Meal replacement shakes have become increasingly popular in recent years. They’re a convenient and efficient way to nourish your body in place of a meal—they’re pretty tasty too.
We're sure you've tried a few brands at some stage—but how do you know exactly what they do? Will what works for your friend also work for you?
And how do you find out which one best suits your specific goals?
Let's get the full picture of the best shakes for meal replacements right now.
With everything from PhenQ to lesser known brands in the best way we know how—using hard science and solid facts.
Because weight loss isn't one size fits all...
What Are Meal Replacement Shakes?
You’ve probably seen them in superstores, convenience stores, and online but meal replacement shakes are essentially drinks designed to provide a convenient and nutritionally complete alternative to traditional meals.
They’re packed with essential macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals your body needs for proper functioning.
These shakes are formulated to replace a full meal, providing all the necessary nutrients in a convenient and easy-to-consume form.
People tend to take them in place of breakfast or lunch without requiring a full meal preparation.
Meal replacement shakes are available in various forms, including ready-to-drink bottles and powdered formulas—it's all down to preference and goals when it comes to choosing the right one for you.
What's the Purpose of Meal Replacement Shakes?
One of the main purposes of meal replacement shakes is for weight management.
Drink-based meal replacement shakes are often used to help manage your weight loss or weight maintenance goals because they typically have a controlled number of calories and portion sizes.
By replacing a higher-calorie meal with a lower-calorie meal replacement shake, you can get the all-important calorie deficit.
It's important to note that while meal replacement shakes can be convenient and provide essential nutrients, you shouldn’t rely on them as your sole source of nutrition in the long term.
A shake never replaces the nutrition of real food—and it isn’t a long-term solution for a diet.
What Form do Meal Replacement Shakes Come in?
Meal replacement shakes can come in the form of powdered shakes or ready-to-drink (RTD) shakes.
Ready-to-drink (RTD) shakes are pre-mixed and you can drink them directly from the bottle, which is ideal for on-the-go situations.
Powdered meal replacement shakes come in a powder that needs to be mixed with water or any other liquid before drinking.
These shakes usually come in individual serving packets or larger tubs. There are specific mixing instructions per brand so make sure to follow them for maximum shake success.
What are Typical Meal Replacement Shake Ingredients?
The ingredients inside meal replacement powders and pre-made drinks usually follow a similar pattern.
They’re typically made by combining ingredients like:
- Proteins (like whey, soy, or pea protein)
- Essential nutrients
- Vitamins and minerals
These shakes are intended to be a well-balanced meal substitute, containing a combination of proteins, carbohydrates, and healthy fats to keep you feeling full and satisfied.
NOTE: Meal replacement shakes shouldn’t replace all meals on a long-term basis, as whole foods provide a broader range of nutrients and health benefits.
But for short-term use as part of a calorie-observed diet, shakes can work well and so many health and fitness goals.
Why Might You Take Meal Replacement Shakes?
There are a ton of reasons why you might take meal replacement shakes.
Things like weight management, post-workout recovery, or simply as a convenient and nutritious option if you have a mega-busy lifestyle.
Meal replacement shakes offer a quick and convenient option for busy people (like you, no doubt) who may not have the time to prepare a nutritious meal.
Let's touch on some of the reasons you might want to try meal replacement shakes.
Meal replacement shakes are often used as a tool for weight loss or weight management. These shakes are accurately measured, making it easier to track and control calorie intake.
They can also provide a balanced mix of nutrients to help support weight loss goals.
Some people turn to meal replacement shakes to make sure they receive adequate nutrition, especially if they have specific dietary restrictions or limitations.
How do shakes help?
Shakes are formulated to be nutritionally complete and can offer a convenient way to meet daily nutrient requirements. Simple yet effective.
Fitness and Muscle Building
Athletes and individuals who enjoy regular exercise may use meal replacement shakes as a convenient and efficient way to support their fitness goals.
Specifically formulated meal replacement shakes with protein promote muscle growth and increase muscle mass like bodybuilders.
Protein is also great for muscle repair and growth.
Special Dietary Needs
Meal replacement shakes can be tailored to meet specific dietary preferences or restrictions.
For example, there are options available for vegetarians, vegans, individuals with gluten intolerance—or people following a lactose-free diet.
