Are Powdered Meal Replacement Shakes Effective?

Question: I’ve read a lot about using powdered supplements as meal replacements, either to lose body fat or put on mass. Are they effective or is this just hype?

To get the results you want, food will always work the most effectively. In years of working with bodybuilders and athletes, we have found that food is superior to all-supplement diets. Food provides something that all-supplement diets do not: the raw materials your body needs for growth or for stimulating chemical processes involved in the breakdown, absorption, and assimilation of nutrients. The digestive process, for example, requires “real” food – complete with its balance of nutrients and fiber – to do the job for which it was designed. The presence of food, acids, and enzymes in the duodenum (the first section of the small intestine) and the jejunum (the second section of the small intestine) stimulates the production of hormones required for the absorption of nutrients. Without food, these processes are interrupted, and the proper assimilation of nutrients is hindered.

Other important issues are involved as well. Foods such as legumes and other starchy carbohydrates contain special complex sugars called “oligosaccharides.” These sugars exert a healthful effect on the growth ofHealthy Starchy Carbsbeneficial bacteria in the gastro-intestinal (gi) tract. One family of these bacteria is called bifidobacterium. Because of the oligosaccharides’ effect on this type of bacteria, the sugars have been called “bifidus factors.” When bifidobacterium and other helpful bacteria are present in the gi tract, they prevent dangerous and sometimes deadly bacteria such as salmonella and E.coli from colonizing. Human milk is another food that contains oligosaccharides, and it is well known that breast-fed infants quickly develop a protective population of bifidobacteria.

Oligosaccharides have also been shown to protect cells from the invasion of the bacteria responsible for certain types of pneumonia, influenza, and other serious respiratory tract infections. The bacterial population of the gi tract obviously plays an important role in nutrition and health. Scientists are now exploring the use of oligosaccharides in the treatment of digestive disorders, elevated blood fats, and other health problems. The ability of oligosaccharides to promote healthy bacterial growth underlines the importance of food as the source for these protective factors. In other words, you cannot obtain such factors from supplements. In the Parrillo Performance Nutrition Program, we state that “food is the cornerstone of nutrition.” If you do not eat the proper foods –lean proteins, starchy carbohydrates, and fibrous carbohydrates, nothing else matters. No supplement can ever provide all the benefits that food supplies.

We were built to process food , proteins, carbohydrates, and fats – not powdered or liquid supplements alone. That’s not to say certain types of supplements are not effective. They are – but only when taken with food and at the proper time and in the proper combinations. The Parrillo Performance Nutrition Program tells you exactly how to do this. If you want to make the best possible progress with your physique, I suggest that you forget the hype (and that’s what it is) surrounding all-supplement diets or meal replacement programs and get back to basics. And that means food.

John Parrillo
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