Here's How to Select the
Best Meal Replacements For You!

The best meal replacements (MRs) are a group of supplements that are alternatives to whole foods. It includes the protein shakes, liquid meal replacements (moderate carbs), mass gainers, meal replacement bars and Ready-to-Drinks (RTDs).

In this article we will cover the best protein powder or meal replacement for you.

The pace of life seems to get faster with each passing day. There are so many demands on our time that often there is little time for ourselves. This is especially true when it comes to exercising and eating well. Getting to the gym for a regular workout is often a struggle and finding the time to eat five or six small meals a day, as the health experts suggest, is virtually impossible!

best meal replacements

Eating seems to have become a burdensome chore that has to be done but seems to get in the way of doing other things. How many times have you missed a meal because you had to finish a report or because you were stuck in a meeting; and when you manage to fit a meal in, your boss says, 'Do you do any work, all you ever do is eat!'

Since our time is so precious we must find ways to obtain food, prepare food and eat food more efficiently. Not only is fitting in meals difficult but trying to ensure the meals are conducive to helping you lose weight and keep it off is even harder! Woman Drinking Meal Replacement

When you are hungry in the middle of the afternoon how easy is it to race to the local lunch bar or deli to 'grab a quick bite' or slip a few coins into the vending machine down the hall for an afternoon 'energy boost'?

Unfortunately the food on offer from these sources is usually nutritionally sub-standard for maintaining top condition, and if you habitually eat these foods, you can rest assured that lean, toned body will slowly become soft and flabby!

So how do you balance a good work ethic whilst still maintaining great shape? The answer lies in having a meal that fulfils the criteria of being quick, easy, convenient and healthy: Meal Replacements!

As was mentioned before, the best meal replacements (MRs) encompass a range of whole-food alternatives including, protein powders (low in carbs), meal replacement powders (moderate carbs), mass gaining powders (high in carbs), meal replacement bars and Ready-to-Drinks (RTDs).

Each type offers controlled portions of carbohydrate, protein and fat as well as substantial amounts of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. These engineered meals are rapidly becoming the 'Fast Food of the New Millennium'.

Benefits of protein shakes / using the
best meal replacements:


Even though they have been around for many years, MRs have only recently appealed to a much wider market. Their sudden rise in popularity has resulted from big improvements in the speed and ease of preparation, portability, great taste, as well as extensive marketing from the various manufacturing companies. Woman Drinking Protein Shake

The ideas of 'breakfast in a bar', 'drink your breakfast on the way to work' or 'the meal you have when you're too busy to eat' certainly appeals to a broad spectrum of people. The message that if you are busy you should use meal replacements is certainly drummed home.

People who use MRs regularly tend to substitute their mid-morning and/ or mid-afternoon meals with them. MRs make it easy to have regular, healthy meals without having to take much time away from work; this is one of the major benefits of protein shakes or meal replacements, it takes less than a minute to prepare them.

Users simply put a serve of powder into a container and take it with them each day or carry a bar, pre-packaged sachet or tetra pack to work. Then, when it is time for their mid-morning or mid-afternoon meal, they simply add the powder to water or low-fat milk in a container, shake it up and drink it. Alternatively, with the meal replacement bars or RTD tetra packs, they simply open and consume!

Nutrient dense

The nutrient content of some the best meal replacements may actually be superior to whole foods. Along with the adequate amounts of carbohydrate, protein and fat, MRs often contain useful amounts of other nutrients like vitamins and minerals.

It is important to examine the quality of the nutrients in MRs because some powders may be no more than glorified skim milk powder, some RTDs may be flavoured milk that has been re-labelled and some bars may be identical in nutrients to a chocolate bar!

The protein content, for example, can come from a variety of sources including, whey, soy, albumin, casein and milk solids. They vary substantially in quality and each has its own unique properties that are beneficial to the human body.

As a rule, whey protein is the highest quality protein source available and can be further classified based on the type of extraction technique used. When the valuable whey proteins are extracted from milk, the type of extraction technique used will determined whether the final product is classified as a whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate or hydrolysed whey peptides. Hydrolysed whey is the most refined followed by whey isolates and whey concentrates. However, there are advantages and disadvantages of each.

