The Best Meal Replacement Shakes for Weight Loss, Building Muscle, Low-Carb, and More

Whether you’re cutting weight or bulking up, these are the best meal replacements on the market today.

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There are a lot of reasons why someone may want to drink their calories in the form of a meal replacement shake. Strength athletes or hard-gainers who need to eat thousands of calories a day may not be able to stomach another bite of solid food. Busy gym-goers can use meal replacements to supplement their diet and hit their daily macros. Average consumers might just need a quick meal on a busy day to fill them up. Generally, meal replacements are full of protein, carbs, fats, and vitamins to fuel the body with what it needs. Better yet, they’re way more convenient than breaking out the Dutch oven when you’re in a pinch for sustenance.

When it comes to selecting the best meal replacement shake, it’s important to choose a product based on your personal preferences and nutritional goals. That’s why, after testing many, many products, we’ve landed on a wide selection of the best meal replacement shakes that suit a variety of dietary needs.

Best Meal Replacement Shakes

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 replace a significant percentage of your food with meal replacements, please consult your medical professional first.

Meal Replacement Shake Video Review

Like the meal replacement shakes on this list, our video review is convenient, easy to digest, and loaded with useful stuff. Check it out to gain even more insight into how we tested and picked the best meal replacements on the market.

Best Meal Replacement

The best shake on our list boasts a formula that may help with digestion and satiation, is keto-friendly, and tastes delicious. 

HLTH Code Complete Meal

HLTH Code’s meal replacement really does check a lot of boxes. For one, it’s incredibly satiating — meaning it can help keep you full for a long time. That said, the calorie count is pretty much in line with other meal replacements on the market.

We also like that this meal replacement keeps the carb count low. While the label says there are 13 grams of carbs, 9 of those are fiber, which pass through your body and aren’t absorbed. So you’re really only consuming 4 net carbs per serving. That fiber — as well as the additional digestive enzymes in the formula — should help with digestion. (1) The 27 grams of protein is also a solid amount of protein per serving, and along with that comes 25 vitamins and minerals (including vitamins D, A, C, E, K, B6 and B12, iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and biotin) and collagen, which may help with skin and joint health. There are no artificial ingredients or GMOs, and the Chocolate Macadamia and Creamy Vanilla are quite tasty without being too sweet. 

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HLTH Code Complete Meal
HLTH Code Complete Meal
HLTH Code Complete Meal

HLTH Code is delicious, offers 27 grams of protein with 400 calories, and contains up to 25 vitamins and minerals.  It's also insanely satiating, which means you're getting a lot of bang for your buck with each serving. Save 15% with code BARBEND.

Who Should Buy HLTH Code Complete Meal

  • Those looking for a product that will truly replace a meal — this stuff will keep you full.
  • People who have sensitive stomachs may find this meal replacement to be easier on the stomach.
  • Folks who want to keep the carb count low. HLTH Code only contains four net carbs per serving. 

Who Shouldn’t Buy HLTH Code Complete Meal

  • Anyone looking for a macro split that more heavily favors protein — 27 grams is a solid amount, but some may want more protein per serving
  • Athletes who need a higher-carb meal replacement.

HLTH Code’s product truly does live up to the name Complete Meal. From digestion to taste, this healthy meal checks most of the boxes on our list. While some may prefer a lower total calorie count, many will appreciate how much work each calorie in this formulation will do with regards to keeping them full and providing ample nutrition to keep going throughout the day.

[Related: The Best Types Of Supplements For Performance, Weight Loss, and Health]

Best Meal Replacement Shake for Weight Loss 

Kaged Muscle Clean Meal has just one gram of sugar and 240 calories per two-scoop serving, which makes it an ideal meal replacement for those looking to shed a few pounds. 

Kaged Muscle Clean Meal

If you’re trying to lose weight, then you most likely want to eat your food, not drink it. That said, there are times where you have no choice — maybe you’re on vacation, a road trip, or out and about with friends. In those cases, reaching for Clean Meal is a good option. Its protein content is enough to curb your appetite, but it’s relatively low-calorie, so you don’t need to worry about ingesting half your day’s worth of carbs in a single shake. Clean Meal offers 28 grams of protein (or 42 grams for three scoops) — which is substantial — and tastes way better than chicken breast. You can buy it in Snickerdoodle or Vanilla Cake. In this case, you can have your cake and eat it too. 

