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 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
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
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
Unusually nutritious and inexpensive, this one of our favorite meal replacements on the market.
Best for Keto
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
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
The 310 Meal Replacement Shakes offer a tri-plex blend of protein to control hunger and promote muscle growth.
Best for Breakfast
Ample is super convenient and provides a great serving of protein, fiber, and fat to keep you full until lunchtime.
Best for Athletes
GNC Total Lean Shake
GNC Total Lean Shake
A nutritious, low calorie shake that's especially focused on weight loss.
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.
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
Note: BarBend does not dispense medical advice and you should speak with your physician before undertaking any weight loss regimen.
1. Ample (400 calories)
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.
2. 310 Shake
Here’s your low-calorie shake. With just 90 calories a serving this product delivers 15 grams of protein, 7 grams of carbs (5 grams of fiber and no sugar) and 1.5 g rams of fat with no saturated fat. While I obviously prefer something with a bit more fat, the micronutrients are really impressive here and there’s also a serving of powdered greens, which could potentially deliver some extra antioxidants and phytochemicals.
There’s also a solid billion probiotic bacteria and there are no artificial ingredients, yet somehow my Salted Caramel flavor still tasted great. An impressive feat all round.
[Check out all flavors of 310 Shake here.]
With 11 grams of protein, 10 grams of carbs and 2.5 grams of fat per serving, the macro split here is a little more even but it still provides 5 grams of fiber and should make for a relatively filling drink.
The nutrition is top notch: there are nineteen listed with most hovering around the 70 to 80 percent of the RDI mark, but there are also a series of digestive enzymes to help with digestion and nutrient absorption. If you’re worried that 100 calories won’t fill you up, heed the secret weapon: Slendesta, an extract from potato (the most filling vegetable) that could be great at satiating hunger.
[Shop IdealShake here.]
Best Meal Replacements for Women
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.
Once again, Huel is an excellent meal replacement for anybody. It’s plant-based and soy free and while it’s not fantastic at providing nutrients for digestive health this nonetheless contains 25 percent of the RDI of biotin and calcium.
It’s true that it’s a little higher in calories than other shakes targeted at women with 500 per serving but each serving consists of three scoops, so it’s very easy to just take one or two scoops to keep the calories lower for individuals with lower body mass.
[Shop Huel in regular and gluten-free versions on Amazon here.]
A very interesting product that’s packed with 450 percent of the RDI of biotin, the IsaLean Shake is all natural, surprisingly tasty, and has a practical macronutrient split with 24 grams of protein, 24 grams of carbohydrates (8 grams of fiber, 11 grams of sugar) and 5 grams of fat (1.5 grams of saturated fat).
It’s not crazy high in iron or potassium and there’s no Vitamin K but I was really impressed with the emphasis on digestive health with a whopping nine digestive enzymes along with probiotic bacteria from the Lactobacilus acidophilus strain.
[Shop IsaGenix on Amazon today.]
Best Meal Replacements for Women’s Weight Loss
Still a great product for weight loss, I did find the Vanilla flavor to be just a little but too sweet but 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.
2. 310 Shake
With just 90 calories per scoop it’s hard to find a lower calorie meal replacement than this one and when you see the extraordinary array of micronutrients it contains, it becomes clear why this is a top pick. With 15 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber it shouldn’t digest too quickly or spike blood sugar too much, plus it’s got some powdered greens for extra antioxidants and some probiotic bacteria for digestive health.
Somehow it has no sugar and no artificial sweeteners but it’s still remarkably tasty, though at roughly $2.50 for a 90-calorie serving it’s not the cheapest in the industry. It doesn’t provide much fat which is, after all, an important nutrient, but there’s not a lot to be disappointed by, here.
[Explore flavors of 310 Shake here.]
Easily one of the most tasty shakes I’ve tried (not many people are doing Sweet Cream flavor but darn it, it works well), this also has just 90 calories in a serving and 12 grams of protein with 7 grams of carbohydrates and 1 gram of fat. There’s no saturated fat and a solid 5 grams of fiber as well.
