The Best Meal Replacement Shakes for Weight Loss, Men, and More

We tried dozens of top meal replacements to land on the best for your individual needs.

We receive free products to review and may receive commissions on purchases made through our links. See our disclosure page for details.

There are a lot of reasons why someone may want to drink their calories. 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. Or, busy gym-goers can drink them to hit their daily macros. Average consumers might just need a quick meal on a busy day to fill them up. This is where meal replacement powders come into play. Generally, they’re 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. 

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 a variety of needs. 

Best Meal Replacement Picks

Meal Replacement Shake Video Review

Just 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 picked and tested the best meal replacement supplements.  

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.

Best Meal Replacement Overall

To land on the best, we didn’t just look at the vitamins and minerals. It needs to deliver in taste; it needs to be filling, and deliver more than just essential nutrition. 

HLTH Code Complete Meal

Two scoops deliver 400 calories — the number of calories in a modest meal — broken up into 27 grams of protein and fat and 13 grams of carbohydrates. HLTH Code also contains up to 25 vitamins and minerals, including Zinc, Copper, Selenium, and vitamins D, E, and K. With the help of a Ph.D., HLTH Code boasts a scrupulously researched formula to deliver more than just the essentials, but a shake that can truly replace a meal. You can purchase it in two flavors — Chocolate Macadamia and Creamy Vanilla. 

Save 15% 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. Save 15% with code BARBEND.

Who Should Buy HLTH Code Complete Meal

  • People who want a meal replacement shake that’s higher in fat and lower in carbs.
  • Folks who prefer a shake with a complete vitamin and mineral profile. 
  • Those who care that their products are carefully researched and developed. 

Who Shouldn’t Buy HLTH Code Complete Meal

  • Budget-conscious shoppers. This meal replacement is fairly expensive. 
  • People who want more flavors than just chocolate or vanilla.

Tasty, high in micronutrients and protein, and calorically balanced, HLTH Code is a well-rounded meal replacement shake that anyone can enjoy. 

Best Plant-Based 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.

Ample V 

Don’t let the 400-calories serving freak you out — after all, we’re talking about meal replacements, not light snacks. Ample has great macros: 270grams of protein, 23 grams of carbs (11 grams of fiber), and 25 grams of fat. All that protein, fiber, and fat 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 that are typically found in meat. 

15% off
Ample
Ample
Ample

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. This is a plant-based formula.
  • People who limit artificial ingredients. There are no artificial flavors or sweeteners.
  • 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. This shake is pricier per serving. Though on a per calorie basis, it’s pretty reasonable.

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

Best Meal Replacement for Keto

The keto craze has reached new heights, and many companies are trying to cash in. We’ve tried many keto-focused shakes and found this one 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 supp and not worry about exiting ketosis. It also has both omega-3 and omega -6 fats, is free of GMOs, and is made in an FDA-approved facility. Also, while HLTH Code does have 13 grams of carbs, only four of those are net carbs. The other nine come from fiber, which is passed through your body and isn’t digested.

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

HLTH Code delivers a 1:1 ratio of fat to protein (27 grams of each), both omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, for a formula that is keto-friendly. Save 15% with code BARBEND.

Who Should Buy HLTH Code Complete Meal

Who Shouldn’t Buy HLTH Code Complete Meal

  • Athletes who want more carbohydrates for performance. 
  • People who aren’t on a keto diet, and eat a moderate amount of fat. 

Perfect for keto dieters, HLTH Code offers up a 1:1 ratio of fats to protein, with less than 15 grams of carbohydrates.

Best Meal Replacement for Weight Loss 

When people are looking for weight loss-focused shakes, the emphasis tends to be less on lots of fat and fiber and more on keeping calories low — which is fair enough!

Disclaimer: Please note that none of these products describe themselves as weight loss supplements and should not be taken as such. Please consult with a medical professional before beginning any weight loss protocol.