KAGED Muscle Clean Meal
KAGED Muscle Clean Meal
KAGED Muscle Clean Meal

When you're on the go or trying to slam calories, Clean Meal boasts either 270 or 360 calories-worth of nutrition with balanced macros from whole food ingredients. Use code BARBEND10 for 10% off your purchase. 

Who Should Buy Kaged Muscle Clean Meal

  • Anybody who wants a shake that’s both filling and low calorie will appreciate that this product is only 240 calories per serving.
  • Folks who like a wide variety of potently dosed vitamins and minerals — this supplement has a solid 40 percent of most of your micronutrients.
  • For those who like cookie or cake flavors, this product comes in Snickerdoodle and Vanilla Cake. 

Who Shouldn’t Buy Kaged Muscle Clean Meal

  • Those who want to replace a larger meal — this is too low in calories to replace a full 500- to 1,000-calorie meal, even if you like to double (or triple) scoop.
  • Athletes or bodybuilders who need a higher amount of carbs as this product only has 18g per scoop.

Tasty, well-balanced, and filling, Clean Meal is a great choice for those looking to stay trim but still ingest a meal’s worth of food. Oh, and priced at $2.25 per serving, it’s cheaper than a lot of items you could buy on the road. 

[Related: The Lifter’s Guide To Magnesium: What This Nutrient Does For Strength]

Best Keto Meal Replacement Shake

The keto craze has reached new heights, and many companies are trying to cash in. We’ve tried many keto-focused meal replacements, but we found HLTH Code’s Complete Meal to be head and shoulders above the rest. 

HLTH Code Complete Meal

More than half of the calories in HLTH Code’s formula are from fat, with another quarter coming from protein, so dieters who follow a high-fat diet can take this supplement and not worry about exiting ketosis. It also has both omega-3 and omega-6 fats, MCT powder in (which is part of its Healthy Fats Blend and may help you stay in ketosis) and collagen, is free of GMOs, and is made in an FDA-approved facility. Also, while HLTH Code has 13 grams of carbs, only four are net carbs. The other nine come from fiber, which is passed through your body and not digested.

15% OFF with code BARBEND
HLTH Code Complete Meal
HLTH Code Complete Meal
HLTH Code Complete Meal

HLTH Code is delicious, offers 27 grams of protein with 400 calories, and contains up to 25 vitamins and minerals.  It's also insanely satiating, which means you're getting a lot of bang for your buck with each serving. Save 15% with code BARBEND.

Who Should Buy HLTH Code Complete Meal

  • People who follow a ketogenic diet and need a low-carb formula will like that this product only four grams of net carbs, and is high in both fat and protein. 
  • Folks who want both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids as well as MCT powder included in their meal replacement.
  • Anyone who likes chocolate or vanilla flavors will like this product’s Chocolate Macadamia and Creamy Vanilla varieties. 

Who Shouldn’t Buy HLTH Code Complete Meal

  • Athletes who want more carbohydrates for performance — this product is low in carbs. 
  • People who aren’t on a keto diet and eat a moderate amount of fat already. 
  • People who want more flavor options — Complete Meal comes in just two. 

Though it’s on the pricier side and comes in just Creamy Vanilla and Chocolate Macadamia, Complete Meal offers a moderate-calorie meal replacement formula that contains a good amount of nutrients and is ideal for high-fat diets like keto. 

[Related: Intermittent Fasting 101: A Guide To Benefits, Muscle Gain, and More]

Best Meal Replacement Bar

Bars are a great meal replacement option for anyone on the go — they’re easy to travel with and you can simply throw them in your gym bag for a post-workout pick-me-up. This pick is one of the tastiest we’ve tried. 

