Whether you’re an athlete who has trouble filling a high calorie requirement or just a busy human being, you probably know the struggle of trying to prepare healthy food that hits all the right nutrition requirements. This is a task that’s all the more difficult for people following calorie-controlled diets but fortunately, meal replacement powders are finally going mainstream.

Meal replacements have been around for many years, to be fair, but traditionally they’ve been used in hospital settings when patients have difficulty eating or absorbing nutrients. However, more and more meal replacement shakes are now designed for athletes and busy people on the go.

The trick with these products is that they vary enormously with regard to the nutrition they provide — and human beings vary enormously with regard to the nutrition they seek. Athletes might want more carbs. Women might want more biotin. Men might want more Vitamin D. Some folks want a lot of calories, others just want a nutritious snack.

There’s also the question of the recommended daily intake. Right now it’s about 50 grams of protein, 50 grams of fat, and 225 grams of carbs. Some meal replacements aim to give you these macronutrients in precisely that ratio (in a lower calorie dose), but a lot of people prefer entirely different ratios, particularly with regard to protein.

That’s why there’s no one answer for everyone when it comes to selecting the best meal replacement shake. It’s individual to you and that’s why, after testing many, many products, we’ve landed on a wide variety that can suit your particular needs. Here are our picks for the best meal replacements on the market.

Best Meal Replacement Picks

Best for Weight Loss
Ample
Ample
Ample

Ample has a solid amount of calories and macronutrients, won’t leave you hungry, tastes awesome, and succeeds on the digestive health front.

Best for Women
Nature's Bounty Complete Vitamin & Shake Mix
Nature's Bounty Complete Vitamin & Shake Mix
Nature's Bounty Complete Vitamin & Shake Mix

Inexpensive, nutritious, and with a rare focus on digestive health, this is a good meal replacement for women and men alike.

Best for Women’s Weight Loss
IdealShape’s IdealShake
IdealShape’s IdealShake
IdealShape’s IdealShake

This nutritious meal replacement is both satiating and low in calories, plus it has digestive enzymes that might help with nutrient absorption.

Best for Weight Gain
Tsogo 100% Food Replacement
Tsogo 100% Food Replacement
Tsogo 100% Food Replacement

Unusually nutritious and inexpensive, this one of our favorite meal replacements on the market.

Best for Keto
Ample K
Ample K
Ample K

A keto-friendly shake packed with probiotics, it’s a great way to curb hunger while keeping you in ketosis.

Best for Athletes
GNC Total Lean Shake
GNC Total Lean Shake
GNC Total Lean Shake

A nutritious, low calorie shake with an athlete-friendly 1:3 ratio of protein to carbs.

Best for Diabetes
310 Meal Replacement Shake
310 Meal Replacement Shake
310 Meal Replacement Shake

The 310 Meal Replacement Shakes offer a tri-plex blend of protein to control hunger and promote muscle growth.

Best for Breakfast
Ample
Ample
Ample

Ample is super convenient and provides a great serving of protein, fiber, and fat to keep you full until lunchtime.

Best for Men
Field Work Nutrition Primo Smoothie Meal
Field Work Nutrition Primo Smoothie Meal
Field Work Nutrition Primo Smoothie Meal

This has a considerable amount of Vitamin D, a nutrient that’s been linked to healthy testosterone production along with stronger bones and better mood.

Best for Elderly
IdealShape’s IdealShake
IdealShape’s IdealShake
IdealShape’s IdealShake

This includes over 50 percent of the RDI of calcium and 20 percent of your Vitamin D, both of which are crucial for strong bones, plus there’s plenty of B12 for brain health and 20 percent of your daily fiber to help you stay regular.

What to Look for in a Meal Replacement

Note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t take the place of qualified medical advice. If you’re looking to make a significant change to your diet and training regimen, or to replace a significant percentage of your food with meal replacements, please consult your medical professional first.

So can you really replace a meal with powder? It depends on who you ask. Even when looking for the best meal replacements on Reddit, it’s hard to know where to start. There have been quite a few meal replacements out there that have aspired to completely replace food and encourage consumers to live on nothing but their product.

That has now become pretty uncommon, with the argument leaning toward what became one of Soylent’s slogans: it shouldn’t replace every meal, but it can replace any meal.

