Life is busy and you’re on the go. You try to eat healthy, but the day’s frenetic pace forces you to eat quick and dirty food you‘d rather not put into your body. Maybe you’re trying to lose weight, but don’t have the time to cook a healthy meal. Perhaps you’re trying to put on muscle, but skipping meals to save time is preventing your body from getting the nutrients it needs to grow.
Whatever your reasons, you’ve landed on meal replacement shakes as a way to help you balance out your diet. Smart move, but where do you start? Given that they’re all the rage right now, there’s an over-saturation of products and information that can form a barrier to entry for those seeking to make them a part of their day-to-day life. We’re here to clear things up for you.
What is a meal replacement?
Meal replacements aim to replace one or two meals of your day, while providing the appropriate amount of nutrients necessary to keep your body and mind functioning properly. A meal replacement can take the form of bars, soups, shakes, etc. We’re focusing on shakes here, as they’re the most popular these days.
Meal replacement shakes can be bought bottled and ready to drink, or in powder form to be mixed into a liquid (typically with milk or plant-based milk). With us so far? Good, because this is where things can get tricky. It’s all too tempting to browse the web and buy the first highly-rated shake that catches your eye. But it pays to take a closer look at what comes inside, and understand what makes a good meal replacement shake worth buying.
What's the best meal replacement shake for me?: “Know Thyself”
The above quote can be attributed to the ancient Greeks, and while they probably weren’t speaking in reference to meal replacement shakes, the maxim still applies here. What we mean is that you should know your intention in shopping for a meal replacement shake. Are you trying to lose weight? Maintain weight? Eat healthier? Avoid snacking? Put on muscle? Certain meal replacement shakes can help you address some goals better than others. We’d recommend taking the time to thoroughly research the shake in question before you buy. To help you with your decision, here are answers to some of the common questions people have about meal replacement shakes.
Are Meal Replacement Shakes good for you?
Of all the pitfalls of a busy lifestyle, one of the most detrimental is not getting the proper nutrition your body and mind need to function properly. Say you wake up hungry in the morning but don’t have time to prepare a proper breakfast. You might then feel compelled to pull into the nearest drive-through burger joint and slam a #3 combo with fries on your way to work. (No judgment; we’ve all been there.) Needless to say, you’d probably be better off with a meal replacement shake. You’d get the added benefit of consuming a nutritious meal while saving even more time than if you had pulled into the drive-through.
That’s because meal replacement shakes do more than just satisfy your hunger; they should also provide a nutrient profile similar to that of a well-balanced meal. In fact, many countries require that any product claiming to be a meal replacement contains an adequate amount of macronutrients, including protein, fiber, calories and carbohydrates. In addition, many meal replacement shakes come fortified with an array of vitamins and minerals to keep you on point throughout your day.
In all cases, we’d recommend steering clear of meal replacement shakes that come loaded with sugar and artificial ingredients. The front label might be packed edge-to-edge with eye-catching colors and claims like “Lose Weight Quickly!”, but these may be misleading. Pro-tip: always check the ingredient list on the food label, and let this be your guide instead. If the shake in question includes whole foods, few artificial ingredients, and the macronutrients you’re looking for, then you’re good to go.
Are meal replacement shakes good for weight loss?
One of the most commonly advertised functions of meal replacement shakes is assisting with weight loss. However, if you were to scour the web for articles and studies in support of this claim, you’re likely to come out the other side feeling less confident than when you started. But that doesn’t mean replacement shakes can’t be a powerful force in assisting with weight loss if used properly. It all depends on what you're consuming, and how you’re consuming it.
While it is true that losing weight long-term is ultimately a matter of making permanent lifestyle changes, there’s no reason meal replacement shakes can’t factor into those changes. If you’re trying to lose weight while eating healthy, you’ll want a meal replacement shake that’s lower in calories but high in protein and fiber. Protein and fiber are digested more slowly than other macronutrients and will keep you feeling fuller for longer, while a lower calorie count will help you maintain the caloric deficit needed to shed weight.
Are meal replacement shakes good for building muscle?
You may want to consider putting your favorite protein shake to the side in favor of a meal replacement shake.
Getting enough protein is a vital component of muscle growth, but it’s not the only one. In addition to protein, you’ll need to continuously maintain a calorie surplus (i.e. consuming more calories than your body burns in a given day), as well as provide your muscles with carbohydrates for energy.
Protein, as it turns out, is a macronutrient that many meal replacement shakes come loaded with. Other supplemental foods, like protein shakes, can also help you meet your daily protein goal, but they may not meet other nutritional requirements for muscle growth.
If you’re having trouble getting enough calories to make gains, try this out: instead of replacing your breakfast, lunch, or dinner with a meal replacement shake, use it as a post-workout shake, or as an additional meal to be drunk at any point in your day. In doing so, you’ll get that extra helping of calories you need to put you into a surplus.
Can meal replacement shakes help me avoid skipping meals?
The convenience of meal replacement shakes can help prevent you from skipping meals. If you’re trying to lose weight, it makes sense to think that skipping a few meals here and there might help you reach your goal, but evidence supporting this is conflicting.
As a rule of thumb, try paying attention to how your body and mind respond to fasting. For those who know that skipping a meal will lead to irritability, lack of focus, snacking, or overeating later in the day, a meal replacement shake could be a worthy alternative. Seeing as many of these shakes come loaded with the appropriate macronutrients to keep you feeling fuller for longer, you may end up eating less between your shake and your next meal. You’ll also feel less inclined to overindulge come lunchtime.
Other things to consider
Taste is an oft-neglected point when talking about meal replacement shakes. Plain and simple, you won’t want to consume much of anything if you don’t enjoy the way it tastes. And while meal replacement shakes probably won’t bombard you with an array of flavors and textures, they can still taste amazing. To help you use your meal replacement shakes consistently, find flavors that you don’t get tired of, or pick up a variety pack to keep things interesting. Bounce around a little bit. Diversify. If you easily tire of one brand or flavor, find another that better suits your taste buds.
Oats Overnight is similar to a meal replacement shake in that each serving comes with a full-fledged vitamin, mineral, and macronutrient profile. The difference is that you’re consuming a rich and tasteful blend of solid foods like oats, fruits, flax and chia seeds, rather than just a homogenous liquid. So you get the best of both worlds--the taste and texture of a full meal, and all of the convenience and nutritional value of a meal replacement shake. You really can’t go wrong.