These shakes offer a convenient way to ensure adequate nutrition while adhering to specific dietary requirements.
What Flavours Do Meal Replacement Shakes Come in?
Well, let us give you a clue.
They don’t exactly taste savoury!
The flavours of meal replacement shakes tend to be sweet or fruity flavours because they come in liquid form—and it's hard to find a tasty savoury flavour that works well as a liquid.
The idea of a liquidised main meal isn't a great one.
So, choose a meal replacement shake that you enjoy the taste and texture of as this will make it more enjoyable to consume regularly.
Many brands offer a variety of flavours. So consider trying a few different options to find one that suits your palate.
Popular meal replacement shake flavours include…
- Cookies and Cream
- Peanut Butter
- Mixed Berry/fruit
- Superfoods—leafy greens like spinach, kale or vegetables.
Do Price and Value Matter When Choosing a Shake?
You might be on a strict budget or keen to try something convenient but still healthy.
Choosing a meal replacement shake doesn't mean you need to lean into artificial ingredients and either premium prices or dirt-cheap knock offs.
Get factual. Compare the cost per serving of different meal replacement shakes and consider the value you’re getting for your money.
Keep in mind that the cheapest option may not always be the best in terms of taste or nutritional quality, so find a balance between cost and value that works for you.
Pay attention to the ingredient list of the meal replacement shake.
Look for shakes that use high-quality and natural ingredients without excessive added sugars, artificial additives, or fillers.
You should steer clear of artificial flavours or sweeteners, as natural ingredients are always best—more on that below.
Are Artificial Ingredients Bad in Meal Replacement Shakes?
One concern is the use of meal replacement shakes with artificial ingredients is their link to negative effects on metabolism, gut health,weight gain, and appetite regulation.
Artificial sweeteners like sucralose, as found in some meal replacement shakes, can have adverse effects on digestion and have been linked to digestive issues like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), colitis, and even colon cancer.
It's important to note that these claims are still under debate, and more research is needed to establish clear causation. But, it’s worth bearing in mind.
Meal replacement shakes may contain artificial colours to make them visually appealing.
These colours can include Yellow #6, Blue #1, Red #40, FD&C, or Yellow #6, among others.
Research suggests that artificial colours in meal replacement shakes may have harmful effects on your health, especially when it comes to children.
Meal replacement shakes frequently include artificial colouring, which are not safe to consume.
Synthetic dyes used as artificial colours may result in health concerns and negative effects in those consuming them.
These reactions can include abdominal pain, diarrhoea, hypersensitivity, and allergic reactions.
Some meal replacement shakes may contain artificial preservatives to extend their shelf life. These might be things like potassium sorbate and Butylated HydroxyToluene (BHT).
Potassium sorbate can be dangerous for those with potassium allergies, and butylated hydroxytoluene has had concerns flagged over it.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified BHT as having carcinogenic properties.
Plus, BHT has been accused of being an endocrine disruptor and potentially having toxic effects on the liver, kidneys, and lungs in extreme doses.
But, the evidence regarding its health effects is mixed, and more research is needed to establish a definitive conclusion.
The moral of the story?
Natural is always better.
Choose a meal replacement shake with natural ingredients.
Is it a Good Idea to Replace a Meal with Shake?
The reality is…you're asking this question and reading this answer because you want to know that it's a healthy practice for your body.
We'll be honest with you—replacing a meal with a shake can have both benefits and risks.
A study published in the Journal of Nutrition and Healthy Aging showed that weaving meal replacement shakes into a weight-loss program resulted in significant weight loss and improvements in risk factors for disease.
Note that the shakes mentioned above were both protein shakes.
Protein shakes can be helpful for managing appetite and controlling how many calories you put into your body.
So whether it's a protein shake or a meal replacement shake high in protein, the effects are the same.
Again, it's important to note that meal replacement shakes may not provide all the necessary nutrients that a balanced dish would offer.
Depending on the brand, they can be lower in what our bodies need to operate in terms of essential vitamins and minerals, especially given their low-calorie content.
It's possible that replacing multiple meals with shakes could lead to nutrient deficiencies if not coupled with a balanced diet complete with whole foods.
The shake is not a stand-alone. You must drink them in conjunction with a healthy diet.