Is that a good idea? It’s complicated, and we’ll get into the specifics below, but generally speaking there’s pretty decent evidence that meal replacements can be smart for certain consumers. A meta analysis of six randomized controlled trials, published in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, found that adding one of these products into a low-calorie diet — that part is important — “can safely and effectively produce significant sustainable weight loss and improve weight-related risk factors of disease.”(1) Multiple studies, like a 2018 randomized controlled trial published published in  Nutrition & Health, have also suggested they can be effective at helping to manage Type 2 diabetes, perhaps by helping with calorie control or blood sugar levels.(2)(3)

[Explore this question further: are meal replacements actually healthy?]

When asking what to look for, well, diets are composed of calories, which are pretty much always made up of a combination of the three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. A good meal replacement, unless it’s marketed for an unusual type of diet (eg. keto) has a balanced combination of the three.

When looking at what makes a diet healthy outside of macronutrients, you’re more or less looking at five components.

Best Meal Replacements Roundup
Best Meal Replacements Roundup

Vitamins: Organic molecules that an organism needs for the proper functioning of its metabolism but can’t synthesize on its own. There are thirteen required for human metabolism.

Minerals: Chemical elements that are made in the earth and can’t be made by living organisms. Plants get them from soil and animals get them from plants. There are five major minerals for humans (calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and magnesium) and the rest are called “trace elements.”

Essential fatty acids: Fatty acids that we can’t make ourselves so we need to consume them. Linked to a variety of health effects such as immunity and mental health, a 2011 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the amount of Omega-6 in Americans’ diet has increased astronomically over the past hundred years.(4) You want your ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 to be as close as possible, which is why a lot of people supplement with fish ol.

Fiber: A kind of carbohydrate that the body doesn’t quite digest, fiber is usually categorized by “soluble” or “insoluble,” both of which serve important functions for digestive health. It’s uncommon for a product’s nutrition label to mention what kind of fiber it contains.

Phytochemicals: Compounds found in plants that aren’t considered essential for human survival — and some are poisons — but many (like catechins in tea) are linked to health benefits and lower risks of various diseases.

When you’re assessing the quality of a meal replacement, you’re usually looking for vitamins, minerals, fiber, and if you’re lucky, Omega-3 fatty acids. While they may contain ingredients with phytochemicals (like the isoflavones in soy), they’re seldom specifically written on the ingredients list. For those kinds of supplements, you may want to look at greens powders.

So to wrap up: A good meal replacement usually has:

  • A good balance of protein, carbs, and fat.
  • A wide variety of vitamins and minerals. (Supplements typically tap out at around 24.)
  • A dose of fiber.
  • Essential fatty acids.

So which is the best for your individual goal? Let’s take a look.

Best Meal Replacement for Weight Loss

Ample

Some people might be surprised with the inclusion of Ample on this list because it’s pretty rare to see a weight loss shake with a whole 400 calories. But first of all, we’re talking about meal replacements, not light snacks, and secondly Ample has great macros: 27 grams of protein, 25 grams of carbs (10 grams of fiber), and 21 grams of fat. All that protein, fiber, and fat makes for one of the most filling shakes I’ve tried and if weight loss is your goal, you want a product that will fight hunger cravings.

It’s not crazy high in vitamins and minerals, but there’s no artificial anything in this product and it has an unusual focus on digestive health, delivering 40 billion CFUs of probiotic bacteria from six different strains, which could be an important part of losing weight and maximizing nutrient absorption.

Learn more in my full Ample review.

Save 15%
Ample
Ample
Ample

Ample has a solid amount of calories and macronutrients, won’t leave you hungry, tastes awesome, and succeeds on digestive. Use code BARBEND to save 15% on your order.

Best Meal Replacements for Women

Nature’s Bounty Complete Protein & Vitamin Shake Mix Review

Nature’s Bounty Complete Vitamin & Shake Mix

All natural and surprisingly tasty this meal replacement shake has a lot to offer both sexes, but the reason it’s particularly popular among women is that it emphasizes a few nutrients that tend to be more highly valued by that demographic: biotin (which has links to hair and nail health), calcium, and collagen.

