All You Need To Know About This Nutritious Drink
The meal replacement shake. Quite often buried under the talks of protein shakes and creatine in the world of sports nutrition. But they shouldn’t be. This meal-on-the-go can be extremely beneficial and make a significant impact on your daily nutrition and overall health.
This article is going to over all you need to know about meal replacement shakes and whether you should include them in your diet.
What Are Meal Replacement Shakes
Meal replacement shakes are often confused with protein shakes. They are not the same. One is made to replace an entire meal (guess which one!), while the other is merely there to increase your protein intake.
A balanced meal with “real food” is going to include everything you need to sustain life:
And this is what a good meal replacement shake will (should) offer. The most distinguishing factor of a meal replacement is the inclusion of vitamins and minerals. A meal replacement will usually provide anywhere from 25%-100% of your daily vitamins and minerals.
Luckily, this line of products has evolved significantly. You can find a meal replacement shake to suit your need, whatever it may be:
- Weight gainer
- Weight loss
- High protein
What Are The Benefits Of Meal Replacement Shakes?
Ensure Adequate Consumption Of Vitamins And Minerals (and Fiber!)
While we should be eating all vitamins and minerals from our vegetables and fruit, it’s nice to have a back-up plan. A deficiency of vitamins and minerals can have serious detrimental effects on your body, including:
- Decreased immune system
- Exacerbate hair loss and scalp issues
- Decreased mood and ability to handle stress
- Decrease in athletic performance
Many meal replacement shakes will also offer sufficient quantities of other nutrients such as fiber. If getting this is a concern of yours, using a meal replacement shake could help resolve it. However, some meal replacement shakes contain more vitamins and minerals than others, so check the label before purchasing.
Protein Shake On Steroids
Remember, men should shoot for 1.4g -2.0g of protein per kilogram of body weight when they are training. That can be a lot, which is why men will use protein shakes; as an easy and efficient means to get in their protein. Most meal replacement shakes will also contain sufficient protein quantities, and you can easily find some which offer up to 20g+.
This means you can use these in a similar way you would use a protein shake to get in high amounts of protein, except now you get a bunch of other good stuff with it. They’re protein shake on steroids.
Can Help From Bad Food Choices
Even if you aren’t necessarily trying to lose weight, it’s still nice to have easy access to a healthy and nutritional meal. Most men have at least once in their life made a poor food choice out of necessity rather than want. Maybe you’re too busy at work or you have to just do too many errands. We still have to eat and that might mean fast food. However, having meal replacement shakes on hand can virtually eliminate this problem. A common practice is to always keep a few at work or in your bag or suitcase. You don’t need to drink it all the time, just when the situation calls for it.
Meal replacement shakes will generally cost more than your protein shake. And they should as they (should) provide a lot more nutrients. Prices for meal replacement shakes vary quite a bit, especially between powders and pre-made bottles but usually cost between $1.50-$3.50 per serving.
It may seem expensive compared to a protein shake but try to get a well-balanced meal with all your nutrients for less than $3.00. Now it doesn’t seem so bad, does it?
The universal benefit of meal replacements is simple convenience. It takes 2 minutes to shake with powder form and 0 minutes if you have a pre-mixed bottle type. In an ideal world, we would have time to make all of our meals ready-to-go. But this is reality.
Using meal replacement shakes is much easier and time-efficient than having to rely on food all the time. This doesn’t mean they should replace all of your real food. It just means that we are busy and having a simpler option can save us from making poor diet choices.
What To Consider When You Buy Meal Replacement Shakes
While there is definitely some overlap, not all meal replacements are the same. From their macronutrient breakdown, total calories, to their food source. You’ll need to decide on some variables as well as some things to keep in mind.
Don’t Fall For Protein Shakes Or “Too-Low Calorie” Shakes
To reiterate, protein shakes are not meal replacement shakes, even if they are marketed that way. Be sure to check the label for nutrient content. A decent meal replacement shake will contain sufficient quantities of the majority of your vitamins and minerals.
On that same note, do not fall for a “shake” that has 100 calories. That is far too few calories and may be fine for a light snack but it does not replace a meal. The minimum should be around 300
Animal or Plant Protein
At the end of the day, this is a personal decision and both variations can aid in weight loss and building muscle. The good thing is that there are plenty of versions of both so if you’re vegan, go vegan. If you aren’t, go with whatever one fits your needs.
If you choose a vegan brand, be sure to choose a brand that uses either soy protein or derives from multiple sources. This will ensure that you are getting protein with a full amino acid profile.
The only attribute which could possibly make a difference is taste. Soy protein tends to give an “earthier” taste while whey and casein can offer sweeter variations. Studies looking at the taste preference of meal replacement shakes made with soy or whey found that consumers preferred whey or a soy/protein combination. Keep this in mind if you are particular about taste.
Do You Need To Gain-Weight?
Drinking your calories with a quality weight gainer is an easy way to quickly get in a huge amount of calories. You can find weight gainers which offer anywhere from 600-1200 calories per serving by delivering large amounts of carbs, protein, and healthy fats.
However, some weight gainers will also offer generous quantities of vitamins and minerals. This makes these very effective in getting in your calories AND your nutrition.
Do You Need To Lose Weight Of Help With Weight Control?
On the other end of the spectrum are those who need help with controlling weight. Many meal replacements will offer significantly fewer calories than weight gainers (300-400) BUT still offer all the vitamins and minerals. This is actually the most common use of meal replacement shakes. To lose weight, simply replace one of your normal meals with one of these lower calorie meal replacements. Easy!
