What Are Protein Shakes and Do They Work for Weight Loss?
By Nataniel Viuniski, M.D., Member of Herbalife Nutrition Advisory Board
Many people around the world are turning to protein shakes as a solution for weight loss. Others also use these products to improve their nutritional intake or build muscle. But despite the growing popularity, there are still some doubts, myths, and misconceptions about the safety and effectiveness of this class of functional food.
As a nutrition specialist, obesity expert, and compensated member of the Herbalife Nutrition Advisory Board, I would like to address the six most frequently asked questions about protein shakes:
What Is a Protein Shake?
A protein shake is a single drink intended to deliver protein to supplement a regular diet. For me, this refers to meal replacement protein shakes, which include other nutrients and are often used for weight loss and weight maintenance programs.
Depending on the program, protein shakes can replace one or two of the usually three daily meals. These shakes exert their effect by reducing portion size, consequently minimizing caloric intake, all the while providing excellent nutritional balance and satiety.
Do Protein Shakes Really Work?
Protein shakes as meal replacements have been developed to provide nutrients that you typically receive from an average meal—but with fewer calories.
They are effective substitutes for meals that are high in calories but poor in nutrients. For example, a typical breakfast such as nasi lemak delivers around 664 calories. By contrast, a meal replacement shake prepared with 240ml nonfat milk, provides about 200 calories.
In this case, choosing a protein shake will save you approximately 350 calories per meal, and you get an excellent balance of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and macronutrients (protein, carbs, and healthy fats). Protein shakes often come in different flavors and allows you to add fruits, spices and other healthy ingredients to create an endless variety of recipes.
These products are also practical and convenient. They are a perfect nutrition solution for the frenetic pace of 21st century life. You can have your shake at your office, at school, or on public transport.
Still, nutrition balance and limiting caloric intake are decisive factors when using meal replacement protein shakes. The success of any weight loss program will depend on your fruit and vegetable intake, meal appropriateness, stress control, sleep quality, and exercise habits.
Are there any negative effects of consuming protein shakes?
Protein shakes are safe and healthy when consumed as recommended on the product label. Scientific papers on meal replacements attest to the benefits of this nutritional product.
As meal replacements, protein shakes are an excellent combination of macro- and micronutrients and contain no medicine, hormones or diuretics. As nourishment, healthy adults can drink them, but children, pregnant women, nursing mothers or people with any health issues should refer to a health professional before making any changes to their diet.
Does a Shake Substitute for a Balanced Diet?
Meal replacement shakes are composed of the nutrients you need for a healthy and balanced meal. They are important tools for those who have limited healthy nutritional choices available or occasionally have no time to eat well. Shakes are thus part of a balanced diet.
However, if you already eat a healthy, balanced, low-calorie diet and exercise regularly, you probably don’t need to replace your meals for purely nutritional reasons. But if you are away from home or just want some variety in your regimen, you might choose a shake as a tasty, convenient, practical and healthy option.
Can Protein Shakes Be Consumed Every Day?
Yes, protein shakes are a great tool for those who just want to have more healthy and convenient meal options.
One of the shake’s biggest advantages is its practicality, serving as a healthy option for busy people. In modern life, people often don’t have time or opportunity to eat a planned or healthy meal. If you are running late for work in the morning, or too tired to cook at night, a protein shake could be a very appropriate solution since it is easy, nutritious and quick to prepare.
Are Protein Shakes Only for People Trying to Lose Weight?
Not necessarily. Protein shakes work as an excellent complement to other healthy diet elements, and they can also be an effective weight management tool. How often you consume shakes will lead you to different goals.
To lose weight, you can replace two out of three meals a day with a shake until you reach your weight target. Then, to maintain your weight, you can replace one meal a day with a shake.
If your objective is to gain muscle and lean body mass, you should have all three healthy and balanced meals as planned and add one or two shakes as a snack, to add protein to your diet. Of course, your exercise routine is key to determining your success.
The bottom line is that protein shakes are a convenient, delicious and practical nutritional tool and a healthy food choice for those who want to get in their best shape and feel good while navigating the challenges of modern life.
Nataniel Viuniski is a pediatrician and nutritional expert whose main areas of interest are weight management and childhood obesity. He is also an advisor to Brazil’s Health and Education Ministry for Childhood Obesity and director of nutrition service for Unimed Hospital in Rio Grande do Sul.
*These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.