Authentic Bar

Authentic Bars are made with whey protein isolate, which has a high percent of protein (around 90 percent) and low percent of carbs and fats compared to other proteins on the market. These bars pack 14g to 17g of protein per bar and range from 240 to 280 calories depending on the flavor you choose. They come in seven different flavors — all of which we can vouch for, having tried them out ourselves. However, if you are looking for something that contains a higher protein content, a shake would be a better option for you as many of those can contain as much as 25 or 30 grams of protein per serving. 

Authentic Bar
Authentic Bar
Authentic Bar

Authentic Bars are made with whey protein isolate, and contain 14g to 17g of protein per bar, depending on the flavor you choose. They are available in five unique flavors and range from 240 to 280 calories each.

Who Should Buy the Authentic Bar

  • Anyone who’s frequently on the go and needs a meal replacement that can come with them. 
  • People who prioritize flavor and are looking for a delicious protein bar. 
  • For athletes who prefer whey protein, you’ll like that this bar is made of whey isolate protein. 

Who Shouldn’t Buy the Authentic Bar

  • Folks who are looking for a higher protein content — you may be better off opting for a shake.
  • Those who prefer to drink their meal replacements as shakes. 

While you won’t get as high a protein content as you would in many meal replacement shakes, these bars are tasty and still pack in up to 17 grams of protein per bar. 

Best Low-Carb Meal Replacement Shake

Though a low-carb diet isn’t technically the same as a keto diet, our pick for the Best Keto Meal Replacement certainly fits in well with this category too.

HLTH Code Complete Meal

Fat isn’t typically as satiating as carbs and protein, so folks following a low-carb diet can be susceptible to a case of the “hangrys”. Complete Meal helps combat this by including nine grams of fiber in their formula. Fiber isn’t absorbed, but passes through your system, which can serve to help you feel more full. Macro-wise, this shake offers a 1:1 ratio of protein to fat, with 27 grams of both fat and protein (a blend of whey concentrate, collagen, and egg whites) and over 20 vitamins and minerals, including vitamins D, A, C, E, K, B6 and B12, iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and biotin. On top of that, the formula contains a Healthy Fats Blend that contains MCT powder, coconut oil powder, olive oil powder, coco butter fat, and grass-fed ghee, as well as added apple cider vinegar powder. 

15% OFF with code BARBEND
HLTH Code Complete Meal
HLTH Code Complete Meal
HLTH Code Complete Meal

HLTH Code is delicious, offers 27 grams of protein with 400 calories, and contains up to 25 vitamins and minerals.  It's also insanely satiating, which means you're getting a lot of bang for your buck with each serving. Save 15% with code BARBEND.

Who Should Buy HLTH Code Complete Meal

  • Those who want a meal replacement that’s balanced in both fats and protein, but low on carbs.
  • Folks who want a boost of calcium and iron included in their meal replacement. 
  • People who want a formula with collagen, which can aid in skin and cartilage health.

Who Shouldn’t Buy HLTH Code Complete Meal

  • Vegans and vegetarians. Collagen is an animal product, so this meal replacement probably won’t work for you. 
  • Folks who want more flavor options than Chocolate Macadamia and Creamy Vanilla will want to look for a formula with a wider variety of flavor options. 
  • People who prioritize a healthy dose of carbs in their diet.

Complete Meal is free of GMOs and artificial ingredients but is chock full of digestive enzymes, probiotics, fiber. It’s also made in an FDA-approved facility for folks hyper-concerned with quality. 

[Related: Best Macros Calculator For Tracking Muscle Gain And Fat Loss]

Best Vegan Meal Replacement Shake

For plant-based eaters, it’s important to find a formula that’s in line with their diet and provides essential vitamins and minerals that vegetarians and vegans specifically need. Don’t let the 400-calorie serving freak you out — after all, we’re talking about meal replacements, not light snacks.

