Ultimate Guide to Meal Replacement Shakes & Powders

In this guide, we’re going to talk about meal replacements. We’ll explain what a “meal replacement” is, why you might want to use one, how to incorporate a meal replacement into your diet or health goals, and more. If you stick with us, by the end of this guide you’ll have a clear idea of what to look for in a meal replacement shake.
Amazing Meal Replacement Drink
What is a meal replacement shake or powder?
A meal replacement shake is a specially-formulated drink that comes either as a dry powder or as a liquid. If the drink comes powdered (and most meal replacements do come in a powdered form), it must be mixed with water or another liquid – often milk, almond milk, soy milk, or coconut milk. It’s pretty common to blend the ingredients with frozen or fresh fruit, ice, and sometimes additional supplements to make a health smoothie. Most of these powders come packaged in a canister but you’ll see many of them come in re-sealable plastic pouches.

In this guide, we’re using the term “meal replacement” as a generic catch-all term. In actuality, some meal replacement drinks are not strictly used as a substitute for a meal. However, it’s a word most people understand – so we’re using it for the sake of convenience. However, we’ll explain the meaning and the differences of the different types of drink mixes here.

Why would you want to use a meal replacement shake or powder?
There are a few reasons you might want to use a meal replacement – sometimes called a “raw meal” powder. There’s nutrient supplementation, there’s bulking up, and there’s weight loss. Let’s look at each of these approaches.

Supplementation is when you eat as you normally would, and you supplement your normal meals with a shake or smoothie. Often you’ll drink a shake in the morning so you can increase your energy and get your normal daily requirement for various nutrients. The “green drinks” and things labeled as “raw meals” work great for this.

A lot of times, you’ll see that the green drinks contain raw vegetables, sprouts, vitamins, enzymes, and probiotics…but no protein and no fiber. The reason for this is because the drink is meant to supplement your meals with these nutrients, but not to give the protein, fat, or fiber your body needs.

Bulking up (in order to build muscle) is another reason you might want to use a meal replacement shake. If you want to get more protein along with certain nutrients, you can do that with a shake engineered to help you build mass and recover from workouts. Weighlifters and athletes use these types of powders. We won’t cover those in detail in this guide, but be aware that these aren’t intended to be used as “general purpose” meal replacements: they have a specialized, specific purpose for a specific type of user who wants to get strong and appear muscular.

Finally, there’s weight loss. Meal replacement shakes, if you want to lose weight, are probably the simplest way to diet. If you want to get some essential nutrients, along with some energy – and hopefully some fiber – a protein shake diet can help you skip a meal (or two) per day. The idea is for you to lower your caloric intake – and lose a few pounds – while maintaining an intake of healthy nutrients (such as vitamins, minerals, protein, etc.).

What’s the difference between a weight gain meal replacement and meal replacement to lose weight?
Primarily, you will see that for weight gain (and presumably building muscle) the drink powder will have added ingredients such as creatine (or other substances to help with either muscle building or recovery) and commonly whey powder as a protein. For weight loss shakes, the focus is less on fitness and more on nutrition. In addition to providing raw nutrition, a weight loss shake usually will contain some kind of fiber – to stave off the feeling of hunger.

How do meal replacements work?
When used in addition to normal meals, meal replacements work by adding nutrients to the diet. For instance, a green drink can add vegetables and antioxidants. Some meal replacements contain probiotics, vitamins, or other supplements. Each product is different, and you need to choose a meal replacement that fits your goals.

If a meal replacement is used to replace a meal as part of a diet plan, you will usually find that the drink contains fiber. (To satisfy hunger for a few hours, you need something that will both energize you and stave off hunger for a while at least.) The ingredients can vary widely between seemingly similar products. Which brings us to the next question…

What are meal replacement shakes & powders made of?
This is an area where most people get overwhelmed, because there are so many potential choices. If you’re trying to pick the best meal replacement shake mix for you, one great way to narrow down the choices is to determine what you don’t want to ingest. For instance – are you particular about artificial colors and sweeteners? Is it important that you avoid soy? Is it crucial that your weight-loss shake is non-GMO? For a lot of people (including me) these are all very important considerations.

