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Do meal replacement shakes work?

When diet and exercise aren't enough, meal replacement shakes can help.

Written by
Lucinda Starr
Medically reviewed by
Dr Vincent Mok
Last updated
May 15, 2024
min read
Do meal replacement shakes work?
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If you're ready to shake off those unwanted kilos, you might be looking for tools to support your weight loss journey. Hitting the gym, boosting your step count and ditching fast food are all smart moves to help you reach a healthy weight.

But for some people, simply improving their diet and exercise habits isn't enough to see (and feel) a real difference. That's where meal replacement shakes can come in.

By switching one, two or even three meals a day out for a meal replacement shake, you can kick start your weight loss journey and see more rapid weight loss, too.

The key to seeing sustainable results from meal replacement shakes is to make sure you're consuming a high-quality product that's packed with vitamins, minerals and protein (like Pilot's Weight Reset Shakes, which contain more than 40 per cent of your daily vitamin needs for immunity and overall health).

Plus, you need to find a program that's backed by dietitians and doctors and helps you navigate long-term meal planning and foster healthy eating habits.

Let's walk you through what meal replacement shakes are, how they work and the science behind the best healthy meal replacement shakes.

What is a meal replacement shake?

As the name suggests, meal replacement shakes are a way to replace meals in your diet with low-kilojoule shakes. These specially formulated drinks are packed with protein, vitamins and nutrients, but are very low in carbs and calories, which can help you to lose weight.

Typically, these shakes (and protein bars) are used in very low calorie diets (VLCDs) and low calorie diets as a way to fast-track weight loss.

Depending on the program you're following, you might replace one meal a day (such as breakfast) with a shake, or even substitute multiple meals a day with a liquid meal replacement.

When looking for a healthy meal replacement shake, it's always important to check the ingredients list. Unfortunately, some brands can be high in sugar (which defeats the purpose of the shake in the first place) and can contain other nasties like laxatives, preservatives or empty fillers.

Ideally, you want to find a shake that contains:

  • Vitamins and minerals that you need for immunity and overall health
  • A high-quality protein packed with essential amino acids (to prevent the loss of muscle mass)
  • A good source of fibre to keep you fuller for longer and support digestion
  • A low dosage of carbs and calories to give you a protein-packed energy boost
  • A combination of pre and probiotics for optimal gut health

So, how do meal replacement shakes work? Well, they're high in protein but low in carbs, which means you're able to experience rapid weight loss while conserving lean body mass.

Do meal replacement shakes work?

Absolutely. Plenty of research shows that when followed correctly, meal replacement shakes can be an effective way to kick start your weight loss journey.

We know that we need around 8,700 kilojoules a day to maintain a healthy weight.[1] But when you switch to a meal replacement shake, each shake should only contain less than 250 calories (1,046 kilojoules). That means you're putting your body into a calorie deficit, easily allowing you to consume fewer calories and curb any unhealthy eating habits.

A 2018 study found that participants saw a four per cent weight loss with one meal replacement shake per day over a three-month period.[2]

It's all about restricting the number of calories your body receives while ensuring it is still receiving the vitamins and minerals it needs to support your overall health and wellbeing.

The science behind meal replacement products

As we've mentioned, meal replacement shakes work by restricting your energy intake and sending your body into a state of ketosis.

When your kilojoule intake is reduced, your body turns to other energy stores (like the glycogen in your muscles). When that runs out, your body then switches to burning its fat stores for fuel.

What makes meal replacement shakes an effective approach is that way it targets your fat stores while promoting and preserving lean body mass.

How much weight can you lose with meal replacement shakes?

This answer really depends on a range of factors, such as what program you follow, how many meals you choose to replace and external factors (like your diet and exercise habits).

In general terms, studies have shown anywhere from five to seven kilos of weight loss in three months on a partial meal replacement diet.[3]

Other studies have shown much more significant weight loss when all meals were replaced with three shakes a day. In one study, participants saw a 12.3 per cent weight loss when switching to only meal replacement shakes over a four-month period.[4]

One of the key benefits of meal replacement shakes is that they can even curb cravings by eliminating the need to prepare regular meals. One 2018 report found that switching to these shakes saw both more significant weight loss and a big reduction in food cravings than a regular low-calorie diet.[5}

Can you use whey protein as a meal replacement?

Yes, but it's important to stick to the recommended doses.

Whey protein is one of the best types of protein for weight loss as it's packed with the amino acids your body needs to prevent muscle mass loss. It's regularly used by athletes and gym-goers as it can help to boost muscle gain while trimming down body fat.[6]

In a nutshell, whey is the liquid part of milk that is created during the cheese production process. Whey protein is created when protein is isolated from whey and turned into a powder that is processed and packed with vitamins and nutrients.

What makes whey protein such a good choice is that it is a very high-quality type of protein.

The key to getting the best benefit from whey protein is to make sure it's consumed in the right dosage. Meal replacement shakes will offer a recommended dosage (usually around 25 to 50 grams per day), which is important to stick to.

Our Weight Reset Shakes are enriched with whey protein, which contains all nine essential amino acids and limits the loss of muscle mass.

Like most ingredients, consuming too much whey protein can come with some uncomfortable side effects such as nausea, diarrhoea, and cramping. Your best bet is to follow a structured weight management program that offers pre-dosed servings of whey protein to ensure to consume the right quantity each day.

Are diet shakes safe?

Absolutely, but they need to be used correctly.

By chatting with your doctor or GP before you start using liquid meal replacements, you can make sure you're using these shakes in a safe and healthy way.

Your doctor will be able to assess any health conditions you're currently navigating and any other factors that might impact the way you should be using meal replacement shakes.

Many programs, including our very own Weight Reset Shakes plan, give you options of how many meals you want to switch out each day. For more immediate results, our Rapid weight loss plan involves two shakes a day while our Steady weight loss plan uses one shake per day.

No matter what plan you choose, your doctor will be able to monitor your progress and health along the way to ensure you're not experiencing any negative side effects from these shakes.

Are meal replacement shakes good for you?

The best meal replacement shakes offer a healthy balance of protein, nutrients and vitamins to support wellbeing during your weight loss journey.

When consumed alongside a low-carb and balanced diet, you can lower your body weight, reduce your fat and cholesterol intake and ensure you're fuelling your body with all the essential nutrients it needs.

But not all meal replacements are created equal. It's important to check the ingredients of your shakes and entire you're choosing high protein meal replacements that are low in sugar and packed with the ingredients you need to meet your daily nutrient intake.

While most programs will recommend switching one or two meals a day to shakes, make sure to chat with your doctor before beginning this kind of program to ensure you're getting this balance right.

The other thing to consider is whether the meal replacement program supports you to fix unhealthy eating habits.

The best shakes will be supported by a team of doctors and dieticians who can help you transition to a nutrient balanced diet and resume regular eating patterns once the program is over.

For example, Pilot's Weight Reset Shakes are designed to help you lose weight for good.

From meal plans to community to a welcome course, we're here to support you with long term weight-loss strategies and the tools to create healthy meals (once you're ready to move away from shakes).

Plus, our shakes are packed with 20 vitamins and minerals, are a good source of fibre and contain pre and probiotics for optimal gut health. And, there's no bad stuff, like added sugar, laxatives, preservatives or empty fillers, in these meal replacement shakes.

Ready to kick start your weight loss journey? Find out more about Pilot's Weight Reset Shakes today.

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