Ample V

Ample has great macros: 20 grams of protein, 23 grams of carbs (11 grams of fiber), and 26 grams of fat. All that protein, fiber, and fat can help make it filling (and delicious). It also packs 40 billion CFUs of probiotic bacteria from six different strains, which may be an important part of losing weight and maximizing nutrient absorption. Ample V is made with primarily organic pea protein and offers up vitamin B12, iron, and magnesium — three minerals and vitamins typically found in meat. Ample’s plant-based formula is all-natural, plus it has a big emphasis on gut health, fiber, and fat. 

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Ample V
Ample V
Ample V

Ample has a solid amount of calories and macronutrients, won’t leave you hungry, tastes awesome, and all of this is wrapped up in a plant-friendly formula. 

Who Should Buy Ample V

  • Vegetarians and vegans will appreciate that this is a plant-based meal replacement comprised mostly of pea protein.
  • People who limit artificial ingredients — there are no artificial flavors or sweeteners in this product.
  • Anyone who wants to emphasize their digestive health. Very few of these shakes provide this much fiber, prebiotic fiber, and probiotic bacteria.
  • Folks who want to feel full, as the combination of fiber, fat, and protein make for a satiating drink.

Who Shouldn’t Buy Ample V

  • Folks who don’t want a plant-based formula. 
  • People who want many vitamins and minerals in their meal replacement shakes. Ample only provides 25 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin D, magnesium, and calcium.
  • Penny pinchers may find that this shake is a bit pricier than other options on the market. 

Vegans and vegetarians can rejoice — Ample’s plant-based formula is all-natural, plus it has a big emphasis on gut health, fiber, and fat. 

[Related: I’m A Professional Powerlifter. Here’s What I Think About Bodybuilding]

Best Meal Replacement Shake for Digestion

Standard protein powders can give folks digestion issues. And when you add more protein and calories to the mix, those problems can amplify. Here’s our pick to alleviate any potential stomach and digestion snafus. 

Ample

Our top pick for digestion notably contains probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics combined with prebiotics are thought to improve your overall gut health. Ample’s formula comes in 400 or 600 calorie vanilla or chocolate bottles that contain premium fats, proteins, fibers, antioxidants, and electrolytes in addition to the pre- and probiotics. It’s packed with over 20 superfoods and can help keep you full for over four hours. Plus, you’ll get 25 or 34 grams of protein depending on which bottle you choose. 

Ample
Ample
Ample

Ample's formula comes in 400 or 600 calorie vanilla or chocolate flavors that contain premium fats, proteins, fibers, antioxidants, and electrolytes in addition to the pre- and probiotics.

Who Should Buy Ample

  • Anyone who’s looking for a prebiotic and probiotic blend in their meal replacement shakes to help with digestion. 
  • Athletes who need a meal replacement that can provide 4+ hours of satiety. 
  • Folks who want a formula that’s low in carbs will appreciate that this formula only contains 11g of carbs. 

Who Shouldn’t Buy Ample

  • Customers who are looking for a cost effective meal replacement option. 
  • Folks who want more flavor options than vanilla and chocolate may want to look elsewhere. That said, we love the way these flavors taste.

This low-carb formula contains prebiotics and probiotics to make it easier to digest. It also tastes great and delivers a filling, yet moderate amount of calories. 

[Related: The Real Pros And Cons Of The Bodybuilding Lifestyle]

Best Meal Replacement for Protein

While this pick still offers whole ingredients and over 20 vitamins and minerals, it packs a whole 28 grams of protein into each meal, which is ideal for those who are also looking for a meal replacement that doubles as a protein supplement

Kaged Muscle Clean Meal

Protein plays a big role in satiety since it takes more energy to digest (2), and this pick contains 28 grams of whey protein isolate per serving — so though it’s relatively low in calories, the protein helps keep you fuller longer. A bonus is that the protein in this supplement can also help with muscle growth in addition to satiety. Plus, this powder contains 21 vitamins and minerals, and 6.5 grams of amino acids that can help with absorption. It comes in Snickerdoodle or Vanilla Cake, and is third-party tested for banned substances. 

KAGED Muscle Clean Meal
KAGED Muscle Clean Meal
KAGED Muscle Clean Meal

When you're on the go or trying to slam calories, Clean Meal boasts either 270 or 360 calories-worth of nutrition with balanced macros from whole food ingredients. Use code BARBEND10 for 10% off your purchase. 

