Meal replacement shakes have been proven as an effective method to cut weight quickly, but only if you use them correctly. Good quality shakes used to replace meals at the right time can help you significantly cut calories without missing out on the nutrients that you need.
But done the wrong way, you can find yourself feeling the hunger between meals and unexpectedly increasing your calorie intake.
In this article, we will explain exactly how meal replacement shakes work, and how to make the best use of them for weight loss. We’ll also share our list of the ten best meal replacement shakes that you can buy today, and top tips for choosing the right shake to help you reach your goals.
How do Meal Replacement Shakes Work?
First of all, it is important to distinguish between meal replacement shakes and protein shakes, since they aren’t the same thing, and they are used for different purposes.
Protein shakes are an additional form of nutrition that you consume between meals to give you workouts an extra boost. They usually contain lots of protein and not much else to give your muscles the fuel that they need to work hard and the gym, and heal, grow, and recover post-workout.
Meal replacement shakes are similar in that they contain lots of protein and are low in calories, but their purpose is different. They are meant to be a low-calorie replacement for one of your standard “three meals a day”. Replacing a 500-800 calorie meal with a 200-calorie shake can go a long way towards reaching your desired calorie deficit.
The shake contains lots of protein mostly to help you feel full after the shake so that you don’t crave snacks before your next meal.
But when you are cutting calories, you are also at risk of missing out on many of the vitamins and minerals that you need in your diet. Good meal replacement shakes also take this into account and include nutrient packs containing a variety of vitamins and minerals to ensure that you aren’t missing out on anything.
In addition to this, there is also evidence that replacing some of your “solid foods” with “liquid foods”, such as meal replacement shakes, can enhance weight loss outcomes.
According to a recent study, participants who replaced two meals a day with a shake, hot chocolate, or soup lost 7.8% of their body weight, while people eating the same calories, but without the use of shakes, lost only 1.5% of their body weight.
While it is not well-understood, it seems that the way the body digests and processes liquids can also aid in weight loss. But it is generally not recommended to stay on these types of diets for more than three months at a time without a break.
Which Meals Should I Replace with Shakes?
While you can replace all of your meals with shakes for limited periods of time for specific purposes, such as a weigh-in, it is better to replace just one or two of your meals to maintain a reasonable rather than extreme calorie deficit.
You should replace depending on your individual energy cycle and when you tend to work out.
For example, if you generally take it slower in the morning and workout in the evening, you might want to replace breakfast, but have a fuller lunch to give you the energy you need for your workout later in the day.
If you are interested in intermittent fasting, you might want to replace your last meal of the day, so that you reach stored energy burn sooner in the evening.
It is worth experimenting with which meals to replace so that you can ensure that you have the energy you need for everything you need to do, and you don’t find yourself feeling hungry at moments when you might give in to a tempting snack that can undo all of your hard work.
What Calorie Deficit Should I Maintain?
The calorie deficit that you want to maintain depends on what you want to achieve, how quickly, and your body.
One pound of human body weight contains 3,500 calories. So, to lose one pound of weight, you need a deficit of 3,500 calories. With this in mind, most dietitians recommend a daily calorie deficit of 500 calories. This allows you to lose around one pound a week but is not the kind of extreme deficit that leads to cravings and binge eating. However, you can maintain a higher or lower calorie deficit.
However, it is worth noting, that if you maintain a calorie deficit for an extended period of time, your body will adapt to its new fuel levels and, in time, you will stop losing weight. You will then need to re-assess how many calories your body actually needs to survive and establish a new calorie deficit to continue to lose weight.
For this reason, some dietitians recommend a “metabolic confusion diet”. This basically means not maintaining the same calorie deficit daily, but still aiming for the same weekly or fortnightly calorie deficit. It is believed that this can help prevent the body from adapting to lower energy input and maintain weight loss for longer.
On a metabolic confusion diet, you might pass two days with no calorie deficit, and then three days on extremely low calories, for example, a 1,000-calorie deficit. You might then return to stable for two days, before passing five days with a lower 500 calorie deficit.
