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Weight-Loss Shakes: Which Is Right for You?

By Fitoru | 26 February 2019
dumbbells, protein powder, and waist measuring tape

If you’re looking to lose some weight either short term or long term, weight-loss shakes are a natural starting point. As a meal replacement to curb appetite or to boost your protein and vitamin intake as you start or increase your workout routine, weight-loss shakes can be a great help. The question is: what are you looking for in a weight-loss shake, and which kind will work best for you? Would you be better off making your own, or are there extras in ready-to-drink shakes that would serve you better? Find out about your options and the ingredients you should watch for, so you can choose the weight-loss shake that suits you best.

Weight-loss shakes to fit your needs.

There is no replacing the benefits of a whole foods diet, but for the purposes of losing weight without starving, or for making sure you get the basic nutrients and vitamins you need during your busy morning, weight-loss shakes or smoothies could be just the right breakfast bevvy for your needs.

The Best Weight-Loss Shakes You Can Buy

There are a lot of supposed weight-loss shakes on the market, but if you know anything about how the body gains fat, you’ll know that a shake that’s technically low calorie but still filled with sugar isn’t going to help. If your goal is to lose weight, there are a couple of different ways to get there with ready-made shakes.

Protein Shakes

Whether you go with whey protein, soy protein, egg protein, etc., the benefits from shakes that are high in protein can quickly contribute to weight-loss goals.

  • If you’re working out. Diet is an enormous part of weight loss, because we all burn calories just by moving around each day, and even when we’re fast asleep. If your weight-loss goals don’t involve working out, you may not need any more protein than usual, but if weight management to you means hitting the gym and building up strength while you’re at (knowing of course that more muscle means more fat-burning capacity), then a few extra grams of protein after training can make your good work go even further (plus reduce the time you’ll spend with muscle soreness).
  • If you need better energy. Better energy means longer lasting energy, not the kind you get from a cup of coffee, but the kind of energy you can get when you take the stairs to your floor instead of the elevator, and suddenly your brain’s more awake and your body’s more invigorated. Protein shakes may help increase your metabolism, burning more calories as they come in for immediate use so that those calories don’t get added to your body as fat.
  • You’re on a low-carb or keto diet. Shakes that focus mostly on protein aren’t for everyone; those looking for a meal replacement may want more in their shake than just protein, fiber, and a handful of vitamins. However, if you’re on a particular diet of your own and don’t want a bunch of extras when you’re just looking for a boost of protein, then a protein shake or protein powder mix might be the perfect mix for you.

These are some paths that might lead you to a high-protein option when looking for weight-loss shakes, but what if once you evaluate your own weight-loss goals and methods, you know you’re not interested in hitting the gym or trying for ketosis? Can you still safely lose weight another way?

Meal Replacement Shakes

Meal replacement shakes differ from high-protein and muscle-building shakes in a few key ways. Yes, a good meal replacement shake will also contain protein (whether it’s protein derived from milk, soy, rice, hemp seed, etc. is up to you), but it will be a more moderate amount of protein and contain a much wider variety of vitamins and minerals meant to replace an entire meal. If instead of a sandwich, salad, and cup of yogurt for lunch you’re having one meal replacement shake, how much more should be in there to make sure you’re not short-changing yourself?

You might find a meal replacement shake is just what you’re looking for if:

  • You don’t have sit-down time. It’s not that you wouldn’t sit down for a hardy breakfast or delicious lunch, it’s that you’ve got kids to get to school, or meetings to be in all day, or places to be on time that leave you spending your breakfast and lunch hours in your car, stuck on the freeway. Under those circumstances, drinking a meal or two on the go is a valuable option for you.
  • You need a more well-rounded option. Pop-Tarts are not a meal. A fast food breakfast burrito is not a meal. A baggie of trail mix is not a meal. If you wouldn’t feel right handing your food to a child for breakfast, you shouldn’t settle for it yourself just because you’re old enough to take the nutritional hit. A meal replacement shake can be just as filling as eating whatever’s nearby, but it is also more likely to have a balanced amount of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients.
  • You’re counting grams or calories. The nice thing about a ready-made shake: lots of ingredients but only one nutrition label to read. If your weight-loss strategy is to eat fewer calories, one shake for breakfast and/or lunch is easy math, and you can save the algebra for a whole foods dinner. You may be diabetic and need to monitor your food intake for your blood sugar levels. You may have a vitamin deficiency and need to make sure you hit a daily minimum on doctor’s orders. If so, then being able to see exactly what you’ve eaten listed out (or even more convenient, being able to scan its barcode into a diet tracker app) can be the perfect simplicity you need to take a necessary chore and make it much easier on yourself.