Who Should Buy Kaged Muscle Clean Meal

  • Anybody who wants a shake that’s high in protein and low in calories.
  • Folks who are looking for a wide range of vitamins and minerals in their meal replacement.
  • Those who want a meal replacement that’s been third-party tested for banned substances.
  • Athletes who are trying to grow their muscles will like that this product has a high protein content. 

Who Shouldn’t Buy Kaged Muscle Clean Meal

  • Customers who are looking for a high calorie meal replacement can find products with more than 240 calories per scoop. 
  • Anyone who’s trying to gain weight and needs a supplement higher in carbs. 

If you’re looking to keep the calories low but the protein high, this meal replacement will check those boxes — with 28 grams of protein and 21 vitamins and minerals, Kaged Muscle Clean Meal will keep you satisfied until your next full meal. 

Best Meal Replacement for Bulking

For some athletes, the idea of a meal replacement isn’t to replace food but to act as an additional meal to meet increased calorie and nutrient requirements. We think when it comes to protein this pick stands above the rest.

Transparent Labs Mass Gainer

If you’re looking to bulk up, the 53 grams of protein and 114 grams of carbs — derived from tapioca, oat, and sweet potato — will help. Transparent Labs’ Mass Gainer also includes MCTs from coconut and a serving of creatine monohydrate (which can help with strength and power production). It contains no artificial flavors, colors, or sweeteners. Transparent Labs Mass Gainer is a great choice to potentially help build muscle mass. Also of note, considering it contains over 100 grams of carbs, Transparent Labs’ formula has a relatively lower sugar count of just 14 grams. 

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Transparent Labs Mass Gainer
Transparent Labs Mass Gainer
Transparent Labs Mass Gainer

With nothing artificial, whey from New Zealand, a good amount of fiber, and little sugar, this mass gainer will satisfy most athletes. It's a clean mass gainer that focuses on simplicity over added bells and whistles.

Who Should Buy Transparent Labs Mass Gainer

  • People who want a mass gainer supplement free of artificial flavors, colors, or sweeteners.
  • Athletes looking for a convenient source of extra calories with a solid macronutrient split. This one offers 53 grams of protein, 114 grams of carbs, and just 14 grams of fat (per serving). 
  • Athletes who are also looking for a dose of creatine in their meal replacement will like that this mass gainer has three grams of creatine per serving (five grams per day is generally recommended if creatine is part of your supplement stack). 

Who Shouldn’t Buy Transparent Labs Mass Gainer

  • People who are looking to lean out, you should go for a lower calorie powder. Other meal replacements on this list have a lower calorie count — this formula has 760 calories per serving. 
  • Folks looking for something with a more robust micronutrient profile. 
  • Anyone on a keto diet will want to look for a formulation that sports a higher fat content. 

Transparent Labs’ Mass Gainer comes in four flavors — Chocolate, Cookies N Cream (not gluten-free), Sweet Vanilla, and Chocolate Glaze — and can be bought one, two, or three tubs at a time. At nearly 800-calories per serving, this pick offers more calories than a standard meal. 

[Related: Nutrition For Bulking: 10 Tips For Intelligent Muscle Gain]

Best Meal Replacement for Diabetes

It’s imperative to note that people with diabetes should speak to a physician or certified diabetes educator before trying any new supplements. This isn’t medical advice, but 310’s Meal Replacement Shake has a lot of potential benefits for those with diabetes. 

310 Meal Replacement Shake 

People with diabetes tend to prefer shakes with plenty of protein, fiber, and not much saturated fat or cholesterol. 310 Shake fits that bill perfectly. With 15 grams of protein and five grams of fiber, there are just two grams of net carbs per serving and no saturated fat or cholesterol at all. 310 Meal Replacement is also on point with about 30 percent of the recommended daily intake of some two dozen vitamins and minerals. The consumers concerned about the potential effects of sucralose on insulin sensitivity will be glad to learn there are no artificial sweeteners here either.