10 Best Meal Replacement Shakes
USN Diet Fuel Meal Replacement Shake
USN is one of the biggest names on the market when it comes to meal replacement shakes, so they give you plenty of options. Choose from eight different options, which include both different flavors and strict vegan options. Their main recipe is based on whey protein, but the vegan options use vegetable-based proteins.
While a two-scoop meal contains just 200 calories, it has 25 grams of protein to help you feel full and give your body the fuel it needs to take care of itself. It uses artificial sweeteners but couples this with chromium, which is effective for maintaining normal blood sugar levels. This is balanced with just 17 grams of carbohydrates.
The overall formula is reinforced with a nutrient pack that contains all the essential Vitamins, Niacin, Biotin, Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Iron, Zinc, and more. So, while controlling calories, you can be sure that you are giving your body what it needs to thrive.
- Choose from eight flavor options
- Vegan options available
- 25g of protein (whey)
- Chromium for stable blood sugar levels
- Reinforced with a nutrient pack
SlimZest Meal Replacement Shakes
If you are principally looking for a high-calorie deficit, then these SlimZest shakes contain just 114 calories per serving but should leave you feeling full and satisfied. Choose from banana, chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla flavors.
Each serving contains 24 grams of protein (soy and whey), and just 1.8 grams of carbs, making it an ideal option for anyone on the Keto diet. It also contains 27 vitamins and minerals, and some more exotic ingredients for energy and weight loss including acai berry, green coffee, and L-Carnitine.
- 4 flavors
- Just 114 calories per serving
- 24 grams of protein and less than 2 grams of carbs
- 27 vitamins and minerals
- Acai berry, green coffee, and L-Carnitine for weight loss
SCI-MX Diet Meal Replacement Shake
This formula is ideal for anyone looking for low calories and carbs but lots of protein. Choose from chocolate or strawberry for a soy and whey protein-based shake that contains just 205 calories, 14 grams of carbs, but a significant 25 grams of healthy protein.
Every serving is reinforced with a nutrient pack that claims to contain at least 30% of your daily vitamin and mineral needs. It is particularly rich in Calcium and Zinc, both of which are essential for healthy metabolism, especially when it comes to stored fats.
- Available in chocolate and strawberry
- 25 grams of protein
- 14 grams of carbs
- 30% of your daily vitamins and minerals
- Calcium and Zinc for better digestion
Protein Works Diet Meal Replacement
Protein Works is producing meal replacement shakes alongside their protein powders and is at the front of the market if you are looking to retain muscle mass while losing weight. Plus, they have thirteen different flavors, such as Velvet Vanilla and Caramel Macchiato, which means that there is something for even the pickiest eaters.
Each shake contains 249 calories and 20 grams of soy and whey-based protein, matches with 32 grams of carbs (so not one for the Keto diet). There is an added nutrient pack with over 20 important vitamins and minerals, and 6.7 grams of fiber to help avoid bloating.
Developed with bodybuilders in mind, this blend aims not only to help you feel full but also to reduce tiredness and make sure you have energy when you need it.
- 13 flavors available
- 20 grams of protein
- Soy and why protein mix
- Nutrient pack with 20 vitamins and minerals
PhD Nutrition Life Range Complete Meal Solution
PhD Nutrition stands out for providing a completely vegan option, made principally from pea protein isolate. With just 250 calories per serving, each shake delivers 30 grams of protein with just 16 grams of carbs.
The shake is reinforced with 23 essential vitamins and minerals, plus probiotics and digestive enzymes for better metabolism. Plus, don’t forget matcha green tea for weight loss and Nordic berries for a boost of anthocyanins for a strong antioxidating effect.
- Vegan, 100% plant-based
- 4 flavors
- 30 grams of protein
- 23 essential vitamins and minerals (includes matcha green tea and Nordic berries)
- Probiotics and digestive enzymes
yFood This Is Food Meal Replacement Shake
yFood has descended on the market as a trendy brand, but it is also a good quality product, and there are six delicious flavors to choose from including the less common Berry and Coconut. Choose to buy as a powder or pre-prepared shake.
Each shake contains 400 calories, which is more than most other shakes, so is better if you are looking for less of a calorie deficit. For this, you receive 25 grams of protein, 7.5 grams of carbs, and 26 essential vitamins and minerals specially selected to reinforce your health.