Also, the quality and composition of the shake matters—and if you’re unsure— you should talk to a healthcare professional or registered dietitian to make sure that all nutritional needs are being met.
Relying solely on meal replacement shakes for an extended period may not be sustainable in the long term. If you’re not getting all the nutrients you need—you may feel lethargic. You may also encounter gut issues and additional health concerns.
It's true protein might be the golden ingredient, but it isn't without its own drawbacks.
Did you know? Eating excessive amounts of protein shakes can lead to health issues like kidney problems. So, anyone with pre-existing kidney conditions should avoid over consuming protein.
FYI: Being mindful and intentional in choosing a high-quality protein powder and enjoying it in moderation will help offset these risks. We'll get into that soon enough.
So, replacing a meal with a protein shake can be a convenient option and may support certain health goals like losing weight and building muscle.
But, always weigh up the nutritional content of the shake and stick to a balanced diet to stay as fit, healthy, and energised as possible. You’ve got this.
What is the Best High-Quality Protein Powder for Shakes?
Firstly, it's important to choose a protein powder that’s made from a high-quality protein source. These include…
- Whey protein
- Casein protein
- Plant-based proteins like pea, hemp, or soy protein
These protein sources are considered complete proteins, meaning as complete proteins they contain all the essential amino acids our bodies need.
Secondly, you'll want to consider the purity and ingredients of the protein powder.
Look for protein powders that have minimal additives, artificial sweeteners, and fillers. As a general rule of thumb, going for a protein powder that has simple ingredients without the unnecessary ‘nasties’ is always best.
Several reputable sources have compiled lists of recommended protein powders for shakes, including Shape, Healthline, EatingWell, Forbes Health, and Verywell Fit.
These sources have looked long and hard at some of the planet’s leading protein powders and broken them down in terms of taste, quality, and ingredients.
You may find it useful to refer to these lists and explore the protein powders they recommend to find one that suits your preferences and needs.
When Should I Have a Meal Replacement Shake?
The timing and frequency of meal replacement shakes will depend on your individual needs and goals.
Here are some general guidelines for your reading pleasure.
Replacement of a regular meal
You can have a meal replacement shake for breakfast, lunch, or dinner as a substitute for a regular meal.
You can do this once a day or occasionally, depending on your preference. It can be especially useful if you have a packed schedule or struggle to prepare a balanced meal— as we all know how crazy busy days can get.
You can take meal replacement shakes between meals as a healthy snack option. This can help satisfy cravings and provide a nutritious option when you're feeling hungry.
But, make sure that you really listen to your body and only have a shake if you’re genuinely hungry. Being mindful about hunger and how it feels is really important to prevent over indulging.
If you exercise regularly, having a meal replacement shake within 30 minutes to an hour after your workout can provide your body with the necessary nutrients for recovery.
This can help replenish glycogen stores, promote muscle repair, and aid in overall recovery.
This is the most common use for those who opt for meal replacement shakes.
They play a role in weight management by replacing one or two high-calorie meals with a lower-calorie shake.
You can do this intermittently or on a more regular basis, depending on your weight loss or weight maintenance goals.
Is it Healthy to Have a Meal Replacement Shake Everyday?
While meal replacement shakes can provide some benefit, they should complement a lifestyle of good eating and plenty of movement.
All in all, nothing replaces a nutritious meal overall. But, like we said, meal replacement shakes are handy, convenient, and will help you fill in any nutritional gaps.
FYI: Experts recommend that your diet should include a variety of whole foods, such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains, dairy products, protein, and healthy fats to make sure you get everything you need to succeed.
We’ll say it again…if you’re considering weaving meal replacement shakes into your diet, speak with a healthcare provider or a registered dietitian to make sure it's suitable for you and your diet overall is balanced and healthy.
Proper nutrition is key.
Why do People Replace a Meal with a Shake?
We're going to level with you.
People have all kinds of reasons why they choose to use meal replacement shakes. So you need to work out the goal you have in mind. And then select a shake in due course.
Here are some key points to mull over.
Meal replacement shakes can be effective for both weight management and weight loss.
They’re usually lower in calories than a regular meal which can help with weight loss.
As we've discussed, they often have a full nutritional profile which means they help meet foodie needs while reducing your overall calorie intake.