If however, someone has a dairy intolerance and/ or would like to reduce the amount of 'silent inflammation' in their body, it is best to use a pea/ rice protein blend. A good example is BCN's ProBlend Dairy Free.

Controlled portions

The best meal replacements have pre-determined amounts of macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein and fat) in them. This makes it very easy to monitor your fat, carbohydrate and overall calorie intake for the meal and therefore not eat excessively.

It also ensures you eat the correct proportions of macronutrients. The best meal replacements are perfectly suited to those people who are looking to control their food intake but still have a tasty meal at the same time.

Being able to control portions is a particularly important characteristic of the best meal replacements, especially when it comes to changing your body composition (building muscle and/or burning fat). Furthermore, getting a substantial amount of protein in a meal without an associated high intake of fat and cholesterol is often difficult. Probably the only option is to eat a lot of egg whites or tuna and I'm sure your fellow workers in the office won't really appreciate that!


The best meal replacements provide a way to get nutrients into your body in the easiest and most efficient manner possible. As well as being easy and efficient, MRs are also cheap. The cost of even the best meal replacements are very low compared to a whole-food meal. Consider how much you would spend if you ate five or six whole-food meals each day.

Even if you prepared the meals yourself you would still be paying far more for each meal compared to substituting a few meals for MRs. For example, if you have five meals a day; breakfast, mid-morning, lunch, mid-afternoon and dinner and compare the cost of having five whole-food meals to having three whole food meals and two meal replacements, you will find the combination of whole foods and meal replacements much cheaper.

Most meal replacements cost between $3.00 and $7.00, whilst its equivalent nutrient content (amounts of protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins and minerals) from whole foods may cost in excess of $10.00!

Ease of digestion

The best meal replacements are already in a 'pre-digested' form. This means that when they are purchased they are already in the form of individual amino acids or small chains ('peptides') of amino acids, which can be readily absorbed into the body from the digestive tract.


These days, the best meal replacements taste great, especially the ones from the leading supplement companies. They offer plenty of exotic flavours to choose from, and thus accommodate a variety of tastes. With advancements in food technology, a high-protein, low-fat bar tastes just as good as a chocolate bar and the liquid meal replacements can taste just like milk shakes even when they are mixed with water!

Types of Meal Replacements (MRs):

Protein Powders

Best Protein Shake The protein powders are high protein, low carbohydrate and low fat powders that generally come in tubs or buckets. They generally make the best protein shake for weight-loss purposes. The containers have a pre-measured scoop in them allowing for easy measurement of portion sizes. They may be added to a shaker or blender with water or low-fat milk and make a quick and easy meal.

The quality of the powder will determine the mixability of the product with the higher quality products mixing easily with a spoon or a few shakes of a shaker cup. Lower quality powders require blending in order to mix the powder fully in the liquid.

Users of protein powders normally leave their tubs of powder at work and will often have a shake for their mid-morning and/ or mid-afternoon meal. The high protein, low carbohydrate and low fat powders are ideal for people whose primary goal is to lose body fat or to simply stay lean.

Meal Replacement Powders

The best meal replacement powders usually have a balance between protein and carbohydrate (ratio of protein to carbohydrate, 1:1) and are low in fat. They are sold as boxes with pre-packaged sachets in them. Each sachet contains a predetermined amount of powder, which makes them more portable than protein powders. Being in a sachet means they can be carried around easily. However, they still require a cup to be mixed in. Users of meal replacements are generally people who are simply looking to maintain their already well-established physique.

Mass Gaining Powders

Mass Gaining Powders have carbohydrate as the dominant macronutrient with a ratio of protein to carbohydrate of 1:1.5. They are also low in fat. They often come is very large buckets because users will have up to fours shakes a day in order to provide their body with the extra calories they needs to put on mass. The most common user of this type of powder is young men who want to put on weight.

Ready-to-Drinks (RTDs)

Ready-to-Drinks (RTDs) are another very popular form of meal replacement. These pre-mixed drinks come in 'tetrapacks' (cardboard drink boxes) and provide a controlled portion of the macronutrieints (carbohydrate, protein and fat). They offer the user a great-tasting meal straight from the fridge!

Meal Replacement Bars

The meal replacement bars are fast becoming the most popular of all the meal replacements for a number of reasons. Firstly, they don't require any preparation at all- simply open the packet and eat.

