Meal replacement shakes combine protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals to serve as a healthy and convenient replacement for unhealthy snacks or fast food when you’re on the go.
They’re a great way to incorporate a healthy, low-calorie meal into a weight loss program, and they’re also an excellent option for people who travel often.
Looking to get the most out of your meal replacement shake? Read on to find out the biggest benefits of meal replacement shakes, and how to use them for weight loss and long-term health.
Meal replacement shake benefits
1. Liquid meal replacements are portable and easy to consume
Compared to solid meal replacements (like protein bars), meal replacement shakes are faster and easier to consume, especially if you’re traveling.
For this reason, they’re a great alternative to sugary drinks.
2. Meal replacement shakes can improve metabolic health and control hunger better than a deprivation-style diet
A recent study compared the effects of a meal replacement routine against a traditional fat-restricted, low-calorie diet, and found that the meal replacement option was more effective at controlling insulin and the hunger-regulating hormone leptin (1).
That means you stay full longer and eat less when you get hungry again.
3. High protein meal replacements can burn more fat than conventional diets
Another study showed that taking a meal replacement leads to greater reductions in total body fat, even when total weight loss is the same (2).
This finding indicates that a good meal replacement shake can help you shed fat while preserving lean body mass.
4. Meal replacement shakes can keep you lean and fit in high-stress environments
Research has found that workers in high-stress environments (think law enforcement, doctors, firefighters, etc.), two liquid meal replacements a day has proven to be an effective way to lose weight (3).
5. Meal replacements can help you stay fit
One study on long-term dieters noted that participants who used meal replacements were more likely to keep their weight under control after five years of follow-up (4).
Why? Probably because meal replacement shakes are a healthy way to keep hunger cravings at bay, compared to processed snack foods laden with sugar and simple carbs.
6. Meal replacements are more effective if they contain all of the essential amino acids
For optimal nutrition, you want your meal replacement shake to feature all 20 amino acids.
You can achieve this two ways: either use a meal replacement based on animal protein (like whey), or use a meal replacement shake with multiple sources of vegan proteins with complimentary amino acid profiles, like pea protein plus hemp protein.
7. Meal replacements are often more nutritious than the alternatives
Research has found that people taking a meal replacement shake have higher intakes of essential nutrients compared to people on traditional diets (5).
It’s easy to see how this happens: a balanced meal replacement shake can top off your micronutrient intake, making them function like a liquid multivitamin. So, even if you are missing out on a few micronutrients in your diet, your meal replacement shake has you covered.
8. Meal replacements can save you money
Eating healthy can get expensive. Fortunately, clinical nutritionists report that meal replacement shakes are inexpensive and easy to recommend thanks to their versatility (6).
9. A meal replacement shake with casein protein could reduce body fat
Among protein sources for meal replacement shakes, there are a lot of options, but casein protein (derived from cow’s milk) is a great one thanks to its ability to drop body fat compared to alternative protein sources like soy (7).
Casein’s complete amino acid profile and gradual rate of absorption make it an optimal source of protein for a meal replacement shake.
10. Soy-based meal replacements reduce blood triglycerides
Research published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that soy-based meal replacement shakes can lower triglycerides more effectively than milk-based proteins, making soy-based options a great choice for heart health (8).
Meal replacement shake side effects
Meal replacement shakes are pretty safe from a side effect perspective. They don’t carry the risk of jitters and anxiety that you might get from diet pills that are high in caffeine-containing compounds, although their weight loss effects tend to be slower to get started.
Watch out for food allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances: Chief among these is dairy-based proteins, which are quite common in meal replacement shakes.
Whey protein and milk protein are very popular bases for the protein content in a meal replacement shake, but these dairy-derived products can cause digestive problems in people who are sensitive to dairy. A better option would be to seek out a meal replacement shake that uses vegan protein instead.
If your diet is low in fiber, a fiber-rich meal replacement shake might cause temporary gas and bloating. Low-fiber diets are unhealthy, but one side effect that you can experience when adding fiber to your diet in any form is bloating and gas.
Meal replacement shakes are no exception to this, so if you start getting gas, bloating, or discomfort after swapping out unhealthy food with a meal replacement shake, let your body adapt for a few days before writing it off.
Watch out for risky herbal additives in meal replacements. Certain meal replacements, especially ones with a weight-loss focus, might include herbal ingredients for weight loss that have a more significant side effect profile.
While some herbal ingredients, like green tea extract, can be incredibly helpful for weight loss, these sorts of herbal compounds have a broader array of side effects than basic ingredients like fiber and protein.
For example, bitter orange peel can increase the stimulating effects of caffeine, leading to higher blood pressure and cardiovascular events due to a greater strain on your cardiovascular system (9).
Meal replacement shake dosage
Swap out one meal a day at first. For most people, starting off by replacing one meal per day with a meal replacement shake is good practice. If you rely too heavily on meal replacement shakes all at once, your body may not adapt well.
Pick the meal you tend to eat the most poorly at—for almost everyone, that’s breakfast or lunch. Some more aggressive weight loss programs use a two or three-week period where you replace two meals per day with a meal replacement shake, which you can move up to later if one per day goes well.
Protein: aim for close to 20 grams. A good meal replacement shake should be pretty high in protein, since it’s a highly effective thermogenic and satiety-inducing macronutrient. Most top-rated meal replacements score pretty well in this category, so with a good product, protein content isn’t a big concern.
Fiber: aim for close to 10 grams. Studies on fiber supplementation for weight loss and heart health typically use doses of 10-15 grams per day (10). Given that the typical American diet only has about five grams of fiber per day, any of our top-rated meal replacements will put you over the 10-15 gram threshold (11).
Meal replacement shake benefit FAQ
Q: Can a meal replacement shake help you lose weight?
A: Yes, a meal replacement shake is a great way to lose weight, especially if the biggest barrier to weight loss is avoiding unhealthy, processed foods.
Instead of pastries or processed snack food, a meal replacements shake can provide a way to control your caloric intake and suppress your appetite at future meals.
Q: How many calories are in a meal replacement shake?
A: Among our top picks, the caloric content of a meal replacement shake ranges from 115 to 200 calories per serving. Since most meal replacement shakes are powder-based, a serving is generally one scoop (provided by the manufacturer) of powder.
So, you can scale up to a 230 or 400 calorie meal replacement with ease if you need a more filling or higher-calorie meal.
Q: How do you make a good meal replacement shake at home?
A: Making a custom meal replacement shake at home takes some work but the process is fairly simple.
The first thing to start with is a high quality source of protein, like a low carb protein powder or an organic protein powder.
Then, add some fiber from psyllium husk or another all-natural fiber source to increase the satiety-inducing effects of your meal replacement shake.
The dual combination of fiber and protein makes for a very healthy and filling meal replacement. For micronutrient content, get a green superfood drink powder and add that to your homemade meal replacement shake to ensure you are getting high-quality vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients as well.
These can be mixed up with water, or blended into a smoothie for an easy and healthy do-it-yourself meal replacement shake.
Whether you’re looking to get fit and perform under stress or just looking to shed a few pounds, meal replacement shakes are a great tool.
Meal replacement shakes are a much better option than unhealthy snacks packed with sugar and devoid of protein, fiber, and micronutrients.
Swapping out unhealthy meals or snacks with a meal replacement shake is a great way to boost the quality of your diet, whether you’re traveling or looking to change up your dietary habits to lose weight.