Post Workout vs. Meal Replacement Protein Shakes; What’s The Difference?

Nothing complements a good workout routine better than a proper post-workout shake. This is because after a workout, the period of rest afterwards is when the body takes the time to recover and rebuild. In this article we will look at post workout shakes and compare them to meal replacement protein shakes. Both are important forms of sustenance and we will look at the import roles they play in helping you reach your goals.

Post workout protein shakes

For people working on lean muscle building and improved performance, the post workout protein shake is a common recommendation. Typically, a post workout protein shake is made primarily of grass fed whey protein powder. It is then usually mixed with high glycemic carbs such as sports drinks or fruits which are packed with electrolytes for those preferring an all-natural protein shake.


  • Improved athletic performance

When creating a post workout protein shakes, there is an emphasis on adding high glycemic foods to the mix. The reason for this is simple. You need to consume carbs after a workout in order to replenish your energy reserves. High-glycemic index carbohydrates are great for this because they are able to replenish your energy reserves very quickly. The best thing about having so much energy is the improvement is your athletic performance, allowing you to exert yourself more as you practice or compete.*

  • Increased muscle building

The reason why grass fed why protein powder is a key constituent of this shake is because it is rich in Branched-Chain Amino Acids or BCAA’s for short. BCAA’s are essential because of their ability to increase muscle growth and repair after the wear of a workout. It is able to stimulate the creation of muscle protein by actively stimulating certain pathways in the body. This makes it invaluable to anybody looking to bulk up by growing muscle.*


Another reason why BCAAs are popular is because of how fast it is able to absorb into the body. Speaking of speed, timing is everything with a post workout protein shake. Ideally, this shake needs to be consumed 45 minutes after a workout. The reason for this can be attributed to the anabolic phase of nutrition.

More specifically, the anabolic window is a short period of time after working out when the muscles are very absorbent of protein. During this time, the muscle cells are very sensitive to insulin, making them more permeable than usual to glucose. This means they absorb more glucose, and more glycogen is created. This results in faster protein absorption as well because more glycogen means faster initiation of the muscle repair and recovery process. For the best results, it is recommended that you take 1 gram of protein for every 2 to 3 grams of carbohydrates.

Hormones affected

  • Insulin

Because your post workout shake contains high glycemic index foods, it is natural that they will cause a spike in your insulin levels. Insulin is the hormone that signals the conversion of blood sugar from carbs into glycogen. You need your insulin levels to spike because it means that more glycogen will be created, you will in turn have more energy.

  • Cortisol

Cortisol is the hormone that is released when he body is under physical or mental stress. While it is a normal body reaction, it is not necessarily a good thing. High levels of cortisol in the body can negatively affect muscle protein synthesis, preventing you from building enough muscle. BCAA’s are great counters to this because they prevent the levels of cortisol from elevating to dangerous levels.*

Meal Replacement Protein Shakes

For individuals looking to tone the body, lose weight or just better manage it entirely, meal replacement protein shakes are a common recommendation. Ideally, a typical shake is made of either grass fed whey protein or multi source protein such as whey mixed with plant proteins. Meal replacement powder is mixed with low-glycemic and slow absorbing fluids, and super foods that promote alkalinity, nutrition and satiety.


The main goal of a meal replacement shake is to give your body the most possible amount of nutrition while also maintaining the lowest possible calorie load in the process. As such it avoids sugar and Trans-fats. This is why a common recommendation will be a no sugar protein powder.

  • Weight management

Low glycemic foods are a key recommendation in a meal replacement shake because they do not cause an insulin spike. While insulin spike results in the creation of glycogen, it can also stimulate the creation of fat once glycogen reserves are full. This is undesirable for anyone trying to lose fat in the first place!

The foods mixed with meal replacement powder are also meant to increase satiety, to prevent the excessive eating that causes weight gain. A lot of them are rich in omega 3 fatty acids, which research has found to actively modulate satiety. Some of these include flax seeds, hemp seeds, and chia seeds which make you feel full for much longer.

  • Toning

The protein powder’s goal is muscle tissue repair and growth, though not to an increased extent as with a post workout shake. This makes a no sugar protein powder perfect for muscle toning and strengthening.*


Hormones affected


Meal replacement powder intake stimulates the production of Cholecystokinin, a hormone that mediates satiety by directly reducing your appetite. This makes you feel less hungry, and less susceptible to over eating.


Ghrelin is a hunger stimulating hormone that is produced when fat and glycogen levels are low. Since the goal of meal replacement shake is to prevent over eating, it naturally reduces the levels of ghrelin in the body as well by keeping you feeling less hungry.

In Comparison

When looked at side by side, some differences and similarities can be found between post workout shakes and meal replacement shakes.

  • Post workout shakes focus on energy accumulation through consumption of high glycemic index foods, while meal replacement shakes focus on maximum nutrition with the lowest possible calorie load.
  • The protein powders all stimulate muscle repair and growth.
  • A meal replacement shake replaces an actual meal, where a post workout shake doesn’t necessarily have to.

Either way, understanding what you stand to gain from either shake should help you make the right decision on your overall body improvement goals.

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