With a remarkably 30 percent of the RDI of 23 vitamins and minerals this product has almost every nutrient you could ask for including Vitamin K, chromium, selenium, and copper, though it’s pretty low in iron and there’s no choline. Another bonus is the digestive enzymes, which may help you to absorb more nutrients and help with insulin sensitivity.
[ViShape is pretty inexpensive per serving — get the best price here.]
Best Meal Replacement Shake for Weight Gain
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.
2. Queal Steady
With a huge variety of flavors, my apple pie flavored bag really did taste exactly like apple pie (probably because of the sustainably sourced palm oil) so I was a big fan of this at first gulp. There are 700 calories in a serving which may sound high until you remember that, firstly, that would equal 2,100 calories per day which isn’t all that much, and second, those 700 calories are reached with five scoops. So when you think about it, serving size is pretty relative.
Nonetheless the nutrition is great, delivering about a third of almost every micronutrient you could ask for although choline, unsurprisingly, was left off of the list. But there are 6.2 grams of polyunsaturated fats so there’s probably a good amount of Omega-3 here. There are a few ingredients you might eschew like soy, dairy, gluten, egg, and sucralose, plus I would have liked more carbs (there are 49 grams of protein to 79 grams of carbs) but I like Queal a lot.
[Queal comes in ten flavors — find one you like here.]
3. Ample (600 calories)
Ample comes in its own fillable bottle: you fill it with water, shake it up, and have a tasty and fast 600 calories on the go, wherever you are. The convenience factor here is huge, as if you’ve ever tried to consume a lot of calories you quickly find that fitting them all into your day is a surprisingly big challenge.
It’s also all natural, tastes a lot like liquid shortbread, and provides a pretty even split of protein, carbs, and fat with a big hit of fiber and probiotic bacteria. There aren’t a whole lot of vitamins and minerals and it’s true that there aren’t as many carbs as a weight gainer might like but for convenience, taste, and gut health, it’s worth a spot in your diet.
[Get 10% off your order of Ample with code BARBEND.]
Best Meal Replacement Shakes for Keto
1. 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.
I wasn’t particularly happy about the fact that this product is equal parts protein and fat and it’s likely that keto followers won’t be either but this product has a secret weapon: ketones. Developed with renowned researcher Dom D’Agostino, this contains a hit of exogenous ketones that may help to provide energy during ketosis.
The downside is that not everybody wants ketones — some keto followers feel they interfere with lipolysis — but this does contain 25 percent of the RDI of 21 vitamins and minerals so as a meal replacement it’s pretty impressive.
[Get 10% off Kegenix Keto Meal with code BARBEND10.]
It’s not as nutritious as Kegenix, providing just 50 percent of the RDI of Vitamin C and not a whole lot else, but this does take the cake for the most tasty keto meal replacement. “Take the brownie” may be a better figure of speech because this product’s first three ingredients are whole egg powder, butter powder, natural flavors, and cocoa, and I can say without exaggeration that it tastes like brownie batter when added to water.
You do need to be OK with one scoop delivering over 100 percent of the RDI of cholesterol and the fact that, again, there isn’t a lot of nutrition to be had. But the taste is exceptional and there are no artificial flavors or soy so if that’s where your priorities lie, this is a delicious option.
[Shop American Metabolix here.]
Best Meal Replacement Shake for Athletes
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.
In one portable pouch you’ll have a 500-calorie serving with 26 grams of protein, 61 grams of carbs (8.6 grams fiber, 3 grams sugar), and 16.9 grams fat (2.1 grams saturated fat, 3.3 grams polyunsaturated fat). With more calories and fat per calorie than GNC’s product some may feel it’s a better bet for athletes, but the strong soy flavor put this in second place for me.
The nutrition is top notch though with about 30 percent of the RDI of 26 vitamins and minerals, a list that includes chromium, choline, chloride, and a few others that sometimes don’t make it onto the list of meal replacements. However, there’s 266 percent of the RDI of iron, which may be a bad idea for men and older folks.