The collagen could be a little more highly dosed but in general this is a pretty well put together product, plus there are a billion probiotics and two kinds of digestive enzymes. A potential downside is the soy it contains, but then again plenty of women are advised to consume plenty of soy so this may be a pro for certain consumers.

Nature’s Bounty Complete Protein & Vitamin Shake Mix
Nature’s Bounty Complete Protein & Vitamin Shake Mix
Nature’s Bounty Complete Protein & Vitamin Shake Mix
Inexpensive, nutritious, and with a rare focus on digestive health, this is a good meal replacement for women and men alike.

Best Meal Replacements for Women’s Weight Loss

IdealShape

IdealShape’s IdealShake

IdealShake is a great product for weight loss, though I did find the Vanilla flavor to be just a little but too sweet. On the plus side it’s very low in sugar with 1 gram per serving and with just 100 calories per scoop, it’s pretty easy to keep the calories down with this product.

The wide range of vitamins and minerals is also pretty impressive with most of them approaching 50 percent of the recommended daily intake.

When it comes to weight loss, though, this is really one of the stars of the industry because of the Slendesta. Potatoes, it turns out, are one of the most satiating foods on Earth and IdealShape believes that this potato extract could make the product one of the most filling low-calorie beverages around.

Learn more in my full IdealShape review.

IdealShape’s IdealShake
IdealShape’s IdealShake
IdealShape’s IdealShake
This nutritious meal replacement is both satiating and low in calories, plus it has digestive enzymes that might help with nutrient absorption.

Best Meal Replacement Shake for Weight Gain

Tsogo Meal Replacement

Tsogo 100% Food Replacement

I normally prefer a meal replacement shake that has more protein than fat, but Tsōgo has such an excellent nutrition profile that I couldn’t leave it off this list. With 430 calories per serving it provides a decent (and tasty) amount of nutrition in each serving and there are also quite a lot more carbohydrates than protein with 46 grams of carbs to 19 grams of protein. People looking to gain weight typically go for higher-carb foods so this macro split is pretty solid.

Of course, there’s also 20 percent of the RDI of practically every nutrient you could ask for and while the sucralose may give some people pause, overall this is a terrific shake for people who don’t want to skimp on calories.

Tsogo 100% Food Replacement
Tsogo 100% Food Replacement
Tsogo 100% Food Replacement
Unusually nutritious and inexpensive, this one of our favorite meal replacements on the market.

Best Meal Replacement Shakes for Keto

Ample K

Ample’s attempt at a keto-friendly product really the mark. Available in both 400- and 600-calorie varieties it avoids some of the common pitfalls of keto shakes, like too much protein or not enough fat. In the larger size there are 50 grams of fat and 19 grams of protein and 22 grams of carbohydrates with 13 grams of fiber and 3 grams of sugar.

As mentioned earlier it comes in a super convenient fillable bottle — finding keto snacks on the go can be extremely frustrating — and this variety of Ample actually has more nutrition than the regular kind with 25 percent of your daily Vitamin D, calcium, and magnesium. Remember there are no artificial ingredients either, so there aren’t many reasons to avoid this one.

Learn more in my full Ample K review.

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Ample K
Ample K
Ample K

A keto-friendly shake packed with probiotics, it’s a great way to curb hunger while keeping you in ketosis. Use code BARBEND to save 15% on your order.

Best Meal Replacement Shake for Athletes

GNC Total Lean Shake

When looking at a meal replacement for athletes I tend to look at something that’s relatively low fat with about a 1:2 to 1:4 ratio of protein to carbs. Surprisingly, I found that the best option I tried was GNC’s product.

With 9 grams of protein, 32 grams of carbs (3 grams of fiber, 4 grams of sugar), and 2 grams of fat per serving the macros are on point and the micronutrients are even better, providing roughly 30 percent of the RDI of most vitamins and minerals including magnesium, zinc, and selenium.

Learn more in my GNC Total Lean Shake review.

GNC Total Lean Shake
GNC Total Lean Shake
GNC Total Lean Shake
A nutritious, low calorie shake that's especially focused on weight loss.