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, promote muscle growth, and has only two grams of net carbs and zero artificial sweeteners.

Who Should Buy 310 Meal Replacement Shake 

  • People who want a shake with protein and fiber to help slow digestion.
  • Anyone after a really low-calorie shake as there are just 90 calories per serving in this product.
  • Those who want to avoid artificial sweeteners will appreciate that this product is free of them.

Who Shouldn’t Buy 310 Meal Replacement Shake 

  • Anyone who wants a shake to replace a meal. Let’s be honest; 90 calories isn’t a meal.
  • People who want more carbs. There are just two net carbs in a scoop.

This may not be the most robust meal replacement shake, but it does offer decent protein and is a great option for people with diabetes. 

[Related: 3 Ways To Find Your 1-Rep Max (Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced)]

Best Meal Replacement for Elderly

Older people who need a meal replacement with a bunch of protein and fiber and no saturated fat will be happy to know that 310 Shake clears the bar. It’s 15 grams of protein, five grams of fiber, and just two grams of net carbs per serving.

310 Meal Replacement Shake 

310 Meal Replacement also packs in some two dozen vitamins and minerals. The consumers concerned about the potential effects of sucralose on insulin sensitivity will be glad to learn there are no artificial sweeteners here either. If you’re concerned about your nutrient absorption or any other nutrition-related issues as you age, it’s best to share them with a physician. That said, we found 310 Shake to contain many nutrients that tend to be favored by older folks.

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, promote muscle growth, and has only two grams of net carbs and zero artificial sweeteners.

Who Should Buy 310 Meal Replacement Shake 

  • People who want a shake with ample amounts of protein and fiber.
  • Anyone who wants a really low-calorie shake — there are just 90 calories in a serving.
  • Elderly folks who want to focus on consuming natural ingredients will appreciate that there are no artificial sweeteners in this shake.

Who Shouldn’t Buy 310 Meal Replacement Shake 

  • Anyone who wants a shake to replace a full meal’s worth of calories will need more than this product’s 90 calories. 
  • People who want more carbs as there are just two net carbs in a serving in this shake.

Skinny jeans and frosted tips may be out of style if you’re over 50 (maybe), but proper nutrient absorption is forever cool. 310 delivers 24 vitamins and minerals in great flavors like Horchata.

[Related: Hypertrophy Training Sets And Reps]

Best Vitamin-Rich Meal Replacement Shake

For folks who are more health-conscious, we’ve found a formula that offers up a tremendous amount of vitamins, minerals, and a few valuable extras in Huel’s (that stands for Human Fuel) meal replacement. 

Huel

This vegan powder delivers great macros (with a moderate amount of fat) and 27 vitamins and minerals — including chromium and choline — plus a few extras such as kombucha and acerola cherries (which are excellent sources of B and C vitamins). It also boasts an ample amount of Omega-3 fatty acids, so it’s a pretty robust formula altogether. Huel suits almost everyone except low-carb dieters, and the protein is complete even though it’s plant-based. 

Huel
Huel
Huel

Huel offers up a robust 27-vitamin and mineral formula, as well as a lot of omega-3 fatty acids, for a meal replacment brimming with nutrition. 

Who Should Buy Huel

  • Anyone tired of “meal replacements” that are more like protein shakes; this has carbs and fat, but not too much or too little.
  • People who want a meal replacement with as many vitamins and minerals as possible as Huel has everything from chromium to choline.
  • Are you looking for Omega-3s? Huel has almost four grams per serving in the form of ALA.
  • Vegans and vegetarians, yes, this pick is perfect for you — Huel is entirely vegan.

Who Shouldn’t Buy Huel

  • Folks who limit artificial sweeteners, as Huel contains sucralose. There’s an unflavored version, but you’ll probably want to add some sweetener — it’s not great.
  • If you’re sensitive to gums, you won’t love the xanthan, acacia, and guar here.

Huel delivers the most amount of vitamins of any pick on this list and is both plant-based and high in protein. Really, this pick can scratch a bunch of different itches. 

