Protein powders are all protein with trace amounts of carbs.
Meal replacement powders generally contain a 2:1 ratio of protein to carbs.
Weight gainer powders generally contain a 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein.
A good protein powder is Optimum Nutrition Whey Protein.
A good meal replacement powder is Optimum Nutrition MRP.
And a good weight gainer is Champion Super Heavyweight Gainer
One of my favorite protein drinks is mixing vanilla protein powder with apple juice and then adding a few shakes of
cinnamon. This tastes like apple pie.
Most MRP shakes contain a blend of milk proteins(whey & casein)and sometimes egg. This allows for a slower release of amino acids into your system and better nitrogen retention.
They also contain carbs but most contain high glycemic inxex Maltodextrin. You should avoid these as they will cause a rapid rise and fall in blood sugar as well as make you more likely to add fat.
If you look around you can find some maltodextrin free formulas.
MRP’s also contain vitamins and minerals absent from mose whey powders.
Whey protein is designed to “supplement” a meal whereas a a MRP is designer to replace a meal.
A whey only drink (even with milk) isn’t as good as a MRP but, if you can only afford one go with Whey as you will get more protein bang for your buck.
Protein is just protein, and nothing else.
A Meal Replacement Powder will contain protein (often, but not always, containing casein and other non-whey proteins), carbs, and usually some added vitamins and minerals, to make it a more effective and “complete” meal replacement.
Assuming you’re taking a daily multivitamin (which everyone should be doing), you’re not missing too much by getting just the protein powder. And you have to be careful because the MRP’s tend to use a lot of maltodextrin, which is rather high on the glycemic index. Good for pre/during/post-workout, but not so good the rest of the day.
Milk can definitely be added to “bulk” up a protein powder into more of a meal, too. And skim milk plus whey protein powder makes an excellent workout mix. Milk is fairly high on the GI, which is what you want. In fact, a recent article covering a sports nutrition conference discussed a study one group did that found skim milk alone provided excellent post-workout nutrition.
In summary, if you can only afford one, definitely get the straight protein. It’s much more versatile, and for those times that you want non-whey protein sources (such as right before bed), you can get your protein the old fashioned way. . . from food.