You’ll quickly realize there are two general categories of meal replacement powders.

There are the “mainstream” meal replacements that contain chemicals, artificial colors and flavors, and questionable ingredients. Artificial sweeteners, caffeine, and other substances are many of these types of drink powders. If you’re at all health-conscious, and even slightly knowledgeable about proper nutrition, you probably know you shouldn’t use these types of meal replacements.

The other general category of meal replacement (or meal supplement) powders are the ones that stress the natural or organic aspects of their ingredients. There are many high-quality products made with true health in mind. For instance, many of these drink products are GMO-free, soy-free, dairy-free, made of whole foods, contain helpful enzymes, etc. There are many “natural” options out there, in a variety of flavors, in a range of prices (many quite affordable).

What are the hidden dangers of meal replacements?
Besides the obvious danger of a person not eating a well-balanced diet, and relying on drinks for nutrition, there is a danger of trusting the advertising of the meal replacement too much. Simply put, read the ingredients and educate yourself about what you’re drinking.

The irony is that some people will take meal replacements for their health. But, the meal replacements they drink could have some really harmful ingredients. So make sure your meal replacement does NOT contain the following: aspartame, acesulfame potassium, maltodextrin, soy, sodium phosphate, or other chemicals. (If you can’t pronounce it, you probably don’t want to eat it in place of real food.)

What should you look for in a meal replacement drink?
If you want to know how to choose meal replacements, you need to decide why you’re using a meal replacement to begin with. Let your needs determine (first of all) the general type of meal replacement you want to use. Then, you should narrow down your choices based on quality of ingredients. I would put quality ahead of price, but for most of us price is an important factor – so that would be the next criteria. After that, you should prioritize your meal replacement choice based on less-important factors such as taste, consistency, color, and choice of flavors.

Another thing to look for – because it tells you a lot – is positive reviews. Read all the reviews if you can, of course, but you want to see that most buyers are satisfied with the product. You also want to look for “Verified Purchase” on the reviews (on Amazon). As you read meal replacement reviews you’ll see what people like about a particular variety or flavor, what they hated, how best to mix a drink powder, and all sorts of other tips you won’t find in the main product description.

What’s the best time to use a meal replacement shake?
I’m not an advocate of using a meal replacement shake as a “crutch”, or of using it long-term. I stress the importance of eating real foods, and maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle as opposed to “yo-yo dieting”.

But a meal replacement shake can serve as a temporary tool to get you on-track with your fitness goals and weight-loss plans. With that in mind, replacing more than one meal per day isn’t something I would do – but no one can definitively tell you the best times to take meal replacement shakes. What I can tell you are some typical times that work well for most people. The most popular meal replacement times are as follows:

  • Breakfast. This works well, because instead of skipping breakfast, it allows you to get something nutritious – yet simple and light. It’s also convenient for most people.
  • In-between Meals. If you’re on a busy schedule, but you’re trying to eat smaller meals, you’ll want to snack. So instead of a snack, take a meal replacment. It will satisfy hunger, and give you an energy boost.
  • Pre- or Post-workout. This is advisable especially with protein shakes. If your body endures the stress or exertion of a good workout, it needs to repair itself and build muscle. The perfect way to give your body what it needs is with a meal replacement shake right before or after.

What else do I need to know about meal replacement shakes?
Even if you have an electric blender, the first thing is you’ll probably want to get at least two quality shakers (like the BlenderBottle Classic Loop Top Shaker Bottle). Very soon after you start using meal replacement powders, you’ll realize how inconvenient it is to have to wash out your shaker every time you want to mix your drink. Shakers aren’t expensive, and make it easy to shake up your drink and then take it with you. (This is especially convenient if you’re going to drink a protein shake for breakfast while driving to work, for instance.)