The only pre-made shake on this list, Boost didn’t make it into other categories because it’s somewhat high in sugar with 20 grams of it in 41 grams of carbs. But with 10 grams of protein and 4 grams of fat there’s a pretty decent macro split and in my experience, athletes are usually OK with a hit of sugar if they’ve been working out.
The nutrition is also solid with a whopping 28 micronutrients in every bottle. Add to that prebiotic fiber from three different sources and you have an overlooked product that could be a useful tool in the athlete’s fridge.
[Shop Boost flavors on Amazon here.]
Best Meal Replacement Shake for Diabetics
Note: This should not be taken as medical advice. Speak with your physician and/or Certified Diabetes Educator before making any changes to your prescribed diet.
1. 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.
2. Boost Glucose Control
Boost has a tremendous variety of shakes on its product line, but this is the only one specifically formulated for the needs of people with diabetes. It’s not particularly low carb — one bottle has 190 calories, 16 grams of protein and 16 grams of carbohydrates. But it has just 4 grams of sugar, 4 grams of fiber, and 26 vitamins and minerals with just 1 gram of saturated fat and 3 percent of the cholesterol RDI.
[Shop chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla flavors on Amazon here!]
A truly delicious and extremely low-calorie beverage, ViShape’s offering is jam-packed with nutrition and provides 12 grams of protein with 2 grams of net carbs, 1 gram of fat, and just 5 percent of the RDI oc cholesterol. It’s also pretty darn low in sodium (3 percent of the RDI) and a bunch of digestive enzymes, which some research suggests may contribute to insulin sensitivity.
Another interesting point is that while there is soy in this product, it’s been processed in a way that removes practically all of the phytoestrogens, which cause concern to some folks.
[ViShape is pretty inexpensive per serving — get the best price here.]
Best Meal Replacement Shake for Men
A meal replacement that provides adequate protein and macro profile to keep you fuller longer.MoreLess
Another all-natural meal replacement, the reason this was picked 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.
I’m not a big believer in men and women needing completely different meal replacements and when I said Huel was one of the best on the market, I meant for men and women. Not only is there a solid dose of Vitamin D and magnesium (albeit lower than in the Primo Smoothie Meal) they’ve also added in selenium, another nutrient with a link to testosterone.
It’s not too high in iron, a mineral that men are often told to limit to avoid it building up in the blood. It does have an artificial sweetener and not much of an emphasis on digestive health, but this still a great go to.
[Huel is also one of the cheapest meal replacements around — get the best price here.]
At first glance this looks like a protein shake (particularly with the half-naked muscle man on the tub) but upon further inspection, this is actually a pretty excellent product. With a good amount of protein and a good amount of calories this product has about 35 percent of the RDI of most B-vitamins, vitamins A, C, D, E, and biotin. The minerals include copper, magnesium, iron, zinc, and iodine.
It does contain soy and artificial ingredients which some people try to steer clear of, but there is an interesting “essential fatty acid complex” of sunflower oil, MCT oil, and flaxseed oil, so this product appears to deliver some Omega-3s and other polyunsaturated fatty acids.
[Try 7 different flavors of Labrada Lean Body here.]
Best Meal Replacement for Elderly
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.
Runner up: Huel
IdealShake is great for older people who don’t need many calories, but Huel is a great bet for those who have trouble consuming enough calories. With a solid 500 of them per serving and a phenomenal suite of vitamins and minerals, Huel is also one of the few meal replacements with a dose of Omega-3 fatty acids, which may support brain function.
[Try the vanilla, unsweetened, and gluten free varieties of Huel on Amazon here.]
Best Meal Replacement for Breakfast
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.MoreLess
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.
Runner up: Soylent
While not as high in protein or probiotics, Soylent comes ahead of Ample in terms of vitamins and minerals and one could argue that, if you’re getting the pre-mixed bottles, the packaging is even more convenient. The taste is a pretty bland soymilk flavor, but the good news is it’s available in a variety of other flavors you may prefer.
[Shop Soylent here.]
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!
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.