They also give the user the opportunity to actually eat something rather than simply drinking their meal. Not only that, but they also provide a feeling of indulgence by giving some amazing taste sensations. With flavours like, Cookies and Cream, Triple-layer Caramel Nut Crunch and Crunchy Chocolate Crisp they certainly appeal to a wide market.

Despite their convenience, meal replacement bars are not one of the best meal replacements and should be considered a last resort for a MR. The reason for this is because they are inferior to liquid meal replacements in a number of ways.

Firstly, a common protein source in bars is often a cheap, inferior quality source, like gelatin or collagen. Gelatin is obtained from boiling down cattle bones, hooves and skin! When you read the label of a meal replacement bar, if they have 'gelatin' or 'hydrolysed collagen' in their ingredient list, think twice about putting these inferior quality protein sources into your body.

Furthermore, if losing body fat is a priority for you, then you may want to consider the glycerol content before scoffing down another 'low-carb' bar. All meal replacement bars on the market contain a 'carbohydrate-like' substance known as glycerol. Glycerol is a sugar-alcohol and has 4.32 calories per gram and is used in the bar manufacturing process as a humectant (draws water to it) to keep the bars moist, therefore improving its texture.

Glycerol may be converted to fat or glucose in the body depending on whether the liver is full of glycogen (storage carbohydrate) or not. If the liver is full of glycogen, glycerol will be converted into fat and if the liver is depleted it will be used to replenish the glycogen stores in the liver or be converted into glucose and sent around the body for fuel.

Plus, glycerol provides the 'backbone' of triglycerides (fat), which is made up of three fatty acids and a glycerol molecule. By ingesting more glycerol you make it easier for your body to manufacture more body fat!

Finally, in the manufacturing of the bars, heat is used, which may have the effect of 'de-naturing' (making them useless) some of the amino acids in the bar. However, consuming bars occasionally is fine. Just don't make them a regular part of your diet.

How to Select the
Best Meal Replacement For You:

Selection of the best meal replacement for you is of paramount importance. There is a huge variation in the type and quality of Meal Replacements on the market. The nutritional panel on the label is a great way to identify whether or not a particular MR is suitable for you.

Step 1: Establish your goal.
The first step is to establish what your goal is. Do you want to primarily lose fat, 'tone up' (lose fat and build muscle), or put on muscle? The best meal replacement for people wanting to lose fat, is one that is high in protein, low in carbohydrate, low in fat and low in calories. A protein powder is ideal.

For people who want to put on muscle (gain weight) the best meal replacement for them is a Mass Gainer, which is high in calories, higher in carbohydrate, moderate in protein and low in fat. These may also be known as 'Weight Gainers' and are especially useful for people with very fast metabolisms that have a lot of trouble putting on weight.

People wanting to 'tone up' or simply maintain their current condition should select MRs somewhere between these two extremes.

Step 2: Select the best meal replacement for you.
This step means you must determine whether a powder (liquid meal replacement), bar or pre-packaged drink it suited to you best. Consider factors such as your goal (which type will help you achieve your goal?), personal preference (would you prefer to have a bar, powder or pre-packaged drink?), work factors (do you have time to prepare the MR at work?), and budget (what does your budget allow?)

Generally the more packaging that is done for a meal replacement, the more expensive they are, assuming the same nutritional content. Therefore, bars and RTDs tend to be the most expensive MRs (per serve) followed by meal replacement powders in sachets and finally the powders in tubs or buckets, which require the most preparation on your part.

The powders require you to use the pre-measured scoop in the tub to scoop out your desired portion size, add it to a mixing cup or blender with water or milk already in it, shake it up or blend it and then drink it.

Step 3: Check the quality of the protein source.
Most high quality meal replacements contain whey protein, which is currently the highest biological value (BV) of any food source (particularly whey protein isolate or hydrolysed whey protein).

Biological value is a measure of how well a protein source supports nitrogen retention in the body (holding on to protein for tissue construction). However, since whey proteins are rapidly digested by the body they are also subjected to higher rates of hepatic amino acid oxidation, which means the liver breaks them down. The liver is responsible for maintaining an amino acid balance in the blood and when it detects a sudden rise in blood amino acids it starts 'oxidising' them to bring the level down again.