Another thing you should know is that a lot of meal replacement shakes are much better when you add stuff to them. So you’ll probably want some “extras” like almond milk, coconut milk, local honey, or cinnamon or other spices, and of course ice (if you’re blending). If you want to make smoothies (instead of just mixing your drink powder with milk or water), fresh fruit is great – but you’ll learn how much easier it is to keep a bag of frozen fruit on hand. Peaches, strawberries, and blueberries are all time-savers and can be used in a variety of smoothie recipes.

What Are the Best Meal Replacement Drinks?

We scoured the web and did some research in order to find the very best meal replacements. Our criteria was simple: the drink had to contain quality ingredients, be highly-rated (based on published customer reviews), and be readily available for purchase online. We excluded any meal replacement drinks that contained artificial chemical sweeteners such as aspartame, that had a reputation for being gimmicks, that had questionable or negative reviews, or that had to be ordered as part of a workout program or membership club. In other words – these are meal replacements we can honestly recommend and that we would use.

Meal Replacements
Meal replacements with best reviews and best ratings found on Amazon.

Name Rating Link Type Price Range Price per Serving Vegan/Vegetarian Soy-Free Gluten-Free Dairy-Free Non-GMO
The Ultimate Meal 4 Link Replacment $70+ 2.49 x x x x
Soylent Powder 3 Link Replacement $20 6.66
Amazing Grass Green Superfood 4.5 Link Supplement $20+ 0.7 x x x x x
Amazing Grass Amazing Meal 4 Link Replacement $50+ 1.68
Orgain Organic Protein 4 Link Supplement $26+ 1.31 x x x x x
Orgain Organic Meal All-in-One Nutrition 4.5 Link Replacement $35+ 2.22 x x x x x
Balanced Meal 4.5 Link Replacement $33+ 2.83 x x x x x
Vega One 4 Link Replacement $47+ 2.37 x x x x
Visalus VI-Shape Nutritional Shake 4.5 Link Replacement $78+ 1.3
Garden of Life Perfect Food 4.5 Link Supplement $46 0.77 x
BodyBrite Superfood 3.5 Link Replacement $37+ 0.57 x x x x
Nature’s Plus Spiru-Tein 4.5 Link Replacement $33+ 1.03 x x x
**Calculation of Serving Price is based on Product Price Divided by Recommended Number of Servings

SOURCE: Amazon’s meal replacement product reviews and ratings

Some Ingredients Found in Meal Replacements

  • Flax Seed (Ultimate Meal,Amazing Meal)
  • Hemp Seed (Ultimate Meal,Amazing Meal)
  • Pumpkin Seed (Amazing Meal)
  • Quinoa (Ultimate Meal,Amazing Meal,Balanced Meal)
  • Amaranth (Ultimate Meal,Balanced Meal)
  • Millet (Ultimate Meal)
  • Lentil (Ultimate Meal)
  • Spirulina (Ultimate Meal)
  • Brown Rice Protein (Amazing Meal,Balanced Meal)
  • Wheat Grass (Amazing Meal)
  • Pea Protein (Balanced Meal)
  • Chlorella (Balanced Meal)
  • Dextrose
  • Rice Flour
  • Probiotics (Amazing Meal)
  • Turmeric (Ultimate Meal)
  • Co-Enyme Q10 (Ultimate Meal)
  • Green Tea Extract (Ultimate Meal)
  • Stevia (Ultimate Meal)
  • Sesame Seeds
  • Rice Protein
  • Isomatulose
  • Oat Flour
  • High Oleic Sunflower Oil
  • Choline Bitartrate
  • Soy Lecithin
  • Cellulose
  • Xanthan Gum
  • Sucralose
  • life’sDHA Oil Powder (found in Soylent)

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