- 6 flavors
- 400 calories per meal
- 25 grams of protein
- 26 vitamins and minerals
Active Shape by XLS Meal Replacement Shake
This is a new recipe from XLS, and they have learned from what others in the market are going right. Each shake contains just 229 calories, while packed with 22 grams of protein and a nutrient pack with 23 different essential vitamins and minerals. Each shake contains just 17 grams of carbs, so is ideal for carb cutters.
Based on a mix of soy and whey protein, unlike most shakes, which are recommended to be mixed with water, these shakes are meant to be made with skim milk. This makes them more satisfying in terms of taste and filling you up.
There are currently only three flavors on the market, but we will probably be seeing more soon as these shakes gain popularity.
- Three flavors
- 22 grams of protein
- 23 vitamins and minerals
- Low in carbohydrates
- Mix with skimmed milk
Shake That Weight Meal Replacement Shake
Shake That Weight is carving a space for itself in the market by offering a convenient subscription service so that you are never left short. They also have nine different delicious flavors sold in small packets, to help fight the boredom of swallowing down the same shake every day for a month.
Based on a mix of milk and vegetable proteins, each shake contains just 135 calories with 13grams of protein and 13 grams of carbohydrates. But the shakes are also designed for those on a very low-calorie diet, and so are reinforced with plenty of extra vitamins and minerals to ensure that you aren’t missing anything when you cut calories.
- 9 flavors
- Milk and vegetable proteins
- 135 calories
- 13 grams of protein
- Rich nutrient pack
Purition Keto Meal Replacement Shake
If you prefer a meal replacement shake that tastes a bit more like a coffee, then you will appreciate these Purition shakes, which are also designed to support a Keto diet. Each shake contains just 196 calories with 16 grams of protein and just 3 grams of carbs.
The shake has a full nutrition pack, and is particularly strong in essential fatty acids that help keep your body healthy when you are pushing yourself at the gym as well as monitoring your diet.
- Almond and Coffee & Walnut flavor
- Whey protein
- 196 calories per serving
- 16 grams of protein and 3 grams of carbohydrates
Amfit Nutrition Meal Replacement
While not everyone is a fan of Amazon basics products, they do offer an affordable option that ticks all the boxes as far as meal replacement shakes are concerned. Choose from three flavor options.
Based on whey protein, each shake contains 230 calories and 19 grams of protein to leave you feeling full. However, you can also expect 29 grams of carbs, so this is not the option for anyone on Keto or trying to significantly reduce their carb intake.
Amazon has its own nutrient pack aimed at giving you a boost and supporting digestion. In particular, a good dose of Zinc support carbohydrate metabolism, while Vitamin B6 helps with protein and glycogen metabolism.
- Three flavor options
- 19 grams of protein (whey)
- Nutrient pack for better digestion
- High in carbs
How To Choose a Meal Replacement Shake
A good meal replacement shake delivers a low-calorie meal that leaves you feeling full until you eat again. This generally means that you are looking for something that is low in calories and high in protein, as it is the protein that leaves you feeling full.
As a general rule, shakes should be around 200 calories with around 20 grams of protein. You will find shakes out there with lower calories (100-150) and less protein (10-15 grams), and these are often incorporated into a meal in combination with something else, such as a salad.
Most shakes will contain almost as many grams of carbohydrates as they do protein, but you should never choose a shake with more carbs than protein, as this can lead to energy crashes. If you are on Keto, or otherwise restricting carbs, there are options out there that are low in carbs, with only 2-10 grams of carbohydrates.
In addition to this, meal replacement shakes will contain “nutrient packs” that provide the vitamins and minerals that you need to thrive. Each shake should contain about 30% of your essential daily nutrients.
Meal replacement shakes have been proven as an effective way to maintain a calorie deficit without missing out on the essential vitamins and minerals that you need, and without feeling hunger cravings that can result in binge eating.
Of course, meal replacement shakes are only a tool and need to be part of an overall healthy diet and lifestyle to be effective.
- Meal Replacement Shakes and Nutrition Bars – DiabetesSpectrum
- Are Liquid Diets a Good Idea for Weight Loss? – Healthline
Last update on 2023-11-16 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API