Meal replacement shakes can be a convenient option, especially if you’re flat out busy and don't have time to prepare a full meal.
They’re quick and easy to prepare, making them a convenient choice for on-the-go or when time is limited.
While meal replacement shakes can provide a balanced mix of nutrients, they may not contain all the nutrients you'll find in a well-rounded meal. So, you might be nutritionally deprived.
We think it's important to choose a high-quality shake that provides a wide range of nutrients to ensure you're still getting essential vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial compounds found in whole foods.
Is there a Difference Between Protein Shakes and Meal Replacement Shakes?
Protein shakes and meal replacement shakes are distinct in their intended purpose and nutritional composition.
This type of shake is primarily focused on providing a concentrated source of protein, typically containing around 25 grams of protein per serving.
They’re usually taken by those looking to promote muscle growth and recovery after exercise.
Meal Replacement Shakes
These shakes are designed to have as a substitute for a complete meal.
As we know, they typically contain a balance of macronutrients, including protein, carbohydrates, and fats, along with essential vitamins, and minerals.
Meal replacement shakes are generally higher in calories, ranging from 300 to 500 calories per serving.
While both types of shakes can be beneficial in certain situations, it’s important to consider your goals and dietary needs.
If you’re looking to supplement your protein intake or support muscle recovery after a workout, a protein shake may be suitable.
On the other hand, if you're heading out for a yoga class and need something quick and light on the way, a meal replacement shake will fill your body with what you need to power you through the class.
FYI: The specific composition of protein and meal replacement shakes can vary, we always recommend checking the labels and choosing products that tally up with your individual goals and dietary requirements.
Are Meal Replacement Shakes Good for Building Muscle?
But they need to include specific ingredients and be specifically formulated for this goal. Let's take a look at what meal replacement shakes aimed at muscle mass will look like ingredients-wise.
We touched on it above but let's dive deeper into protein as a key ingredient for muscle mass.
Research suggests that a higher protein intake can aid in muscle building and recovery.
Whey protein, pea protein, and soy protein are all common sources of protein you will find in meal replacement shakes.
Studies show that whey protein in particular may be especially effective for promoting muscle growth.
These are an important source of energy for your muscles and did you know they can help prevent muscle protein breakdown too?
Did you know? Carbohydrates can restore your glycogen stores and energise your workouts.
Just be careful to avoid added sugars and aim for complex carbs like whole grains.
Oh, how we love healthy fats. They also play a role in muscle building.
We're talking about Omega-3 fatty acids, found in foods like fish and chia seeds which can improve muscle recovery and help reduce inflammation.
A meal replacement shake that has MCT oil, nuts or seeds is a good choice too.
Vitamins and minerals
Sounds a bit vague we know, but for muscle building alongside optimum nutrition and a healthy diet, shakes with a solid blend of vitamins and minerals is ideal.
Did you know? The right balance of vitamins and minerals helps to promote muscle recovery and growth.
Are Meal Replacement Shakes Good to Use to Lose Weight?
Yes, shakes are a great short term tool to use to help lose weight.
Studies show that weight loss programs with meal replacements lead to greater weight loss compared to other tried-and-tested programs.
Shakes typically contain a controlled amount of calories as we know which leads to a calorie deficit when combined with a healthy diet and exercise routine.
The Science On Meal Replacement Shakes and Weight Loss
Let's have a look at the science that supports the role of shakes in shedding those pounds.
One study examined the effect of Medifast's meal replacement program on body weight, body composition, and the biomarkers of inflammation as well as oxidative stress.
These factors were measured among obese individuals following a period of weight loss and weight maintenance.
The conclusion was that the meal replacement program with shakes led to notable weight loss and improvements in body composition when compared to a food-based diet alone.
A systematic review and meta-analysis of various studies concluded that programs incorporating meal replacements led to greater weight loss at one year compared to other weight loss programs.
The review highlighted meal replacements as a great option for obesity management, specifically in healthcare and community settings.
Another study compared the effectiveness of the OPTIFAST program, which is a full meal replacement dietary intervention with a food-based dietary plan for weight loss. The study found that the OPTIFAST program resulted in greater weight loss compared to the food-based plan.
