Meal replacement shakes, as the name implies, are used as a replacement for your typical whole food meal. They usually come in two forms (powders and ready-to-drink formulas in bottles), and are as convenient as having a whole meal in just a couple of gulps! These days there are tons of products in the market, how do you chose the best meal replacement shake? This is what we’ll cover.
People who are always on-the-go love these shakes because they are generally a healthier option compared to fast food, and many meet the nutritional requirements for the average person.
Also, people who are looking to lose weight enjoy the benefits of meal replacement shakes. After all, a shake can get between 160 to 300 calories a serving, which is still less than your plate of spaghetti Bolognese with shredded cheese!
However, with so many companies out there promoting their own meal replacement shakes on the market, it’s easy for fitness newbies to feel overwhelmed by choice. Furthermore, while we should use shakes as a healthy alternative to solid meals, some companies fill their products with unhealthy ingredients such as processed sugars, additives, and preservatives.
As such, in today's article I will list down the best meal replacement shakes on the market. But before that, I will be discussing relevant important information such as what to look out for, what macronutrient ratios you should comply to, your daily calorie requirements, and so forth.
Understanding Your Daily Calorie Requirements
Before we proceed, it’s a good idea to find out the daily caloric requirements needed to sustain our bodies, depending on our sex and physical activity.
These levels are acquired from the Estimated Energy Requirements (EER) from the Institute of Medicine Dietary Reference Intakes (2002)and will give you an idea on how many calories you need to consume in your other meals if you were to consume a 200 calorie shake for lunch.
Logically, if you want to lose weight, you’ll need to consume less calories than you burn off. So, if you are a 25-year-old male who lives a sedentary lifestyle and wants to lose weight, you should try to consume 1,900 calories a day to lose weight at a healthy level. With a 200-calorie shake for lunch, the rest of your meals could fill the caloric gap comfortably.
2600 - 2800
2400 - 2600
2800 - 3000
2200 - 2400
2400 - 2800
2000 - 2200
2000 - 2200
Sedentary: light physical activity that happens daily
Moderately active: light physical activity on top of physical activity like walking 1.5-3 miles a day at 3-4mph
Active: light physical activity on top of walking more than 3 miles a day at 3-4mph
Your macros are just as important
Macronutrients, or macros, are nutrients your body needs in large doses for it to sustain itself. The three main macros are carbohydrates (sugars), fats, and protein. Each of these macros provide you with energy in the form of calories.
According to MSD, the different macros release different amounts of energy:
- 1 gram of carbohydrate: 4 calories
- 1 gram of protein: 4 calories
- 1 gram of fat: 9 calories
Since the meal replacement shakes will be replacing your brekkie/lunch/dinner, it’s important that the macronutrient profile stays within the suggested range. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies has set this to:
- 45-65% of calories from carbs
- 10-35% of calories from proteins
- 20-35% of calories from fats
Obviously, different physiques respond differently to these ranges. If you’re naturally bulky and your aim is to lose some weight, look for a meal replacement that is low in carbs, but high in proteins and healthy fats.
Different macros have different nutritional benefits. In this segment, I’ll be explaining why they are needed in adequate amounts, and how they will affect your overall quality of life.
Carbohydrates are divided into three components: sugar, fiber, and starch.
Fiber and starches are complex carbs, while sugar and some starches such as white rice are simple carbs. Complex carbs such as whole grains, whole wheat bread, oats and rice are much more healthy than simple carbs. Complex carbs are more nutritious, higher in fiber and digest slowly.
If you’re trying to lose weight, look for a meal replacement formula that uses complex carbs as the main source of carbohydrates, such as Garden of Life: Raw Organic Meal.
In fact, complex carbs are a MUCH better option if you are diabetic because this type of carbs don’t spike insulin levels like simple carbs do. I’d also like to mention that complex carbs are usually loaded with fiber, which makes you full faster. Therefore you wouldn’t feel like eating as much, leading to weight loss!
Simple carbs are carbohydrates which are broken down quickly by the body. These are great after a workout when your cells are depleted of glycogen, and the sugar is much needed for recovery.
However, it’s not a good choice of carbs to replace whole meals with. You’ll feel a rush of energy coming in, and crash when that energy is depleted. As mentioned previously, simple carbs spike insulin levels fast, which can affect your health negatively. Meal replacements that use animal-based proteins such as whey tend to have simple carbs, so be sure to watch out for that sugar content!
Examples of simple carbs are raw sugar, corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup, dextrose, and fruit juices. Simple carbs are cheap, and usually liberally added to powders to save cost. If you can afford to, shy away from meal replacements that use simple carbs as their main source of carbs!
People underestimate the importance of protein in their diet. It’s important that the meal replacement powder of your choice is adequate in protein, because it is often an expensive macro that manufacturers try to cut corners on.
Protein is important for your body’s growth and maintenance. If you exercise frequently, you should be prioritizing your protein intake so that your muscles can repair themselves and grow to become bigger and stronger. Protein also provides your skin, hair, and nails their structure, in the form of collagen, and boosts your immune system as proteins create the antibodies to fight infections.
