The Best Meal Replacement Shakes
Meal replacement shakes are quick and easy to use; there are shakes available that claim to help users attain a range of different goals, from weight loss to muscle gain. However, not everybody agrees that it is healthy to consume meal replacement shakes regularly.
Whether you are looking to lose weight, gain weight, improve your athletic performance or simply keep an eye on what you are putting into your body, there is a meal replacement shake product that will claim to be right for you.
Meal replacement shakes are popular products that come in liquid or powder form; they are usually protein-based and contain an array of vitamins and minerals. The shakes are said to be easy to use and convenient for consumption on the go.
Nevertheless, it can be argued that using meal replacement shakes is not a healthy habit to have. The products might not be suitable for everybody and may cause side effects.
Here, we will discuss what meal replacement shakes are and how they work. We will look at potential side effects and people who shouldn’t take the products, and consider how different types of meal replacement shake might be best for people with different health goals.
What are Meal Replacement Shakes?
Meal replacement shakes are exactly what the name suggests – they are shake-type products that are designed to be consumed in place of one or more of your daily meals. The products might be ready-made, in which case they will be sold in liquid form and will usually have a short ‘use by’ date, or they are sold in powder form, ready to be mixed with a liquid of the consumer’s choosing to make them into a shake. This type is the most popular; the powders last for much longer in the cupboard and the user can choose to make the shake with cow’s milk, water, almond milk, or any other liquid they see fit.
Meal replacement shakes are made by a wide variety of different companies and are advertised for many different purposes. Some are designed to aid weight loss whilst others are said to improve athletic performance and others still are claimed to help the user build muscle mass. Some companies also advertise their meal replacement shakes as an easy, quick, and simple alternative to a normal meal. It is often said that a key benefit of meal replacement shakes is that you know exactly how much of each macronutrient you are consuming; they can make counting calories for that meal very simple and are often supplemented with vitamins and minerals, too.
The popularity of meal replacement shakes is growing; the market is home to a great range of different products in different flavours and with varying ingredients lists. Nevertheless, some argue that meal replacement shakes are rarely as healthy as their manufacturers make out. They might contain high quantities of sugar and artificial ingredients and may result in a lack of key nutrients in the diet.
How do Meal Replacement Shakes Work?
How meal replacement shakes work depends on the goal of the individual shake product. For weight loss, which seems to be the most common goal of meal replacement shake products, the shakes are typically very low in calories and fat but high in protein. Due to the nature of the shakes, they usually also have a very low fibre content. Most meal replacement shakes are supplemented with a range of vitamins and minerals. The shakes are claimed to contain sufficient nutrients to act as a replacement for one of your meals and should help you to stay full until your next meal. Some weight loss meal replacement shakes will contain additional herbal ingredients that are claimed to aid weight loss, like green tea extract.
Others are designed for increasing muscle mass or improving athletic performance. These are typically based on protein concentrate or isolate; they will also contain extra vitamins and minerals to make up for the fact that you will be missing a meal, but will also commonly include extra amino acids (the building blocks of protein). Some athletic performance shakes include herbal ingredients that are claimed to have exercise benefits, like caffeine, and artificial ingredients thought to aid muscle gain and recovery, like creatine.
Meal Replacement Shakes for Weight Loss
Meal replacement shakes advertised as an aid to weight loss are usually low in calories and fat. Typically, the key macronutrient in the shakes is protein. Weight loss is the most popular target for meal replacement shakes and there are many different shakes available to choose from. We recommend that before making your choice, you look carefully at the ingredients list of any contenders and consider the nutrient content, not just the number of calories per serving. Also be aware that some meal replacement shakes contain lots of sugar or sweeteners. Remember that meal replacement shakes should be used to replace no more than two meals per day and should be taken alongside a healthy ‘regular’ diet.
A number of clinical studies have been performed to test the effectiveness and safety of meal replacement shakes for weight loss. Meta-analyses are clinical studies that look at a selection of relevant studies from the scientific literature and perform tests on the pooled results in an attempt to draw more reliable conclusions. One such study on meal replacement shakes for weight loss was published in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders in 2003, which nicely summarises the results of scientific studies to date.
The authors searched for clinical papers that investigated the use of one or two vitamin and mineral fortified meal replacements as well as normal foods for long term weight management. The plans followed in the studies considered involved replacing one or two meals per day at the same time as consuming a low calorie diet. The trials were all randomised and controlled, lasting three months or more. Six studies were identified that fitted the above criteria and were used in this trial for analysis. The results of statistic analyses performed on all of the combined data showed that meal replacement shakes could significantly aid weight loss when taken alongside a low calorie ‘normal’ diet. There were no adverse events reported for subjects integrating meal replacement shakes into their weight loss regimes.