Best Meal Replacement Shake for Diabetics

310 Meal Replacement Shake Review

310 Shake

People with diabetes tend to prefer shakes with plenty of protein and fiber and not much saturated fat or cholesterol, and 310 Shake fits that bill perfectly. With 15 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber, there are just 2 grams of net carbs per serving and no saturated fat or cholesterol at all.

The nutrition is also on point with about 30 percent of the RDI of some two dozen vitamins and minerals, and for the consumers concerned about the potential effects of sucralose on insulin sensitivity, they’ll be glad to learn there are no artificial sweeteners here either.

Learn more in my full 310 Shake review.

310 Meal Replacement Shake
310 Meal Replacement Shake
310 Meal Replacement Shake

The 310 Meal Replacement Shakes offer a tri-plex blend of protein to control hunger and promote muscle growth.

Best Meal Replacement for Breakfast

Ample

When it comes to picking a breakfast meal replacement, we had to weigh the different qualities of convenience, satiety, and nutrition. This is why Ample came out on top: as mentioned above it’s an extraordinarily filling product that provides a sustained release of energy throughout the morning. (This is in stark contrast to the big insulin spike of your standard simple carbs and milk in a bowl.) Combine that with the ultra convenient packaging and Ample is a safe bet.

Save 15%
Ample
Ample
Ample

Ample has a solid amount of calories and macronutrients, won’t leave you hungry, tastes awesome, and succeeds on digestive. Use code BARBEND to save 15% on your order.

Best Meal Replacement Shake for Men

Field Work Nutrition Primo Smoothie Meal

Another all-natural meal replacement, the reason we picked Field Work Nutrition Primo Smoothie Meal as best for men is the considerable amount of Vitamin D, a nutrient that’s been linked to healthy testosterone production along with stronger bones and better mood.

This product is also super high in protein, delivers a ton of magnesium (which is also linked to testosterone) and there’s a good dose of carbs and fiber from sweet potato, oats, buckwheat, and a few other fibrous foods. A big focus is also on digestive health: six digestive enzymes, four kinds of probiotic bacteria, and prebiotic fiber to boot. Lastly there’s some curcumin for inflammation, so while there aren’t a ton of vitamins and minerals this product could improve your health in a variety of other ways.

Learn more in my full Field Work Nutrition Primo Smoothie Meal review.

Field Work Nutrition Co. Primo Smoothie Meal
Field Work Nutrition Co. Primo Smoothie Meal
Field Work Nutrition Co. Primo Smoothie Meal

A meal replacement that provides adequate protein and macro profile to keep you fuller longer.

Best Meal Replacement for Elderly

IdealShape’s IdealShake

This shake is particularly high in a lot of vitamins and minerals that are important for older folks. This includes over 50 percent of the RDI of calcium and 20 percent of your Vitamin D, both of which are crucial for strong bones, plus there’s plenty of B12 for brain health and 20 percent of your daily fiber to help you stay regular. It’s quite sweet, but IdealShape also has a naturally sweetened version that may be an alternative for those without a sweet tooth.

IdealShape’s IdealShake
IdealShape’s IdealShake
IdealShape’s IdealShake
This nutritious meal replacement is both satiating and low in calories, plus it has digestive enzymes that might help with nutrient absorption.

Meal Replacement Shake Benefits

Wrapping Up

Meal replacements really aren’t just for the bedridden and the elderly. They can support a variety of lifestyles and needs, and let’s be honest: we could all stand to save a few minutes of meal prep.

Of all the products we’ve tried these were the most outstanding in their field, so no matter if you’re looking for nutrition, for weight gain, for weight loss, or another goal, we’re confident the right shake is waiting for you. Cheers!

References

1. 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 May;27(5):537-49.
2. Boonyavarakul A, et al. Effects of meal replacement therapy on metabolic outcomes in Thai patients with type 2 diabetes: A randomized controlled trial. Nutr Health. 2018 Oct 1:260106018800074.
3. Kempf K, et al. Individualized Meal Replacement Therapy Improves Clinically Relevant Long-Term Glycemic Control in Poorly Controlled Type 2 Diabetes Patients. Nutrients. 2018 Aug 4;10(8).
4. Blasbalg TL, et al. Changes in consumption of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the United States during the 20th century. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 May;93(5):950-62.