Using a meal replacement shake to replace meals has consistently been an effective means of losing weight. Consumers have reported a number of benefits, including:
- Physical functioning
- Improved general health
- Increased vitality
- Improved mental health
- Higher levels of satiety
In fact, studies have looked at the efficacy of low calorie diet (in which the individual controlled all the food) vs. meal replacements. They found that meal replacements actually result in significantly higher long-term adherence and greater body composition changes.
Watch Out For Artificial Sweeteners (If That’s Your Thing)
Like many processed foods, meal replacement shakes can be prone to using artificial sweeteners. One of the reasons for this is that artificial sweeteners can help enhance the taste without adding calories; something that is useful in a product that many use to try and lose weight. Acesulfame-k, aspartame, or sucralose are common artificial sweeteners that are used. Their role in health effects is widely debated in nutrition science, leaving many to be concerned about their role in weight gain, cancer, and metabolic diseases. Therefore, if you are concerned about this, be sure to keep an eye out.
The Top Meal Replacements
CytoSport Genuine Muscle Milk
Muscle Milk is a real “OG” in the world of sports nutrition. Being first introduced in 1998, was one of the first major brands to hit the market. Their “Genuine” series delivers a whopping 32grams of multi-source protein from fast-digesting whey and slow-digesting casein. This gives you the best of both worlds making Genuine Muscle Milk suitable to drink for any occasion. Although mainly known for being a “protein shake”, Muscle Milk is a whole lot more:
- Delivers 20 of the essential vitamins and minerals to support a healthy system.
- Only uses high-fiber, complex carbs, and low-sugar
- Healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids sourced from canola and sunflower oil
- Essential omega-3, 6, and 9 fatty acids
One serving delivers 310 calories making it an excellent choice for those looking to lose weight.
Labrada Lean Body
Labrada Lean Body is a meal replacement shake for those who want to be on a low-carb diet. It contains 12 grams of low-glycemic, high-fiber carbohydrates to help stabilize your blood sugar and insulin levels making it a good choice for diabetics. Labrada Lean Body follows a very high protein ratio of 65% of total calories from 40g of protein. This amount delivers over 7,000mg of BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acid) for muscle tissue support and over 8000mg of Glutamine and Glutamic Acid to promote recovery. For fats, Labrada uses flaxseed oil and borage oil which delivers it’s 4 grams of EFA-Plex containing natural-source fatty acids, medium-chain triglycerides.
If you’re concerned with taste, you’ll want to give it a go as the American Culinary Institute awarded Lean Body a Gold Medal Taste Award. No worries there.
Finally, you’ll get a generous serving of 21 vitamins and minerals.
Huel is a great choice for an extremely nutritious meal replacement shake, especially if you’re vegan. Huel describes itself as a nutritionally complete meal; placing itself above just a normal “meal replacement”. It contains a carb/protein/fat macro split of 37:30:30 giving providing a much more comparable mixture to real food.
It also contains all 26 vitamins and minerals, meaning that it is one of the very few products you could theoretically live off. 1 serving offers 400 calories with a k down of
- 13g of fat from flaxseeds, coconut, and sunflower seeds, which deliver all MCTs, omegas, and essential fatty acids
- 38g of low-GI carbs from oats and tapioca
- 29g of protein of from pea and brown rice protein, which delivers a complete amino acid profile
HUEL stands out as a vegan brand because it promotes a higher-protein intake than typically found. This makes HUEL very attractive for both vegans and non-vegans alike.
The one downside is that HUEL is a bit pricier than many other brands. However, considering all you get, HUEL could be worth it as a means to get a truly complete meal replacement shakes.
Optimum Nutrition Serious Mass
Optimum Nutrition (ON) Serious Mass is an extremely impressive meal replacement shake for those looking to gain weight. First, one serving offers 1,250 calories. This is for those needing to put on some serious weight. Still, you can always take half a serving if you don’t need that many calories. It’s calories mainly come from carbohydrates with 253g per serving. Obviously, this is not for those on a low-carb diet nor diabetics. On top of that, it delivers 50g of protein from a proprietary blend of whey and casein while being extremely low in fat, offering only 4g.
This can definitely help you put on weight. However, it also contains:
- 25 Vitamins and Minerals
- 3g of creatine
- 500mg glutamine
Even if you split a serving in half, it’s ratio of carbs to fat and protein is still very high. Therefore, the only people who should take this need to gain weight while also wanting some help to get their vitamins and minerals. If that is what you need, then this may be for you.
Ample is an amazing organic meal replacement shake that packs a punch. Each serving is a perfect 400 calorie meal with an impressive macro breakdown
- 25g of protein from grass-fed whey, yellow split pea, and grass-fed collagen. Definitely the most unique and varied combination
- 21g of carbs from a blend of oats, tapioca, and sweet potato
- 25g of fat from Coconut, high-oleic sunflower, and macadamia nut to provide mono, poly, saturated fats and MCTs
Still, Ample offers much more than that:
- Only 4g of sugar
- 10g of fiber
- 8 Billion CFU of probiotics
- Wheatgrass and barley grass provides a natural source of antioxidants and polyphenols
This type of quality does bring a little higher price tag but Ample is pretty hard to beat.
Meal Replacement Shakes For Your Needs
Now that you know a little more about replacement shakes, you can now choose if you could benefit from adding them to your nutrition plan…I bet you would!