in Meal Replacement Drinks.

Is it Possible to Use Meal Replacement Shakes as Protein Shakes?

Meal Replacement Shakes are able to provide the nutritional value of a Full Meal, So, it is possible for them to deliver enough proteins too. Meal Replacement Shakes like Ample is an excellent example of this. This particular Shake provides 36g protein per serving along with other important sources such as vitamins, minerals, carbs, and fats.

Before Adding Meal Replacement Shakes or Protein Shakes Into Your Diet

Meal Replacement Shakes and Protein Shakes on the table

Meal Replacement Shakes and Protein Shakes are no doubt a healthy addition to your diet.

But you need to be mindful before adding them into your diet. Take a Meal Replacement Shake as an example; you need to keep in mind that replacing all three of your meals with these Shakes is not safe.

Even though they provide proper nutrients, A Meal Replacement can never replace whole foods even if it is the Best Replacement in the market.

Because what whole foods contain is different, These contain enzymes, plant compounds, antioxidants that are simply not possible to put into a bottle.

So, use Meal Shakes just to replace a meal or two per day. Anything more than that could spell trouble.

The same goes for Protein Shakes too. First of all, you should never replace your meals with Protein Drinks because they’re not intended to do that.

To meet your nutritional needs, drinking one to three Protein Drinks is more than enough. Anything more than that could put you in trouble. Plus, not all Shakes are healthy. Some contain ingredients that might not be so healthy at all.

So, before adding either Protein or a Meal Replacement Shake into your diet, consult a doctor and get his verdict on what’ll be the best for you. They will be able to provide you with everything you might need before adding one of these Shakes into your diet.


Now you might have a clear idea about both of these Shakes. Honestly, there’s a lot that split these two apart. With each having its specific use cases, it’s up to you to decide what’ll work for you based on your goal.

If you’re going to go on a weight loss journey or looking for something to maintain body weight, then a Meal Replacement Shake is probably your best bet.

On the other hand, if you are looking to build and tone your muscles or want a muscle recovery after workouts, you shouldn’t look further than a Protein Shake. 



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Jennifer Pantall
Jennifer Pantall is a Nutrition Therapy Practitioner. She loves tennis and has one daughter with a lovely husband whom she adores. Jennifer also loves to spend time outdoors playing with her dog or walking in nature. You can find more about me here.

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