[Related: The 3 Most Common Types Of Training Periodization (And When To Use Them)]

Can You Live On Just Meal Replacements?

So can you really replace a meal with powder? It depends on who you ask. 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 consensus leaning toward what became one of Soylent’s slogans: it shouldn’t replace every meal, but it can replace any meal.

[Related: The Best Foods And Supplements For Fighting Inflammation]

Is that a good idea? It’s complicated, but 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.” (3)

Like a 2018 randomized controlled trial published in Nutrition & Health, multiple studies have also suggested they can be effective at helping to manage Type 2 diabetes, perhaps by helping with calorie control or blood sugar levels. (4)(5)

That said, there are many ingredients in whole foods that aren’t vitamins or minerals but are still healthful. Meal replacements will often (but not always) have all the essential vitamins and minerals. However, certain antioxidants and phytonutrients are more abundant in whole foods. (An example would be indole-3-carbinol, which may help balance hormones and is found in broccoli.)

Our takeaway? You should probably use these products as supplements and still eat plenty of real foods in addition to your meal replacement shakes.

When Should I Use Meal Replacements?

This depends on each person’s specific goals. Some may use a meal replacement because they are on the go a lot, and it’s an easy way to sneak in a meal when you’re busy. Others may sub a low-carb meal replacement for breakfast or lunch to try to cut back on calories or help them lose weight, while some may add a meal replacement to their diet to try to bulk. 

woman drinking shake
eldar nurkovic/Shutterstock

While you’re more likely to get a balanced spread of essential nutrients from whole foods, meal replacements can be a great way to trim back on calories if you’re trying to cut, add calories if you’re trying to bulk, add carbs if you workout often and need energy, supplement protein if you’re not getting enough, or stay on track if you’re on the go. No matter your goal, meal replacements can be helpful tools at any time of the day. 

How Much Do Meal Replacements Cost?

The prices of meal replacements vary based on container size and ingredients. In general, meal replacements with high-quality ingredients that don’t contain additives or artificial ingredients are going to be more expensive, as are higher calorie meal replacements. On top of that, if the container has more servings, you’ll be paying more per order — though it’s more important to look at the price per serving to get an accurate sense of cost since container sizes vary by product. Overall, a container of meal replacements can cost anywhere from $40 to $100 depending on the brand and the contents.

Best Meal Replacement HLTH Code Complete Meal $59.95

$4.00 per serving

Best Meal Replacement Shake for Weight Loss Kaged Muscle Clean Meal $44.99

$2.25 per serving

Best Keto Meal Replacement Shake HLTH Code Complete Meal $59.95

$4.00 per serving

Best Meal Replacement Bar Authentic Bar $24.99

$2.08 per serving

Best Low-Carb Meal Replacement Shake HLTH Code Complete Meal $59.95

$4.00 per serving

Best Vegan Meal Replacement Shake Ample V $79.00

$2.63 per serving

Best Meal Replacement Shake for Digestion Ample $90.00

$7.50 per serving

Best Meal Replacement Protein Kaged Muscle Clean Meal $44.99

$2.25 per serving

Best Meal Replacement Shake for Bulking Transparent Labs Mass Gainer $69.00

$4.60 per serving

Best Meal Replacement Shake for Diabetes 310 Meal Replacement Shake $69.99

$2.50 per serving

Best Meal Replacement Shake for Elderly 310 Meal Replacement Shake $69.99

$2.50 per serving

Best Vitamin-Rich Meal Replacement Shake Huel $52.07

$4.11 per serving

How We Decide the Best 

Meal replacement shakes vary enormously concerning the nutrition they provide — and human beings differ significantly when it comes to the nutrition they need. Athletes might want more carbs. Women might want more biotin. Men might want more Vitamin D. Some folks want a lot of calories. Others may want a nutritious snack. Here are the criteria we used when trying to select the best meal replacement for various needs.

[Related: How To Do The Romanian Deadlift For Lower-Body Size And Strength]

Macronutrients

Diets are composed of calories made up of three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. A good meal replacement, unless it’s marketed for an unusual type of diet (e.g., 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 the five components below.

