Just gonna shake it off: A guide to diet shakes

Advertisements and endorsements for meal replacements, protein shakes, and liquid fasts fill the pages of magazines and TV airtime. All of the information gets dizzying because it is so hard to know what might work for you and what is a scam. I compiled research to create a Fact List of supplemental shakes.

Firstly, I don’t drink any sort of shakes on the regular. There are a few occasions where I mix protein powder in a smoothie, but I prefer to eat my calories as whole fruit rather than drink them. That is just my preference. Preston does drink protein shakes regularly, but he also requires 2,300 calories per day. That can get to be a lot of food, so shakes are a great source of quick protein without bulk or other ingredients.

The Top 3 Types of Supplemental Meal Shakes

The basic protein shake: A very common option among lifters and dieters alike. The protein shake is most beneficial if your goals include a high protein requirement. As mentioned, Preston utilizes protein shakes to reach his goals without having to eat as much meat or protein bars (because they are way more expensive!). Mix 1 scoop of powder (110-200 calories) with water or milk (0-90 calories).

Protein smoothie: To up the flavor, take the basic shake and add 3/4 cup of  low-fat Greek yogurt (80-100 calories), fruit (20-100 calories), and ice. Blend in your food processor or blender. Notice how quickly the smoothie becomes a meal with 300+ calories.

SlimFast, Isagenix, Shakeology, etc.: The branded shakes that allow you to grab and go. These products are pre-portioned into packaged bottles and range from 180-400 calories per serving. The products have the potential to be great for your goals OR to secretly get in your way. Pay close attention to the serving sizes and decide if the calorie count is worth drinking.

Shake Cheat Sheet

This comparison is based on the vanilla flavor for each brand. The first column is the serving size (most of these shakes advertise as low calorie, but it is only due to their small serving sizes). Then I list the calorie per serving as opposed to the real calorie count. I call this the real amount because you will most likely want to drink more than 1 small serving. The protein content is another marketing ploy. Preston, at 175 pounds and less than 12% body fat, eats 200 grams a day. I, at 130 pounds and 24% body fat, only need 80 grams. More than likely, you don’t need all the protein these shakes are offering.

Brand/Type Serving Size Calories Real Calories Protein
SlimFast 2.75 fl oz 180 720 20
ISAGenix 1 packet/ 6-8 fl oz 240 330* 24
Shakeology 1 scoop/ 8-12 fl oz 130 220* 16
IdealShape 1 scoop/ 8-12 fl oz 100 190* 11
Whey Shake 1 scoop/ 8-12 fl oz 120 210* 24

*The product comes in a powder form and calories are dependent on how you mix it. Mixing with water, as recommended, will not add calories. Mixing with skim milk with add 90 calories. Keep in mind that 8 fl oz is 1 cup when determining your real calorie count.

Our recommendation: The SlimFast is the most deceiving as a serving is only 1/4 of the 11 fl oz bottle. A can of coke is 12 fl oz, and I am willing to bet you don’t want 1/4 of that can. If you drink the entire bottle,  you will have over 700 calories and 80 grams of protein. That is a huge amount for any meal. The best options are the powder mixes that give you control over the total calories based on how you mix it. I recommend using 1 cup of cashew, almond, or skim milk (25-90 calories) to balance flavor and consistency with calories.

Overall, I would eat my calories to feel more satiated. For 330 calories I can have 3 eggs (210), 3 strips of turkey bacon (90 calories), and veggies. However, if you don’t have the time or ability to eat in the mornings or at lunch, a shake could be a great option for you.

The most important take away is that these are meal replacements. You can’t drink them with food.. that is doubling your calorie per meal.. and you may be hungry later. These products are not regulated by the FDA and the claims of success are often inflated. Most of the websites I read through described the perfect day as two shakes (480 calories), 2 small snacks (200-300 calories), and a balanced dinner of 400 calories. Your total day 1,180 calories; this is why brands can make the claims that the products work. The shakes aren’t doing anything different than meals of the same calorie size. You will lose weight if you are only eating 1,200 calories a day. In the end, it is however you prefer to cut your intake and balance it with your calories burned.






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