Other protein sources, like casein, are absorbed more slowly and therefore are not subjected to the same rate of oxidation. For this reason, people wanting to gain weight (muscle) should combine whey protein (superior quality) with casein (inferior quality) in their evening protein shake to maximise the anabolic effects of the whey with the anti-catabolic effects of the slow release protein (casein).

Casein is considered to be anti-catabolic because the slow release nature of this protein means the body will be constantly supplied with amino acids. If the body enters a negative nitrogen balance (no amino acids in the blood), the body will start to break down muscle tissue.

Some protein powders, particularly those marketed to women, contain soy protein as the main protein source. Soy is inferior to whey in many areas and would really only benefit menopausal women. If you're not in this group, stick with whey!

Step 4: Check for added ingredients.
Many of the best meal replacements on the market now have added ingredients to make them even more effective in helping people achieve their goals faster. Ideally, your meal replacement, no matter what your goal, should have added vitamins and minerals to make it a complete meal. It may also have other ingredients like, creatine, glutamine, taurine, or fat mobilising/ metabolising compounds to assist your body composition changing efforts.

Most of the best meal replacements have added ingredients which may include:

  • Vitamins and minerals, which play vital roles in the functioning of every cell in your body.

  • Creatine, a protein-based substance formed from the amino acids arginine, methionine and glycine. Creatine may enhance ATP replenishment so it increases muscle mass and assists fat loss.

  • L- Glutamine, a non-essential amino acid that is required by your body in increased amounts when regular exercise is performed. L-Glutamine has the effect of increasing the volume of muscle cells, thereby boosting the body's metabolic rate. L-Glutamine also increases the body's production of growth hormone, a powerful hormone that accelerates fat loss and helps build muscle tissue.

  • Taurine, another non-essential amino acid required by the body in increased amounts when exercising. It has the effect of decreasing muscle breakdown (anti-catabolic effect), which helps to maintain the body's metabolism. It also increases the uptake of nutrients into muscle cells by mimicking the action of insulin, and may also improve the contractile properties of muscle fibres.

  • Fat-mobilising/ metabolism-enhancing compounds, which may include compounds like guarana, L-Carnitine, hydroxycitric acid and synephrine (the active ingredient in Citrus aurantium).

  • Meal Replacements are quickly gaining the reputation of being 'super foods' because of their ability to enhance bodily functions as well as accelerate results. These 'engineered foods' are certainly an easy way to ensure you get the nutrients your body needs every day.

    Other considerations
    Some people have commented that when they have taken liquid meal replacements- even the best protein shake, best meal replacements or mass gainers), half an hour or an hour later they are hungry again. They often find that even the best meal replacements don't satisfy them for very long. The best way to overcome this is by adding psyllium husks and flax seed oil to the drink.

    Psyllium husks are a water soluble fibre that adds bulk to the mixture and fills your stomach. It also slows the absorption of nutrients and therefore gives you a sustained release of glucose and amino acids (from protein) into your body. The flax seed oil is also beneficial because it provides you with the Omega-3 essential fatty acids as well as slowing down the release of food from the stomach into the small intestine, which also keeps you satisfied for longer.

    Fish oil capsules are a good alternative to flax seed oil. Adding the psyllium husks and the oil to the meal replacement does require more preparation, however, if you find the meal replacement drinks don't satisfy you for long after having them, then this could be an option for you.

    As was mentioned before, we should consume five or six small meals every day. Since eating whole-foods every two or three hours is virtually impossible for most people, the best meal replacements are a great choice in ensuring we get the nutrition our body needs throughout the day.

    Whilst they are great to have on a regular basis (even daily), even the best meal replacements should not be used to totally replace whole foods in your diet. Whole-foods may provide nutrients to our body that can't be obtained from even the best protein shakes. Despite all the benefits of protein shakes it is likely that many 'yet-to-be-identified' nutrients are present in whole foods that aren't put in engineered meal replacements. Having two or three out of five or six daily meals coming from the best meal replacements is ideal.

    Due to the growing popularity of liquid meal replacements, many supermarkets, delis, gyms, health food stores and even pharmacies are stocking them to make them available to their customers so they should be easy to find.

    By making the best meal replacements a regular part of your diet, you are sure to find it much easier to follow your nutritional plan and therefore achieve your physical goals in record time!

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