That said, we can't forget that while shakes can be effective for weight loss and maintenance, adding healthy wholefoods and plenty of heart-pumping exercise to the mix is vital.
Is it Better to Take a Shake After a Workout?
Good question. Well, it really depends on your specific aims and goals.
Some studies suggest that consuming protein after a workout can boost muscle recovery and growth.
For example, a study showed that post-workout protein intake can enhance muscle protein synthesis, which is crucial for building muscle mass.
On the other hand, there are newer ideas that suggest that the timing of protein intake may not be as critical as we once thought.
Meal Replacement Shakes
When it comes to meal replacements, these products are designed to provide a balanced meal with a combination of carbohydrates, protein, and other nutrients.
While they can be convenient and provide a source of protein, their composition may not be tailored for your immediate post-workout needs.
Meal replacements may be better suited for general meal replacement purposes or as a pre-workout nutritional option, offering a big boost of sustained energy and nutrients throughout a body-boosting workout.
Are Meal Replacement Shakes Good for Athletes?
Did you know? Meal replacement shakes can be a convenient option for athletes as they offer a big shot of digestible nutrients including essential goodies that help to replenish energy stores and help to support muscle recovery.
For endurance athletes who engage in activities like long-distance running or intense workouts, shakes can be especially beneficial because of the extra nutritional fuel they offer.
But as we keep saying (because it's important), you can't rely solely on shakes as a source of nutrition.
Whole foods should still form the foundation of an athlete's diet as they offer a wider array of nutrients, making sure things such as phytochemicals and fibre are on the menu. These performance-boosting nutrients aren’t always found in shakes.
Overall, shakes can be a convenient and effective option for athletes, especially when used as part of a well-rounded and balanced diet. But the ingredients need to be checked carefully in advance.
Meal Replacement Ticklist
Okay, so just before we launch into a rundown of the top nine best shakes, let's do a quick ticklist for you to check off to ensure you know what you are looking for:
- I know my goal be it weight loss or weight gain
- I know my price point and the value for money I want in the product
- I will look for products that contain more natural ingredients than artificial
- I know when to take my shake and how often
Up to speed? Great. Then let's begin.
The 9 Best Meal Replacement Powders
So, the moment you’ve been waiting for—we've put together the best complete shakes for all kinds of goals from weight loss to weight gain.
Drum roll, please…
The Best Meal Replacement Shake for Men
So what makes this shake so great for men?
In their shakes, men need a balanced amount of macronutrients, including proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, as well as essential vitamins and minerals.
The protein content should be around 15 to 20 grams per serving to support muscle recovery and growth.
Complex carbohydrates are important for energy—and healthy fats contribute to hormone production and overall health.
Plus, shakes should be fortified with essential vitamins and minerals to meet daily nutritional needs.
Why is it the best?
This delicious post workout shake is ideal for men due its wholesome blend of vitamins, minerals such as potassium, vitamin D and vitamin C.
Did you know? Potassium is linked to lowering the risk of high blood pressure in men? That means staving off cardiovascular disease.
It's also sugar free, affordably priced and has 25g per serving—a substantial amount heading straight to those muscles.
Good news for male athletes too, this product is tested for banned substances & NSF Certified for Sport.
Choose from different sweet flavours such as cookies and cream, banana and chocolate.
The Best Gluten-Free Meal Replacement Shake
This product isn't just gluten free. It's vegan, soy-free AND free of artificial ingredients.
The Lyfefuel daily essential shake is bursting with 27 essential vitamins and minerals, 18 grams of protein, 50+ whole food nutrients, and superfoods—making it nutritionally sound, too.
This popular shake has two flavours to choose from: vanilla and chocolate. It already has a dedicated following who love its quality ingredients, inclusivity and taste.
It's the go-to for those who avoid gluten in their diet but don't want to sacrifice quality ingredients, nutrition or taste. Give it a go.
The Best Shake for Nutrition
Rootana has been extensively researched and developed to provide a total nutritional profile including a high protein count and the absence of stevia, refined carbs, artificial sweeteners and sucralose.
It contains complex carbohydrates to sustain your energy throughout the day and a little coconut sugar for a yummy sweet flavour.
This 400 calorie shake is both low in calories and bursting with goodness which makes it ideal for those who want a nutritious shake on-the-go.
