Can You Use Plant-Based Protein Shakes as Meal Replacements?
A plant-based protein shake is a convenient, satisfying way to refuel. They’re so convenient that it might be tempting to mix one up instead of firing up the stove or delivery app at mealtime. Could a plant-based shake be used as a meal replacement?
The short answer
Most protein shakes aren’t intended to be a main course.
“Plant-based shakes, or any protein shake in general, don’t necessarily make up for a complete meal,” says Krista Maguire, RD, CSSD, Openfit nutrition manager. “They’re a quick, easy-to-prepare and take on-the-go pure source of protein, but they often don’t have enough calories on their own and, depending on the shake, may be lacking in other macronutrients.”
As an occasional meal replacement, you could consume some good fats and complex carbs with your shake to ensure you’re hitting all the macros. “Because the main macronutrient in plant-based shakes is protein, and their calorie count is often on the lower end, it’s often a good idea to add carbs like fruit or rolled oats and healthy fats like nut butter, avocado, or chia seeds to make a balanced meal,” says Maguire.
So when should I use them?
Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, a board-certified sports dietitian based in Newtown, Pennsylvania, recommends that ready-to-drink plant-based shakes be used to help reduce feelings of hunger after exercise or as an additional supplement throughout the day.
If you have a busy schedule, limited time to prepare snacks, or just feel hungry, Jones believes protein shakes can work into your routine. “As a meal replacement, they fall short of energy and essential nutrients which are critical for overall health, performance, and physical and mental energy levels,” she says. “It’s of course better to grab a ready-to-drink shake over skipping a meal, but it isn’t something I recommend choosing on a regular basis at mealtime.”
Is There a Limit to How Many Shakes You Can Have Per Day?
When adding protein shakes to your routine, stick to one or two a day.
“There’s not necessarily a limit,” says Maguire. “However, having more than two a day may displace other foods, and therefore other nutrients, including certain vitamins and minerals that come from whole foods. Protein shakes make a great convenient option, but shouldn’t be your sole source of nourishment for the day.”
You could be missing out
Not eating enough at mealtime also tends to mean you’re not consuming adequate calories overall, which can lead to some health issues over time, particularly for women, says Jones.
“While active men tend to require more total energy over the course of a day, active women are more likely to see disruptions in normal endocrine (hormone) function when they are consistently eating less energy than their body needs,” Jones says. She adds that regularly having low-calorie meals can lead to a variety of problems, including:
- early bone loss
- increased injury risk
- immune suppression
While most of these issues can affect men, too, women may be more likely to think they can get by with chronically inadequate meals, Jones says.
How Much Protein Do You Need Per Day?
So how do you know if you’re getting enough protein every day? Experts advise consuming 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. (To determine your weight in kilograms, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2.)
But think of that as a minimum starting point, not a set-in-stone rule. If you’re highly active, seeking to lose weight, injured, or older in age, these are a few instances where more daily protein may be warranted, says Maguire.