Eating fats won’t necessarily make you fat. In fact, fats are needed by the body as a source of energy, absorb vitamins A,D, and E, produce hormones, protects your organs and keeps your body warm. Not all fats are created equal, though. There are good fats and bad fats.
Fats can be divided into four major types:
- Saturated fats
- Trans fats
- Monounsaturated fats
- Polyunsaturated fats
Saturated fats and trans fats are referred to as bad fats. They raise “bad cholesterol” or LDL levels in your blood and CAN increase the risks of heart diseases. However, that doesn’t mean you should avoid them completely.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends 5-6% of your total daily calories come from saturated fats. If you’re on a 2,000-calorie diet, that’s 13 grams of saturated fat per day. Naturally, trans fat can be found in meat and dairy at low levels. They are also found in hydrogenated vegetable oils.
Trans fats are typically low in meal replacement shakes, but you should still keep an eye out for them, especially in meal replacements that use animal-based protein!
Examples of food loaded with saturated fats:
- Fatty meat cuts
- Palm oil
- Butter, ghee, and lard
Unsaturated fats such as monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are referred to as healthy fats. They increase “good cholesterol” or HDL levels. HDL transports the bad cholesterol (LDL) that are clogged in your arteries into your liver, which are then broken down and removed from the body. It’s a bonus if the meal replacement shake of your choice includes a healthy dose of healthy fats!
Examples of food rich in monounsaturated fat
- Olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil and butter
- Sesame oil
Examples of food rich in monounsaturated fat
- Fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, etc)
- Sunflower seeds
- Grapeseed oil
My Top Picks
Garden of Life: Raw Organic Meal
If you’re one of those hardcore, strictly organic food consumers, this is the one for you. Garden of Life’s Raw Organic Meal is relatively low in calories compared to other meal replacements, and an added benefit to this product is the raw probiotic and enzyme blend which will keep your gut healthy. If your plan is to lose weight, this product is ideal. However, due to its plant-based nature, you will only be getting 20g of protein per serving.
This product also does not have added sugars and is gluten-free and soy free. It comes in 4 flavours: chocolate, lightly sweet, vanilla, and vanilla chai. From my observation, this shake has the most organic substances I’ve seen packaged in a bottle!
However, due to the nature of its ingredients, don’t expect it to taste great. You may add mixtures of fruits and vegetables of your choice to enhance its flavor.
- Calories: 120
- Total carbohydrates: 8g
- Total protein: 20g
- Total fat: 2g
At around $1.42 per serving, you can’t go wrong with this product if you’re looking to lose weight!
- Organic, high-quality ingredients
- Contains probiotics
- Gluten, dairy, and soy-free
- Does not taste good (according to multiple online reviewers – especially the chocolate and slightly light)
- Doesn’t mix well
- May cause minor digestive issues such as bloating and gas
Premier Protein 30g Protein Shakes
Unlike the previously mentioned products, Premier Protein comes in a ready-to-drink form. All you need to do is pop open the cap and gulp it down. This form factor makes it especially great if you’re always on the go. If you’re always rushing for work in the morning, this would save you a lot of time. You can even stock some up in the office pantry and you’re set for lunch.
Premier Protein has an impressive nutrition label. For an animal-based protein source, it only has 1 gram of sugar. As much as we try to avoid them, this is the lowest amount I’ve seen on a product in this category.
Unfortunately, animal-based products (especially from dairy sources such as whey) spoil easily, and additives must be added to improve their shelf life. The form factor is also a reason why additives are unavoidable. They’re meant to last on shelves without spoiling.
Premier protein also has 30 grams of protein, which is impressive. This is much more than many other shakes and protein powders on the market. Protein has been known to curb your appetite and sugar cravings, thus decreasing your temptations to binge-eat and leading you to weight loss. If you’re having this as a supplement to gain some muscle mass, the protein will be of great help.
A serving has 160 calories. From a weight-loss perspective, this isn’t the most ideal product out there. Other products such as Idealshape have lower calories. But then again, with much less protein.
- Calories: 160
- Total carbohydrates: 5g
- Total protein: 30g
- Total fat: 3g
You can buy a pack of four from Amazon for $13.99, which leads to roughly $3.49 a pack. This is rather expensive and would be the biggest reason why people would turn the other way around.
- High protein
- Has up to 8 flavor options
- Long list of additives and preservatives
- Not vegan-friendly
Ketologie Keto Protein Shake
The keto diet has taken the over the health & fitness industry by storm over the past few years, and I’ve already factored in the possibility of our readers embracing the keto lifestyle. Luckily for you lot, there are meal replacements specifically formulated for you!
This product has 300 calories per serving, 75% from fat, 19% from protein, and less than 2% from carbs. This is the perfect ratio to stay in ketosis! The main ingredients of this shake are dutched cocoa and coconut oil. However, this shake does contain bovine collagen protein, which means that this is a non-vegan friendly option. A big pro of this product is that it tastes excellent and has great texture.