IdealShape’s IdealShake 

What we like is that IdealShake only has one gram of sugar and just 120 calories per serving. So, it’s pretty easy to keep the calories down with this product. That said, the shake only offers 11 grams of protein — which is half of what most whey protein shakes have — and 12 grams of carbs. What makes this a great weight-loss specific supplement is the Slendesta. Potatoes, it turns out, are one of the most satiating foods on Earth, and IdealShape’s inclusion of this potato extract is aimed at making the product one of the most filling low-calorie beverages around. 

15% Off
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. Use code BARBEND15 for 15% off your order!

Who Should Buy IdealShape’s IdealShake

  • Anybody who wants a shake that’s both filling and low calorie. The potato extract here really does help with satiety.
  • Folks who like a wide variety of potently dosed vitamins and minerals; IdealShake has a good 50 percent of most of your micronutrients.
  • It contains digestive enzymes, which might be useful for folks with sensitive stomachs.

Who Shouldn’t Buy IdealShape’s IdealShake

  • Those who want to replace a meal; IdealShake is too low in calories and probably too sweet to replace a full 500- to 1,000-calorie meal.
  • Athletes or bodybuilders who need protein and carbs. While great for keeping you full, IdealShake lacks in these two macros, big time, compared to other brands on this list. 

IdealShake is one of our favorite meal replacements all around, and it’s terrific for those looking to minimize calories and hunger — yes, it can be done!

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. 

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
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 and not too little.
  • People who want a meal replacement with as many vitamins and minerals as possible, 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.
  • People who are looking to consume fewer animal products, as 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 suits almost everyone except low-carb dieters, and the protein is complete even though it’s plant-based. 

Best Meal Replacement for Mass Gaining

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 Transparent Labs Mass Gainer stands above the rest.

Transparent Labs Mass Gainer

Want to bulk up? The 53 grams of protein and 114 grams of carbs — made up of tapioca, oat, and sweet potato — will help. Transparent Labs’ Mass Gainer also includes MCTs from coconut, as well as a serving of creatine monohydrate (which can help with strength and power production). It contains no artificial flavors, colors or sweeteners.

10% off
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. Use the code BARBEND10 for 10% off!

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 specific 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. Each two-scop serving offers three grams of creatine. 

Who Shouldn’t Buy Transparent Labs Mass Gainer

  • People who are looking to lean out. Other meal replacements on this list don’t pack 760 calories per serving. 
  • Folks looking for something with a more robust micronutrient profile. 

Transparent Labs Mass Gainer shouldn’t replace food, but it’s a great choice for building muscle mass.

Best Low-Calorie Meal Replacement

Some meal replacements are low in calories, but they’re so low in fat and carbs that they’re not that satiating or nutritious. 

IdealShape’s IdealShake 

There are only 100 calories in a scoop but you’re getting 11 grams of protein, five grams of fiber, and about 75 percent of your recommended daily intake of 15 vitamins and minerals. There are also enzymes to aid digestion, but what makes it even more diet-friendly is the addition of an extract made from potato protein, which may help to decrease hunger.

IdealShape's IdealShake
IdealShape's IdealShake
IdealShape's IdealShake

Extraordinarily low in calories and high in nutrients, plus an unusual potato extract to help manage hunger. Use code BARBEND15 for 15% off your order.

Who Should Buy IdealShape’s IdealShake

  • People who want a lot of nutrition in their shake; there’s about 75 percent of the RDI of most vitamins and minerals here.
  • Anyone who struggles with hunger. The fiber, protein, and (above all) potato extract do a great job of satiating hunger on very few calories.
  • Folks who like enzymes in their shakes, as they may help nutrient absorption.

Who Shouldn’t Buy IdealShape’s IdealShake

  • People who want to support athletic performance; there are very few calories and carbs, here.

It’s hard to combine “low calorie” and “satiating,” but IdealShake does a very commendable job here.

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.