Liquid meal replacement shakes are widely available and convenient to stock up on in your home pantry or your desk drawer at work—wherever you are, you can make sure you’re never without a balanced option when you’re hungry. When buying, look for products with between 15–20 grams of protein per serving, 3–5 grams of fiber per serving, and at least 30% of the daily value for most vitamins. Be sure to avoid those with more than 10 grams of sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, or a long list of artificial sweeteners or synthetic additives on the label.

Nutritional Shakes

The distinction between nutritional shakes and those previously listed is that nutritional shakes are sometimes condition-specific and might involve health care instructions. You might find yourself in need of one if you are:

  • Unable to easily chew or swallow. Whether a temporary or permanent concern, this sort of obstacle to eating whole foods could lead to something so uncomfortable and unwanted as a feeding tube. The right nutritional shake could help you stay healthy and avoid such a drastic step. This is a circumstance where proper weight gain might be the goal over weight loss, but becoming overweight due to only being able to drink empty calories is also a risk.
  • Recovering from surgery or an injury. Protein will be necessary here for rebuilding tissue, but if you’re immobile during recovery, a general meal replacement or protein shake intended for fitness support might fill you up with unnecessary calories that have nowhere to go but your body’s fat stores.
  • Recovering from illness. Something as simple as a sports drink could help to replace electrolytes and rehydrate the body, or depending on the length of the illness, a more substantial nutritional shake might be warranted. But again, if you’re sedentary during your recovery, you could be in danger of gaining pounds that might be hard to lose once you’re back on your feet.

Bottom line, the best weight-loss shakes are the ones with ingredients you can understand without a chemistry degree, and no matter what your circumstances or needs, there may well be exactly what you want already out on the market for convenient purchase.

The Best Weight-Loss Shakes You Can Make

Homemade weight-loss shakes can help you avoid any ingredients you’re allergic to or unsure about and ensure sure you’re not skipping real food just because you’re not sitting down to a traditional meal. A whole banana, or an avocado, or six of one and half a dozen of the other; even on a time crunch you can prep and freeze healthy smoothie ingredients on one day and then just blend them up and go for the rest of the week. Here are ideas for healthy weight-loss smoothie ingredients and how you can easily incorporate them into your dietary routine:

  • Bananas: Sweet and nutritious, frozen bananas in a strong enough blender can give you an ice cream-like consistency. That, with the right additional ingredients, could give you a dessert replacement shake that leaves you totally satisfied.
  • Cucumbers: Great for juicing and an excellent way to add hydration to any smoothie, cucumbers can provide vitamin K and antioxidants, and may even help regulate blood sugar.
  • Peanut butter: Delicious and high in protein, peanut butter is an excellent ingredient for a rich protein smoothie that is strong enough to overpower other ingredients with its taste.
  • Leafy greens: With the right greens mixed in, you could make a single healthy shake literally contain a full meal—greens, fruits, the right fats and carbs, all without a single artificial flavor.
  • Soy/almond/coconut milk: Because you might be lactose intolerant, or because cow’s milk can have a lot of dangerous hormones, or because traditional milk goes bad fast (especially when you blend it into a smoothie and then take it to work in a hot car), you may want to keep an alternative to milk handy.

There are tons of weight-loss smoothie recipes, and really no trick to them other than what you already know: only add the foods you want to be eating, and try to make it taste good so that your food doesn’t taste like medicine.

Do remember also: Just because you’re making your weight-loss shakes at home doesn’t mean every ingredient has to be straight from the farmers market—if one of your favorite ingredients is out of stock or out of season, keeping some powdered shake mixes on hand will make sure you’ll never go hungry, nor will you find yourself stuck at a gas station trying to read labels because you ran out of time that morning. Find the mix you like and keep it on standby, that way you set yourself up for success.

Know Thyself

Losing weight can be a wonderful game-changer for your health, your physique, and your fitness. Doing it safely and responsibly is not just smart (your doctor might even give you a gold star!), but in the long run will make sure the weight you lose is weight you can keep off without having to make some Herculean effort every time the numbers on the scale get away from you or you start running out of clothes that fit. Know yourself, your habits, and your body, and find the best balance you can maintain. The long-distance marathon for healthy weight loss isn’t a competition measured against others. It’s a matter of achieving your personal best.

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