Can meal replacement powders help you control your weight?
For a number of years, I’ve recommended a detox diet plan that includes, during one phase, the use of protein powder meal replacement shakes.
The detox plan has worked great for a number of my patients – and I’ve benefited from it too.
But meal replacement powders are often recommended as part of a strategy to lose weight.
Do they work?
- Can protein powder meal replacement supplements help you lose weight?
- Who should use them? And for how long?
- Are certain types of protein powder better than others?
I discovered both pros and cons to using protein powder meal replacement products.
First, the pluses
- Muscle tissue has a higher baseline metabolism than other types of tissue, so the more muscle you build, the more you’ll boost your metabolism and the easier it will be to lose weight. Burning calories is one reason that exercise is essential to weight loss, but the muscle-building aspect of exercise is even more important. Taking a protein supplement immediately after exercise has been shown to boost muscle synthesis. That alone is one reason to use a protein powder meal replacement product as part of your weight loss strategy.
- Here’s an extra bonus: The amino acids in the protein we eat actually generate a hormone-like signal that triggers the body to synthesize more muscle. (This is especially true of leucine, an important branched-chain amino acid.) That accentuates the metabolic boost you get from protein powders.
- Research has pointed to the value of protein shakes in contributing to weight loss. One study was reported in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association in 2001. Half of a group of women was given a standard 1,200-calorie meal plan. The other half was told to replace all three daily meals with a liquid shake containing 220 calories, supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables to total 1,200 calories per day. Both groups of women lost 3 to 6 pounds of body fat in the first three months. But only the women using the meal replacement plan maintained their weight loss over an entire year. The other women regained the lost weight.
Now the negatives
- Complete, natural foods are always more nutritious than scientifically-concocted supplements. They have trace components that science is only beginning to tease apart. Protein powders will always fall short. Instead of a protein shake, you might be better off eating a high-protein food like a boiled egg, or a small piece of bison or wild-caught salmon.
- Although the research that backs the use of protein meal replacement shakes seems convincing at first, the reality of people’s eating behavior is far more complex. One reason that women using protein shakes can lose more weight is that a protein-shake diet is simpler to follow. Any time that you have a restricted range of choices, it’s easier to choose – and that makes the diet easier to stick with. Other research bears this out. For instance, a diet in which you replace one meal a day with a glass of milk, or a bowl of cheerios, or any single food choice, is very easy to follow. These diet plans are proven to help you lose weight, too. In other words, there’s nothing magical about protein shakes when it comes to losing weight. What works is building your commitment to a low-calorie habit.
So why not use low calorie meals that have a more complete range of nutrients than what’s found in protein powder?
The bottom line
If you’re trying to build muscle, a protein supplement after working out can help. Here’s more info.
As part of a detox diet, a protein shake can be useful because it simplifies your food choices and makes it less likely you’ll be ingesting something that you’re sensitive too or can’t digest easily.
If you’re trying to lose weight, using meal replacement protein powders might be a help too. Choose a high quality product that supplies a balance of nutrients.
Whey is one of the best protein sources, because it’s easily digestible and absorbable. And it’s high in the amino acid leucine, the strongest trigger for protein synthesis. Although it’s derived from dairy, it rarely causes any allergic response (most people with a dairy allergy are sensitive to casein, the other type of protein found in milk.)
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