Will they really help you lose weight?

Remember back when Oprah Winfrey shed boatloads of weight on an all-shake diet, then (dressed in size eight jeans) she wheeled a wagon of lard/animal fat out onto the stage, proclaiming she’d never gain it back? That might have been the start of the shake frenzy, but it certainly wasn’t the last word on the subject. Today, many experts are advocates of substituting meals with homemade protein shakes, but how healthy are these liquid meals? To shake, or not to shake? That is the question.

Do It Right

Protein combined with weight training helps boost muscle mass and aid in muscular recovery. A scoop of protein powder mixed with water can be a solid post-workout recovery drink. Add in some extra ingredients and you have a balanced meal replacement, right?

“Many quick and easy, grab-and-go foods can be high in carbohydrates and low in nutrients—can you say danish, doughnut, or muffin?” says nutritionist Heidi Skolnik, MS, CDN, FACSM, founder of Nutrition Conditioning in New York. When used properly, protein shakes work better as an on-the-go meal, she explains. “By adding fresh or frozen berries, banana, mangoes, and some nut butter, you have added to the nutritional profile of the meal.” 

The caveat: All that extra good stuff, like nut butters, fruits, oats, and the kitchen sink, can add up in your drink. Don’t make a 700-calorie shake and call it a side dish—that’s a meal. And try not to go overboard on the protein. Skolnik says that the average person (depending on size, shape and activity level) doesn’t need more than 40 grams at once because we can’t process it. Most scoops contain about 20-25 grams—about the same as four ounces of chicken.

Shake It Off

Alternating real meals with liquid ones (such as protein shakes made from protein powder and almond or coconut water) is smart, says Integrative Physician and Naturopath Jade Teta, PhD in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. But beware of piling in loads of ingredients (and extra calories). “If your plan is to shed some pounds, a meal replacement shake can be a great first step fix. “The easiest thing to do for weight loss is to replace your breakfast cereal with a protein shake,” Teta adds. “The protein can help balance blood sugar, and control hunger and cravings.” According to Teta, research suggests that a meal replacement diet using protein powder can provide better nutrient intake than a whole foods one.

Skolnik agrees, but still cautions against going shake crazy: “I advise against using protein shakes in excess,” she says. “Our stomachs need to digest solid food to stay strong and healthy.”  In addition, those of us who struggle with weight might need to actually chew food to have our cravings satisfied and stay on track. “Although protein can help with satiety, liquid calories tend not to fill us up as well as solid foods do,” explains Skolnik.


  1. Nutrition Conditioning
  2. Metabolic Effect
  3. Meal Replacement Study