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How to Use Meal Replacement Shakes for Healthy Eating

Protein supplements have risen to a level where they’re common in the average person’s daily nutrition, regardless of fitness levels and goals. We love a good protein supplement, and one of the reasons is its versatility.

Protein shakes and the like are helpful for just about everyone, as most Canadian adults aren’t eating enough protein to support their bodies, let alone their activity levels. However, it’s more than just increasing protein intake—it’s that doing so can support your goals, whatever they may be, making them easier to achieve.

We’ve discussed, at length, how increasing muscle mass is beneficial to all fitness goals and how consuming more protein is a critical piece to the equation of doing so. But, what about meal replacement shakes? Do they have a rightful place in a healthy eating routine?

What are Meal Replacement Shakes? 

All-In-One Shake by Vega One, Chocolate

Meal replacement shakes are like protein shakes in that they most often have a solid serving of protein (anywhere from 10-30 grams) and come in a powder, which you then mix with your beverage of choice when you’re ready to consume it.

Unlike a regular protein shake, meal replacement shakes are designed to replace an entire meal or provide the nutrition of a meal. Therefore, they are a more balanced supplement, meaning they also have a serving of healthy fats and carbohydrates. 

These well-rounded meal replacement shakes are available in a wide variety of formulations from various companies. So essentially, whatever your goal and dietary preference are, there is a meal replacement shake to fit the bill.

Shop Meal Replacement Shakes

Are Meal Replacement Shakes Healthy? 

As with protein shakes or any other dietary supplement, there are certainly healthy options for meal replacement supplements. Unfortunately, there are also options that many people may not consider healthy.

When asking if something is “healthy” or not, what we need to consider is what that term means to us as an individual. Healthy eating is a highly personalized and relative term, and it depends entirely on what you’re looking for.

For example, take someone needing to increase their protein and fat intake and their overall calorie intake. In that case, they may look at a meal replacement supplement label and see 300 calories with 15 grams of fats and 30 grams of protein and make a judgement that this is an option that fits within their healthy eating habits.

Others, needing to reduce their calorie and fat intake, may look at the same label and deem this protein shake completely unhealthy. It’s all relative.

When Should You Choose a Meal Replacement Shake Over a Protein Shake?

ANS KetoSys Keto Meal Replacement, Chocolate

You should opt for a meal replacement shake instead of a regular protein shake if:

  • you need to increase your daily calorie, carb, and protein intake
  • you want to replace a meal
  • you’re going a long period between consuming the shake and your next meal

Because meal replacement shakes offer a more rounded nutritional profile, they will serve you better in any of these situations. In addition, individuals with a goal of increasing their weight or muscle mass need to consume more, so choosing a meal replacement instead of a protein shake is a convenient way to add those nutrients.

The most obvious time to use a meal replacement supplement is when you want to replace a meal, as the name would suggest. Always opt for a meal replacement shake in these times because a protein shake typically only contains protein—not much else. Including fat and carbs in any meal ensures you’re giving your muscles, your brain, and the rest of your body what it needs. It also ensures you will stay fuller for longer.

Additionally, if you know you’re going to finish your workout at 3 p.m. and know that you won’t be able to eat again until dinner at 7 p.m., you’d be wise to swap your normal post-workout protein shake for a more balanced meal replacement shake. A growing body of research indicates that while post-workout protein is critical to recovery and muscle growth, consuming carbohydrates within two hours post-workout is equally important. This way, you’re refilling glycogen stores, so your body continues to feel energized and repair itself.

The Benefits of a Good Meal Replacement Shake

Assuming you’ve chosen a meal replacement shake that is appropriate for your individual fitness goals, your dietary needs, and what you consider to be healthy eating, the benefits include:

Allmax Isoflex Whey Protein Powder
  • achieving desired weight loss, gain, or maintenance
  • offering a convenient option for healthy eating when you might otherwise opt for fast food or the like
  • providing various vitamins and minerals that you might not otherwise consume
  • helping you stay fuller for longer when compared to a standard protein shake
  • improving digestive health thanks to an increase in fibre

Now, let’s look at the best meal replacement shakes depending on your goal and thus your current idea of healthy eating.

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The Best Meal Replacement Shake for Weight Loss

The best meal replacement shake for weight loss needs to be nourishing enough to provide calories and nutrients appropriate for a whole, balanced meal. However, to be a great shake for supporting weight loss, it must also not be too calorie dense.

It should have at least 10 grams of protein, but more is preferable. In addition, it should have lower fat content, which helps it to be lighter in calories. Lastly, the best meal replacement shake for weight loss should have a small but necessary serving of carbohydrates and fibre to balance it out.

Product Spotlight: Lean Body Meal Replacement by Labrada Nutrition

Lean Body Meal Replacement by Labrada Nutrition, Chocolate

This product hits the nail on the head with everything we suggested in a meal replacement product to support losing weight. It contains: 

  • 290 calories
  • 7 grams of total fat
  • 21 grams of carbohydrates with 7 grams coming from fibre
  • 35 grams of protein

In addition, it contains anywhere from 9-30 percent of 22 essential micronutrients. In addition to these major factors that make Lean Body Meal Replacement ideal for those actively pursuing weight loss, it also has many other benefits that help it to be considered generally “healthy,” including:

  • 5 grams of sugar
  • zero added sugar
  • no artificial colours or preservatives
  • soy-free and gluten-free (relevant only for those who have allergies or intolerances)

Lastly, people enjoy the flavour of this shake, and it’s available in chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. Shakes that offer a delicious flavour can also assist with weight loss, as they can help fulfill cravings for sweets without the additional calories of a sweet treat, which unfortunately can easily derail an otherwise solid day in pursuit of your goals.

