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Friday
Sep252009

The Power of Meal Replacements

Written by Tom Nikkola - Director of Nutrition & Weight Management

The idea of using a meal replacement powder (MRP) is nothing new in the nutrition and fitness industry. They have come a long way from the high-sugar, very bad-tasting shakes of twenty years ago. The concept has always been the same, and the science tends to support their use. So how does a MRP support optimal nutrition?

Set Number of Calories

Meal Replacement Powders provide a consistent number of calories and macronutrients (protein, carbs, fat), which make their use in a calorie-controlled nutrition plan very convenient. While weight management is not only about calories in and calories out, the concept does play a role. Whatever one's goals are - weight loss, gain, or maintenance - MRPs provide an easy way to ensure the planned number of calories are consumed for a meal. A 2003 Meta-Analysis of research on the use of meal replacement powders for weight management showed a very high rate of success when compared with dieting with food alone. Making energy, or calorie consumption easier to manage is likely one of the reasons they support weight management so well.

A Better Choice

The average person can consume a significant number of calories between meals. Snacks are typically high in carbohydrates or carbohydrates and fat - not the best option for controlling weight. As people begin the cycle of high-carb meals early in the day, they set themselves up for rises in blood-sugar followed by crashes, which lead them to more high-carb snacks. Studies have consistently shown that a higher-protein diet enhances body composition, partially due to the fact that protein requires more calories for digestion, supports the maintenance of lean body mass (muscle tissue) and helps maintain more normal levels of blood-sugar.

Choosing to drink a great-tasting MRP instead of snacking on the usual office or break room fare can have a significant impact on body composition. Of course, snacking on a chicken breast or cottage cheese may be a good whole-food protein choice, but eating whole-food protein four to six times a day may not be appealing. Instead, eating three whole-food meals with protein in them, and drinking a couple of MRPs  sounds a lot more appetizing for many people. If you look forward to what you're supposed to eat (or drink), it will make it a lot easier to stick with the appropriate nutrition plan.

A Great Protein Source

Not everyone likes to eat large amounts of animal protein, and commercial sources of animal protein have been called into question as of late. Protein powder such as whey protein provides significant amounts of high-quality branched chain amino acids, critical to health, fitness and performance. Whey is considered to be the best protein source available. It is digested quickly and easily, and has a very high rate of absorption.

Unique Ingredients

Meal replacement powders often contain a list of additional ingredients to support health, fitness and performance, which may not be found in a normal meal. As an example, our new MRP called FastFuel Complete contains extra ingredients like a fruit and vegetable blend, glutamine, digestive enzymes, and Sunfiber. These ingredients support digestion, recovery, the immune system, and provide additional antioxidant benefits.

Cost Effective

A great-quality MRP is usually about $2.50 per serving. If you were to attempt to pack in as much quality nutrition as you can find in a MRP through a whole-food meal, it would be a challenge to keep the cost as low. If you tried to find a high-quality meal or snack at a restaurant of store with comparable nutrients, it would likely cost much  more than $2.50 per serving. It's also nice knowing it won't spoil. You can throw it in a shaker-cup or a small blender whenever you're ready to drink it. You don't have to worry about keeping it cool.

Summary

Meal replacement powders really do get the job done. In addition to a high-quality multivitamin and omega-3 fish oil, a high-quality MRP could be a staple in a proper nutrition plan. A recent study compared people following an unstructured, whole-food diet with exercise, with a group following an unstructured whole-food diet plus two MRPs per day with exercise. A third group was the control group, which did not exercise. Basically, the groups could eat what they chose, but the MRP group had to drink two Meal Replacements per day. The group that drank the two shakes each day and exercised:

  • reduced their total carbohydrate, fat and calorie consumption without counting calories or following a structured plan
  • improved exercise performance, recovery, and time to exhaustion
  • reduced fat mass and maintained lean body mass

Optimal nutrition involves providing your body with what it needs on a very consistent basis. The use of a couple of Meal Replacements each day ensures that 14 meals per week are nutrient-dense, healthy choices. Add three high-quality whole-food meals to the plan, and you'll be giving your body what it needs 35 times per week. That sounds like a recipe for success.

References:

Lockwood C, Moon J, Tobkin S, Walter A, Smith A, Dalbo V, Cramer J, Stout J. Minimal nutrition intervention with high-protein/low-carbohydrate and low-fat, nutrient dense food supplement improves body composition and exercise benefits in overweight adults: A randomized controlled trial. Nutrition & Metabolism. 2008;5:11

Heymsfield SB, van Mierlo CAJ, van der Knaap HCM, Heo M, Frier HI. Weight management using a meal replacement strategy: meta and pooling analysis from six studies. International Journal of Obesity. 2003;27:537-549

Thisarticle is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, noras a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medicaladvice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at thechoice and risk of the reader.

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