- Calories: 300
- Total carbohydrates: 14g
- Total protein: 14g
- Total fat: 25g
- Excellent macronutrient ratio for keto diet
- Offers subscription-based purchases with 10% off at official website
- Not a lot of protein to be called a “protein shake”
- Not-vegan friendly
- Slightly expensive at $2.50 per serve (subscription plan)
Vega One All-In-One Shake
Vega One All-In-One is another noteworthy competitor in the vegan meal replacement category. It has the same amount of protein when compared to Garden of Life: Raw Organic Meal. However, I believe this is more suited for those that are looking to bulk because it is higher in carbs and fat, which leads to a higher calorie count. Both products use stevia leaf extract as a sweetener, which doesn’t add to the calories.
What’s great about this shake is that the protein comes from high-quality sources such as peas, flaxseed, hemp, and sacha inchi. Vega also claims that each scoop contains at least 50% DV of 12 vitamins and minerals from plant-based sources.
- Calories: 160
- Total carbohydrates: 10g
- Total protein: 20g
- Total fat: 5g
- Vegan-friendly, gluten-free, non-GMO
- Offers 8 different flavors
- A variety of packages with different prices
- Manufactured in a facility which processes dairy (if you’re concerned)
- Not taste-bud friendly for many people! Many complaints on vanilla chai
310 Shake Meal Replacement Shake
If you’re on a plant-based, gluten-free diet and have calorie restrictions, the 310 Shake is a great option for you. It is also Keto and Paleo- friendly. One serving has only 90 calories, ideal for those that are looking to lose weight. Another pro is that there are no sugars in this product. The main sweetener used in this product is stevia, just like the previously mentioned Vega One All-In-One shake. Stevia is recognized as safe in moderation, but if you’re having multiple shakes a day you should consult your doctor, because there has been ongoing debate regarding its potential health risks in large amounts.
310 Shake comes in eight different flavours, so you’re spoiled for choice. Unfortunately, out of all the products reviewed, this product has the lowest amount of protein at 15 grams per serving. This is an area 310 shake should do better, because plenty of plant-based meal replacements out there have significantly higher protein content. Furthermore, there is only 1 gram of fat. This reduces the number of calories in the shake, but you are bound to feel hungry quicker on a low-fat diet.
- Calories: 90
- Total carbohydrates: 7g
- Total protein: 15g
- Total fat: 1g
- Vegan-friendly, gluten-free, soy-free, non-GMO
- Offers 8 different flavors
- Affordable, from $2.43 a serving
- Low in protein and fat
- Some complaints of overpowering sweetness
GNC Total Lean Shake 25
America’s favourite health and wellness store has been around for more than 80 years, and it sure is comforting to see a recognizable brand in the list. GNC Total Lean Shake 25 uses a whey protein blend, meaning vegans should stay away from this product. The blend includes whey protein concentrates and isolates that digest at different times, meaning you’ll always have a constant supply of protein in your body until your next meal. I love that there is 25 grams of protein and 13 grams of fiber in a serving. It’s going to keep you satiated for a long time, and you wouldn’t be tempted to snack. At 200 calories, this product still fits the weight loss category, and you have 9 flavours to choose from.
Unfortunately, it does come with a long list of additives that your average person can’t pronounce and uses ingredients that we should be watching out for as discussed in the previous section such as maltodextrin and corn syrup. The sugar level is still relatively low though, at only 4g per serving. At $2.80 a serving, it’s not that far off the other animal-based protein meal replacements, but it’s still rather expensive. But you’re getting good macros for that price!
- Calories: 200
- Total carbohydrates: 17g
- Total protein: 25g
- Total fat: 3g
- High in protein and fiber
- Great macro ratios
- 9 different flavours
- Reputable company
- Not vegan-friendly
- Has unhealthy ingredients
- Slightly expensive
Table of Comparison
To make things easy for you, I’ve summarised the macronutrient profile of each product in a table.
price (per serving)
Raw Organic Meal
GNC Total Lean Shake
Meal replacements are a useful tool in your fitness arsenal. Though meal replacements are great to have, it’s still better to have real food in your diet. Meal replacements for weight loss are only a temporary solution, and they can lack many of the micronutrients your body needs to function optimally. Remember, fitness is a journey. You still need to maintain a caloric deficit, eat healthy food and stick to a full proof exercise routine to see any changes.
This article can only guide you in highlighting the pros and cons on what I think are some of the best meal replacement shakes on the market today. I highly suggest you do additional research before taking a meal replacement shake home. Do consider any potential allergies you have towards the ingredients. If you have any concerns, do consult a certified medical professional.
Want to Improve Your Health?
Better health starts in the kitchen, with the food that you eat and the meals you prepare. Getting the best outcomes involves making good choices about the food and the ingredients that you use.
Check out my recommended products to see where you can get started.
[feather_share show="google_plus, twitter, facebook,pinterest" hide="reddit, linkedin, tumblr, mail"]