It's loved for its total nourishment and perfect as part of a balanced diet and exercise routine to lose weight or just tick those nutrition boxes on busy days.
Flavours are original, dark chocolate and vanilla.
The Best Shake for Weight Loss
Yes, it's our brand—we hold our hands up! But (and it’s a big but) it's also one of the most popular shakes for weight loss out there. This review from Muscleandfitness on PhenQ gives a nice overview.
This popular shake is the go-for those that want a meal replacement shake that fights off cravings, boosts your metabolism and keeps you feeling full.
It also contains DigaZyme Enzyme Complex for gut health.
One serving contains 3-3.5 grams of fat, 21-22 grams of carbs and 16-17 grams of protein and is only 180-190 calories.
The mixture is made from whey protein powder which is a high quality protein powder. It also gives it a lovely creamy texture.
Comes in chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and cream. Yum.
The Best Meal Replacement Shake for Weight Gain
This shake is a muscle gain dream with the formula including three grams of creatine monohydrate and 760 calories per serving. It also contains 53 grams of protein, 14 grams of fat, and 114 grams of carbs.
Devoid of artificial sweeteners, flavours and colour it also ticks the more natural boxes on ingredients.
This is generally used as an additional meal rather than a replacement shake for weight gain. A top up on nutrition and with the helping of creatine, you're sure to hit your bulk goals quicker.
Flavours come in chocolate glaze, cookies N cream, chocolate, and sweet vanilla.
The Best High Protein Shake
A favourite for athletes and high performers of all kinds, this meal replacement shake puts shredding at the top of the agenda.
High in protein with 35g per serving, packed with slow release carbs it comes in a calorie controlled portion of only 400 calories each time. It's also loaded with 26 vitamins and minerals to keep you nutritionally balanced.
Favoured by those that want a happy-boost with its key ingredient of chromium this tasty shake also contains healthy fats omega 3 and 6.
It's also made in FDA registered facilities and formulated by trained nutritionists and dieticians.
Comes in vanilla which is super delicious.
The Best Shake for the Keto Diet
The brainchild of metabolic scientist Dr. Ben Beckman, this shake is formulated to be crammed full of protein at 28 grams, and the all important fat for the Keto diet, coming in at 27 grams.
It's important to note the origin of the fat too, which is olive oil powder, MCT powder, flaxseed, grass-fed ghee, flaxseed and cocoa butter—a diverse and high quality nutritional profile for fat in particular.
The protein powder in this comes from high-quality whey protein concentrate, egg whites and grass-fed collagen. That means it's also great for joint and connective tissue health.
Carbs are low for a meal replacement shake, naturally due to it being great for Keto with the carbs coming in at 13 grams only. Each serving is only 400 calories.
Flavours are Chocolate macadamia and vanilla.
The Best Budget Friendly Meal Replacement Shake
For those who want value for money, whole-food nutrition, and great quality protein with whey protein isolate, Kaged Clean Meal replacement shake is the one.
It helps you hit your macros with ease and contains healthy and quality-first ingredients like coconut oil, quinoa, and Swedish oats.
The cost per serving is considerably lower than other shakes on the market at $2.50 per meal.
Flavours are vanilla cake, chocolate peanut butter and snickerdoodle.
The Best Tasting Meal Replacement Shake
You might have heard about this one.
Famed for its super yummy flavour and satisfying consistency, it gets rid of the association with shakes and chalky textures and artificial tastes. It rewrites the rules, in fact.
The premium ingredients help with the solid nutritional profile and satisfaction.
It's the best pick for those who are happy to pay more for quality and depth of flavour.
Bonus for those who are allergy aware as the formula is vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free, soy-free and comes without preservatives, artificial flavours or sweeteners.
It even comes with a money back guarantee!
The flavours are unique with options like chocolate, vanilla, coconut açai, chai and matcha.
The PhenQ Meal Shake
This shake is a fantastic all-rounder.
Tasty, affordable, nutritionally sound and the one for those who are targeting weight loss, the PhenQ Meal Replacement Shake will help you shed those stubborn pounds naturally.
Boost your energy and control your cravings with this all-in-one answer to weight loss and beyond today.
Because sometimes, it’s just that simple.