Protein supplementation and meal replacements play a role in weight loss and weight maintenance after weight-loss surgery or as part of a medically supervised weight-loss program. Many people find they need to consume either a protein supplement or meal replacement after surgery to help them meet their minimum daily protein goal of 60 grams. Read on to learn more about why you may or may not need a protein supplement or meal replacement after bariatric surgery.
Do protein supplements help with weight regain after gastric bypass?
After weight-loss surgery many patients experience mild weight regain, which is expected and considered normal. This can become a concern when someone begins to regain more than 5-10% of the lowest body weight achieved after surgery and is struggling to prevent further weight regain. What this means is that if you lost 100 pounds total and have gained back more than 10 pounds, you are likely experiencing unexpected weight regain and should follow up with your doctor or dietitian.
A randomized control trial of female gastric bypass patients who had experienced weight regain (average time postsurgery was 5 ½ years) were placed on a low-calorie diet. One group of patients was instructed to take a whey protein supplement while the other group was not. At the end of four months the group that took the protein supplement lost four pounds, all from fat mass (no fat-free mass, or muscle mass, was lost). The group that didn’t use a protein supplement but still followed a low-calorie diet gained 1 pound, and this group actually gained body fat and lost fat-free mass.
Anytime you are losing weight, the goal is to spare as much muscle as possible and lose as much weight from body fat as possible. Having enough protein each day helps your body lose weight from body fat and protects your muscle.
What’s the difference between a protein supplement and meal replacement?
Protein supplements are meant to supplement or enhance your typical food intake by adding more protein to your daily total, while meal replacements are intended to replace a meal. Typically, protein supplements are low in carbohydrates and fat and do not have added micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), while meal replacements tend to have added micronutrients and a higher amount of carbohydrates and fat since they are replacing a whole-food meal.
Meal replacement’s role in weight loss and weight maintenance
Meal replacements play a valuable role in weight loss and weight maintenance, and many studies have proven their effectiveness compared to standard dietary advice. A systematic review and meta-analysis of weight-loss studies that compared the effect of using meal replacements into a structured meal plan compared to dietary advice on how to reduce calories showed a greater weight loss in the meal replacement group at 3 months (7% versus 4%), and at 12 months the weight loss in the meal replacement group continued to be significantly greater than the control group.
Studies show an ongoing beneficial effect of meal replacements on weight loss during a 12-month time period. In a study of small change interventions and weight maintenance, meal replacements were among the most commonly reported weight maintenance behaviors, alongside self-weighing and step-counting.
The benefits of using a meal replacement on a daily basis are thought to be, at least in part, due to assisting with portion control and reducing overall calorie intake. Additionally, choosing a meal replacement takes the decision out of choosing your meal—which many people who use meal replacements find helpful.
If you have regained some weight following bariatric surgery, know that you’re not alone. Follow up with your doctor or dietitian to help you set individual goals. You may benefit from supplementing with protein lifelong after surgery to help promote weight loss and weight maintenance and improve or maintain a favorable body composition, as well as help meet your daily protein goals.
Track your daily calories and protein grams using Baritastic to ensure you are meeting your daily protein goal of at least 60 grams and help you discover any nutritional patterns that may need changing!
. Gomez GD et al. Whey protein supplementation enhances body fat and weight loss in women long after bariatric surgery: a randomized controlled trial. Obes Surg. 2017;27(2):424-431.
. Heymsfield SB et al. Weight management using a meal replacement strategy: meta and pooling analysis from six studies. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2003;27(5):537-549.
. Ames GE et al. Improving maintenance of lost weight following a commercial liquid meal replacement program: a preliminary study. Eat Behav. 2014;15(1):95-98.