When you think of meal replacement shakes, drinking a bland chemical cocktail that tastes suspiciously like cardboard probably comes to mind. Meal replacement shakes are either loaded up with sugar or artificial sweeteners to taste like a dessert or generally healthy but taste lousy.
In either case, the shakes serve their purpose as meal planning and prep is time-consuming. Not only does the actual time associated with food prep cut into your busy schedule, sometimes you’re simply so busy that you forget to eat.
At the same time, you still want to keep on track with your healthy, balanced diet. What does this have to do with meal replacement shakes?
In short, everything. It’s 2019. Meal replacements are true to their name. There’s a meal replacement shake out there for every lifestyle, so you don’t need to compromise on your priorities and needs for the sake of a quick meal.
Of course, with all the different shakes out there, it can be difficult to figure out where to start. What, nutritionally speaking, should you look for?
How can you set apart the overpriced junk from the best meal replacement shakes?
Choosing The Best Meal Replacement
For starters, decide what features are non-negotiable for you. Maybe you’re all-organic, vegan, trying to put on muscle, or just want a meal replacement that tastes like chocolate-covered strawberries.
Whatever is most important, there’s a shake out there for you, and there’s no need to sacrifice your must-haves for a convenient meal.
Next, determine what a reasonable calorie goal looks like for you. Since you’re literally replacing a meal, consider what a normal meal might mean in terms of calories. Depending on your needs and which meal this will replace, anywhere from 400 to 600 calories is usually a good fit.
Macros should also be taken into consideration here. If you already try to stick to a specific macronutrient profile – it makes sense that you’d want to follow those with a meal replacement shake, just as you would with any other type of food.
If you don’t have a specific macro goal, consider what makes you feel the best, gives you the most energy, and leaves you with fewer side effects. For some people, this may mean low-carb, while others feel better with higher carbohydrate intake.
If you don’t usually deal with macros, that’s not a problem. The Institute of Medicine recommends a macronutrient range for generally good health known as the AMDR (acceptable macronutrient distribution range).
For healthy adults, the AMDR is 45-65% carbohydrates, 20-35% fat, and 10-35% protein. As you can see, there’s a bit of wiggle room if you want to have slightly higher protein and lower carbohydrates, for example.
If you can find a meal replacement shake that meets both your calorie and macro goals, it will most likely be a great fit for you.
Protein Source, Carbs and Healthy Fats
Once you have a general idea of what your meal replacement shake should look like in terms of calories, macros, and other dietary needs, it’s time to start getting a little picky! Your next move is to decide which protein source to include.
Depending on your lifestyle, this list might be quite long. There are tons of options out there – from vegan-friendly to those suited for the most carnivorous among us.
Pea and rice protein are usually favorites for vegetarians and vegans. If you don’t have any specific dietary preferences, something like whey, casein, or soy may be the best fit. Most meal replacement shakes contain either whey or soy protein.
Of course – there are plenty of other options out there, so no need to limit yourself to what’s easiest to find!
Next, consider the carbohydrate source in your shake. If you’re a hard-working fitness enthusiast, chances are that you don’t want to blow all of that effort on an inferior shake full of corn syrup, maltodextrin, and other sketchy ingredients.
Look at the ingredients label – if it sounds more like a chemistry textbook than a food, maybe you should think twice about that shake. Your best bet is to look for a low-sugar, moderate-fiber shake with ingredients that actually have a purpose.
Healthy fat sources should also be a priority when selecting a meal replacement shake. Although you might try to limit the amount of fat in your diet, you do of course need some in a meal replacement, so make sure it’s of the highest quality possible.
Prioritize ingredients such as medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) and omega-3 fatty acids while trying to avoid things like trans fats and hydrogenated oils.
Now that you have a basic idea of what your meal replacement shake should look like in terms of calories, macros, and macro sources, there are a few minor details to iron out.
First, assess the vitamin and mineral content of the shake(s) you’re considering. Since you’re replacing a meal, you could be missing out on the micronutrients you might have gotten in your usual meal.
You can often find shakes that contain fruits and vegetables or a multivitamin blend. If you already take a daily multivitamin, however, this may not be a concern for you.
Next, consider your take on artificial sweeteners? Stevia is a common ingredient in meal replacement shakes, while others contain something like sucralose. If you’re dead-set against artificial sweeteners, look for a shake without them.
You may also come across probiotic ingredients – these are a good thing! Many meal replacement shakes include these (often with digestive enzymes) to help you digest and utilize your shake more effectively. Lactobacillus acidophilus is a commonly-added probiotic that can also help with gut health.
Finally, take a good look at each of the ingredients on the labels of whatever shakes are still in the running. Are there artificial flavorings and additives?
If you’re more concerned with a shake that tastes great and less worried about additives, then this may not be a deal-breaker for you.
However, if you care less about flavor and want an all-natural meal replacement shake, do yourself a favor and find one that you feel good about.
There are endless possibilities to consider when selecting the best meal replacement shake for your needs.
If what you’re looking for is a clean, nutritious, balanced shake made from real ingredients and zero added sugar, our protein meal replacement shake might just be the perfect fit.
Packed with prebiotics, probiotics, and 20 grams of grass-fed whey protein, this shake can keep you going through the most hectic, deadline-packed days.