310 Meal Replacement Shake 

People with diabetes tend to prefer shakes with plenty of protein and 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; there are just 90 in a serving.
  • Those who want to avoid artificial sweeteners.

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 like plenty of carbs to fuel energy; there are just two net carbs in a scoop.

310 shake has a nice, mild flavor, and it contains no saturated fat or cholesterol. Whatever your diet, there’s a good chance there’s room for a 310 shake.

Best Meal Replacement for Elderly

As people age, they tend to absorb certain nutrients more poorly and therefore need more of some vitamins and minerals. That’s why we landed on this nutritious meal shake.

IdealShape’s IdealShake 

This shake is particularly high in a lot of vitamins and minerals that are important for older folks. IdealShake includes a good hit of protein, over 50 percent of the RDI of calcium, and 20 percent of your Vitamin D, all 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. 

15% off
IdealShape’s IdealShake
IdealShape’s IdealShake
IdealShape’s IdealShake

A big hit of calcium and Vitamin D, both crucial for strong bones, plus plenty of B12 for brain health and fiber to help you stay regular. Use code BARBEND15 for 15% off your order.

Who Should Buy IdealShape’s IdealShake

  • Folks interested in bone health; there’s plenty of Vitamin D and calcium here.
  • Those who want a lot of micronutrients, which may be preferable to those with hampered absorption.

Who Shouldn’t Buy IdealShape’s IdealShake

  • People who don’t love artificially sweetened products, though there’s a naturally sweetened version that may be preferable.
  • Folks who need help consuming more calories; IdealShake is quite low in calories. High energy meals will still need to be consumed at other times.

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 IdealShake to contain a lot of nutrients that tend to be favored by older folks.

Best Meal Replacement for Men

In our extensive article on optimizing testosterone production, one pointer leaped out at us: you need to eat enough protein, carbs, fat, and all the micronutrients. It’s not just about fat or Vitamin D. You need enough of everything.

HLTH Code Complete Meal

Your testosterone levels are derived from cholesterol, and so it’s important to ensure that you’re taking in adequate amounts of protein and fats. HLTH Code provides a 1:1 ratio of fats and protein, with a shake that offers 27 grams of each, and from healthy sources (omega 3 and omega 6), to boot. It also has 25 minerals and vitamins such as biotin for hair and nail growth, vitamins A, C, E, K and D, and calcium for bone health and density. 

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

Healthy test levels require both ample fats and protein, so formula with more fat (27 grams) may suit men who want to maintain healthier testosterone levels. Also, it contains extras such as iron, calcium, and biotin. Save 15% with code BARBEND.

Who Should Buy HLTH Code Complete Meal

  • Men who want to help maintain healthy testosterone with a shake that’s balanced in both fats and protein.
  • Men who want extras such as iron, calcium, and Iron.
  • Folks 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.
  • Folks who want more flavor options than vanilla and chocolate. 

HLTH Code is a fantastic meal replacement for men that want to maintain healthy test levels and just be healthier in general. 

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 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, 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.” (1)

Multiple studies, like a 2018 randomized controlled trial 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)

That said, there are a lot of 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 to balance hormones and is found in broccoli.)

So, you should use these shakes as supplements and still eat plenty of real foods in addition to your meal replacement shakes.

How We Decide the Best 

Meal replacement shakes vary enormously concerning the nutrition they provide — and human beings differ significantly with regard 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 want a nutritious snack. Here are the criteria we used when trying to select the best meal replacement for a variety of needs.

woman drinking shake
eldar nurkovic/Shutterstock

Macronutrients

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 (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 five components.

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 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

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 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 that are meant to replace a whole meal not just one macronutrient like a protein shake. Here are a few pointers.

A line of protein shakes
New Africa/Shutterstock

You’re Not Replacing Your Whole Diet

Don’t even think about living 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.

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 best meal replacement shakes can be easily picked for 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. 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.