Meal Replacement Shakes for Muscle Gain
Meal replacement shakes designed to aid muscle gain may be slightly different in composition to those aimed at weight loss. These shakes will usually have a very high protein content, often from several different sources (like whey and casein, for example). The shakes may contain more calories, since those looking to gain muscle do not always need to reduce their calorie intake – particularly if they are undergoing regular exercise. These shakes might also contain extra amino acids, which could help the user to increase muscle mass and reduce recovery time from exercise.
Fewer clinical studies have been performed on meal replacement shakes for muscle gain, but there have been numerous studies undertaken that have looked at protein shakes taken as supplements (alongside the usual three solid meals a day) as a means of increasing muscle mass. For more information, take a look at our whey protein and soy protein pages.
One relevant scientific trial was published in 2008. This study looked at the effects of a high-protein meal replacement product on body composition and the maintenance of lean body mass during weight loss. The authors compared the effects of a protein-enriched meal replacement shake with those of a carbohydrate-enriched shake, containing the same amount of calories. The study was placebo controlled and randomised in design, involving a total of 100 obese participants (both male and female). The subjects were given their allocated meal replacement product twice a day – once in place of a meal and once as a snack.
The results of this trial suggested that the meal replacement products could be taken in line with a healthy diet plan without causing severe side effects. Whilst no differences were reported in body weight loss at the end of the 12-week study period, those in the group taking the high-protein shakes had lost more fat weight than those in the carbohydrate shake group. It was therefore concluded that taking a high-protein meal replacement shake twice a day could be beneficial for body composition, helping users to retain lean body mass whilst reducing their fat stores.
Side Effects associated with Meal Replacement Shakes
Severe side effects are not generally reported in association with the use of meal replacement shakes in clinical studies. Nevertheless, meal replacement shakes may cause mild side effects, particularly associated with the gastrointestinal tract. Consuming a shake that is high in protein on a regular basis may cause digestive problems like increased bowel movements, nausea, diarrhoea and stomach cramps. These side effects may ease as the body gets used to the change in diet. A lack of fibre in some shakes could cause other side effects, like flatulence and constipation.
It is not recommended that pregnant or breastfeeding women use meal replacement shakes. This is because the shakes may be lacking in vital nutrients. They can also be very low in energy – if you do not consume enough calories you may suffer from side effects such as fatigue and dizziness. For the same reason, it is recommended that those with an existing health condition consult a doctor before undergoing a meal replacement-based diet plan.
How to use Meal Replacement Shakes
Precise instructions on how to use meal replacement shakes will vary depending on the individual product. Typically, meal replacement shakes are designed to replace one of your three meals a day. It is usually recommended that the user eat two ‘normal’, healthy meals per day to ensure that they consume enough nutrients to maintain good health. Nevertheless, some manufacturers claim that their products can be used to replace more than one meal a day. Which meal(s) you replace with the shake is usually down to the user to decide.
Many meal replacement shakes are sold in ready to use bottles. Others come in powder form; for this type of meal replacement, the user is told to mix a certain quantity of powder with a certain amount of milk (or other liquid) to form a smooth shake. Others may be sold as soups or some other form of liquid meal. If you decide to take a meal replacement shake, make sure that you read the instructions for that specific product carefully. It may be possible to consume too much of certain ingredients if you are taking a product with supplementary herbal substances, which could cause side effects. Similarly, taking too little of the product could lead to the consumer not getting enough of the essential nutrients, which could cause health problems.
Who Makes Meal Replacement Shakes
Meal replacement shakes are made by many different brands and are available to buy from most health stores in the UK and overseas. If you are thinking about purchasing a meal replacement product from a company that is not well known, there are some checks you should make. You should ensure that plenty of information about the product is provided on the official website, including a full ingredients list with ingredient quantities. Companies should also provide full contact details – not just an online form for customers to fill in. We recommend that you look for independent customer reviews of the company before making any purchases to be sure that their payment methods are safe.
Where to Buy Meal Replacement Shakes
Meal replacement shakes are available from most health stores that stock health supplements. In the UK, this includes high street stores like Boots and Holland and Barratt, as well as online stores like MyProtein, The Protein Works, Forza Supplements, and so on. We would not recommend that users purchase meal replacement shakes from online marketplaces like eBay since the quality of the products being sold through these sources cannot be guaranteed. Prices will vary depending on the retailer and the type of shake you are looking for. Most powder-based meal replacement shakes cost between £25 and £50 for 1kg.
There is some clinical evidence to suggest that meal replacement shakes can be beneficial for weight loss. Shakes that are high in protein might also be useful for gaining muscle mass and improving body composition. Which type of meal replacement shake you should opt for will depend on your health and your goals. Some people may find strict meal replacement diet plans difficult to stick to – make sure that you find a product that you enjoy drinking. If you are unsure whether or not a meal replacement product might be useful or healthy for you, consult a health professional for advice.
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