Losing weight is difficult, especially when you have an uber-busy life. Who really has time to plan and prep all those meals while making sure they’re nutritionally balanced and delicious?
If this sounds like you, meal replacement shakes might be the trick. There’s nothing to prepare ahead of time – and at the very most, you might have to combine a powdered shake mix with liquid in a shaker cup.
It’s a simple change to your day, no major effects on your lifestyle, and you don’t have to buy a lot of expensive foods or cut out entire food groups. Easy enough, right?
The great news is that, when incorporated correctly into your diet, meal replacement shakes can effectively help you to lose weight.
A meta-analysis of 6 different studies investigating the use of meal replacements concluded that participants using high-protein shakes lost an average of 7% of their body weight after 3 months and 7-8% after 1 year, compared to 3% and 3-7% in study participants simply consuming a reduced-calorie diet.
This isn't the common Top 10 list article featuring a quick blurb about a random group of products that may or may not fit your needs.
Instead we review how do you know what to look for in a shake? And, nutritionally speaking, what features can be found in the best meal replacement shakes for weight loss?
The Basics: Macros and Calories
First and foremost, consider the calorie content of your shake. In order to replace a meal yet provide you with weight loss, it needs to contain fewer calories than you would have consumed at that meal otherwise, but it still needs to have enough to keep you full for a while.
Actual calorie goals may vary from person to person, but a decent meal replacement shake will usually fall somewhere in the 150 to 300-calorie range.
Macronutrient profiles are also extremely important to consider, but they don’t need to be as tightly controlled as you might think. There is no specific “macro” for weight loss – some people feel better on low-carb diets, while others prefer higher protein, and others lose more weight with higher carbohydrate intake.
If you don’t have a particular preference, the Institute of Medicine’s AMDR (acceptable macronutrient distribution range) is a helpful guideline to follow, providing ideal macronutrient ranges for generally good health.
The AMDR for healthy adults advises to consume 45-65% of calories from carbohydrates, 20-35% from fat, and 10-35% from protein. That said, if you can find a meal replacement shake with macros somewhere in these ranges, you’re likely looking at a well-balanced shake.
Protein might just be the most important macronutrient to consider when selecting a meal replacement shake for weight loss. In fact, you’ve probably heard someone refer to shakes as “protein shakes” regardless of their purpose, right?
So, what should you look for when it comes to protein? Depending on your lifestyle, you may have strong preferences for one type of protein over another.
For example, if you’re vegan, pea or rice protein may be your favorite, while many omnivores consider grass-fed whey to be the best.
Regardless, determine which type of protein you want in your shake, and look specifically for that protein – there’s something for just about everyone out there.
Whey and soy are typically the most common proteins found in meal replacement shakes, and some studies have found that milk-based proteins tend to provide more fat loss during energy restriction than soy.
When it comes to carbohydrate sources, feel free to be picky. If you’re an informed consumer, chances are that you don’t want to spend your money on a shake with carbohydrate sources like maltodextrin and corn syrup. Look closely at the ingredients label and see if everything sounds reasonable.
Additionally, you’ll want a shake with a low sugar content and moderate amount of fiber. Although it might not sound necessary for weight loss, you will still need some fat in your meal replacement shake.
Remember that the AMDR specifies at least 20% of your daily calories should come from fat, so make sure that the fat sources in your shake are nutritious. Ingredients such as omega-3 fatty acids and medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) can be helpful, while trans fats such as hydrogenated oils should be avoided.
The Details: Micronutrients, Vitamins & Additives
Vitamins and minerals should also be taken into consideration – remember that you are replacing a meal, and a solid food meal would likely have contained a variety of micronutrients.
Many meal replacement shakes contain a multivitamin blend or a combination of fruits and vegetables to meet these micronutrient needs. Most people prefer fruit and vegetable ingredients, but if price is a concern, shake mixes with multivitamin blends may be less expensive.
You’ll also need to consider your stance on artificial sweeteners. Many meal replacement shakes contain stevia, while others may use sucralose or another sweetener.
Similarly, additives and flavorings should be considered based on your preferences. Just about every different shake will contain different coloring and flavoring additives (some artificial), and result in a different taste. If you prefer real ingredients over flavor, you will likely want to go the all-natural route.
Finally, consider any other ingredients you may come across. Many meal replacement shakes contain probiotic ingredients (Lactobacillus acidophilus is one of the most common), and some also contain enzymes that can help with the digestive process.
The Choice is Yours
As you can tell, a lot comes down to your lifestyle and personal preferences in selecting the best meal replacement shake for weight loss. These shakes aren’t necessarily one-size-fits-all, so do your homework and decide which one is closest to your ideal drink.
If you’re seeking a clean, nutritious meal replacement to keep you feeling your best while watching your calorie intake, there’s an easy solution.
With only 150 calories packed with prebiotics, 20 grams of grass-fed whey protein, and only 1g of naturally occurring sugar, our meal replacement powder can help you crush your weight loss goals.