The Best Meal Replacement Shake for Gaining Weight

Adding a meal replacement shake to help you gain weight is a different beast. In stark contrast to shakes for losing weight, these products should be packed with calories. Fats, carbohydrates, and proteins should also be proportionally larger to create that balanced meal we keep talking about. 

Ideally, the carbohydrates should be complex to keep the glycemic index low and avoid the crash resulting from excessive blood sugar jumps and drops. Additionally, fibre in a big meal is important, and while the macro servings should be large, we still don’t want to see excessive sugar. These two factors lower the risk for the potential digestive upset as well.

Product Spotlight: Meal Prep by Allmax

Again, Meal Prep is exactly the kind of product we want to see for gaining weight or muscle mass. It has:

Meal Prep Meal Replacement by Allmax, Blueberry Cobbler
  • 510 calories
  • 10 grams of total fat
  • 54 grams of carbs with 9 grams from fibre
  • 50 grams of protein

Additionally, this product also contains essential minerals to support hydration, which is smart assuming you include challenging workouts in your efforts to gain weight. Other things that make this product unique are as follows:

  • 4 grams of sugar
  • zero added sugar
  • dairy-free product (relevant for those who are sensitive to dairy)
  • carbohydrates are complex and from whole foods like brown rice and sweet potatoes

As with Lean Body Meal Replacement mentioned above, Allmax is also known for its decadent flavours to help fight off sweets cravings. Even though gaining weight and muscle requires a surplus of calories, too many from desserts and simple carbs can lead to more fat accumulation than necessary or typically preferred. Meal Prep is available in peanut butter chocolate chip, banana nut bread, and blueberry cobbler.

The Best Meal Replacement Shake for a Post-Workout Protein Shake

Suppose you’re not particularly interested in gaining or losing weight, just sustaining your body appropriately after a workout when you aren’t able to refuel within that two-hour window we mentioned above. In that case, you want something different than either product previously discussed. 

Ideally, something right in the middle that has a nice serving of carbohydrates and proteins, and maybe even some fat. We don’t want excessive calories that can inadvertently lead to unwanted weight gain

For a post-workout meal replacement, you want a regular protein shake but with additional carbohydrates to plump up those glycogen stores again. 

Product Spotlight: Syntha-6 by BSN

This product is exactly what we’re looking for when searching for a product to support post-workout recovery in folks that require more than just your standard whey isolate shake. One serving contains:

Syntha-6 by BSN, Strawberry Milkshake
  • 200 calories
  • 1.5 grams of total fat
  • 15 grams of carbohydrates
  • 22 grams of protein

As you can see, it has a modest serving of carbs to help with recovery and more than enough protein to do the job. It doesn’t have excessive fats or sugars (4 grams total, and 2 grams are added). 

This product includes minerals for hydration, which is beneficial for that post-workout recovery. However, the one thing this shake doesn’t have is fibre, which is why it wouldn’t serve as an appropriate meal replacement shake in many other situations. 

Lastly, this shake is well-known as one of the best-tasting on the market. It’s available in chocolate milkshake, chocolate cake batter, vanilla ice cream, strawberry milkshake, banana, cookies and cream, and chocolate peanut butter.

The Best Meal Replacement Shake to Support Healthy Eating, Weight Maintenance, and Healthy Energy Levels

All of this information is great, but it probably doesn’t help you if you don’t have any of these fitness goals in mind. What if all you want is a convenient meal replacement for when you’re short on time or on the go?

In that case, we recommend something easily customizable to your specific needs.

Product Spotlight: Mammoth Meal 

This product is ideal for any of the goals mentioned above but specifically beneficial for those who just want to replace their lunch occasionally. It was designed to be easily doubled or tripled with its 40:40:20 macro split. One serving contains:

Mammoth Meal Replacement Powder, Vanilla Ice Cream
  • 200 calories
  • 4.5 grams of total fat
  • 20 grams of carbohydrates
  • 20 grams of protein

While this might serve as a decent meal for a small, sedentary woman, it’s hardly a snack for a large, active man. So, two or three servings might be more appropriate.

In addition to accounting for different bodies and activity levels, it’s also great for varying nutritional needs for a single person. For example, assuming you ate a large breakfast and are planning to go out for a decadent dinner, you might need just one serving. However, the following week, maybe you rushed out the door with only an apple and a cup of coffee. By lunchtime, you require a bigger meal, so you use two or three servings of Mammoth Meal. 

Mammoth Meal is an excellent meal replacement shake because it doesn’t have excessive sugar, and the nutrients come from real, whole foods like quinoa, oats, coconut oil, Greek yogurt, and more.

The Risks of Using Meal Replacement Shakes

You can eliminate most of the risks regarding any dietary supplement by simply choosing a reputable supplement brand and ensuring you know what’s in your product. Other than that, the risks of using a daily meal replacement shake are minimal but may include things like:

  • undernourishing your body with too few calories
  • digestive discomfort from too much fibre or unknown allergens

The bottom line is that healthy eating is relative to each individual and depends on their goals and ideas of what is healthy. However, with some consideration of what you need, meal replacement shakes can be an integral part of your healthy eating routine.

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