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 — vitamins A, C, D, E, K, and the B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, B6, B12, and folate). (6

Minerals

Chemical elements are made in the earth and can’t be made by living organisms. Plants get them from the 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

These are fatty acids that we can’t make ourselves, so we need to consume them. Linked to various 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. (7) 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 oil.

Fiber

A kind of carbohydrate that the body doesn’t quite digest, fiber is usually categorized as “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.

Before Buying a Meal Replacement

It can be a little daunting to look for products meant to replace a whole meal, not just one macronutrient, like a protein shake. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind when hunting for your next meal.

A line of protein shakes
New Africa/Shutterstock

[Related: The 3 Most Effective Workouts Splits For Strength Training]

You’re Not Replacing Your Whole Diet

You should never live on meal replacements alone; the body needs phytochemicals and enzymes, and antioxidants that you’ll only get from plants. This attitude — that shakes are helpful, but not everything — should help to take the pressure off of finding the absolute perfect option.

Ask About the Calories

When people consume too many calories, they gain weight, but if they don’t eat enough calories, they experience fatigue, nutrient deficiencies, and more. So before you buy the lowest calorie meal replacement on the market because you want to lose weight, ask yourself if it’s enough to keep hunger at bay and lower the odds of you overeating later. For some people, they’ll eat one or two large meals after taking one or two meal replacements, and it works wonders for them. For others, they’ll have 90-calorie shakes and wind up so hungry and unsatisfied that they binge later.

Make Sure It’s Satiating

If you’re trying to bulk up and gain a lot of muscle, this won’t apply to you. But if you want a shake to be satiating, consider not just the calories but also ensure there’s adequate protein, fiber, and fat, all of which are great for satisfying hunger. Slimfast, for example, is very low in protein and fat, so although it’s nutritious, we didn’t find it to be that great a meal replacement. 

Chat With a Doctor

Before making any changes to your diet and supplement regimen, like replacing a meal with powder, be sure to book an appointment with a physician or a registered dietitian to make sure it’s a good option for you.

Final Word

Meal replacements really aren’t just for the bedridden and elderly. They can support various 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 categories, so no matter if you’re looking for nutrition, weight gain, weight loss, or another goal, you’ll find one of these meal replacement shakes can help you. 

FAQs

Can I only drink meal replacement shakes?

Meal replacement shakes are designed to do what they say: Replace a meal, which can be a convenient way to get nutrition for your specific dietary needs. Some meal replacement shakes were originally designed to serve as a full and complete nutritional substitute for regular food. However, relatively few recommend drinking only their product to meet your full nutritional needs. Speak to your medical professional before you consider switching to a completely meal replacement-based diet.

Can I use meal replacement shakes to lose weight?

Meal replacement shakes can be a convenient and easily measurable way to track calories, macronutrients, and micronutrients. Many people use them to help meet weight loss goals by tracking calories and hitting a calorie deficit. But like it or not, you only lose weight if you’re in a calorie deficit — that’s the main thing to be mindful of.

What is in a meal replacement?

A good meal replacement has a balance of protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals. Usually the ingredients have whey (made from dairy) for the protein, maltodextrin for the carbs, and vitamins and minerals are added in. Many meal replacements try to be as low in fat as possible, and it’s hard to say where the fat comes from — sunflower oil isn’t uncommon.

How many calories are in a meal replacement?

Some meal replacements are as low as 90 calories, others are as high as 700 calories or more. It’s fair to say that 90-calorie meal replacements aren’t really replacing meals — these sorts of products are typically very low in carbs and fat and wind up closer to nutritious protein shakes than anything approximating the calorie and macronutrient balance of an actual meal.

References

  1. Slavin J. Fiber and Prebiotics: Mechanisms and Health Benefits. Nutrients. 2013; 5(4):1417-1435. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu5041417
  2. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/extra-protein-is-a-decent-dietary-choice-but-dont-overdo-it-201305016145
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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).
  6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Vitamins and minerals for older adults. National Institute on Aging. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/vitamins-and-minerals-older-adults. 
  7. 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.