There are a lot of reasons why someone may want to drink their calories. Strength athletes or hard-gainers who need to eat thousands of calories a day may not be able to stomach another bite of solid food. Or, busy gym-goers can drink them to hit their daily macros. This is where meal replacement powders come into play. Generally, they’re full of protein, carbs, fats, and vitamins to fuel the body with what it needs. Better yet, they’re way more convenient than breaking out the Dutch oven.
There’s no one answer for everyone regarding selecting the best meal replacement shake. It’s individual to you, and that’s why, after testing many, many products, we’ve landed on a wide variety that can suit a variety of needs.
Best Meal Replacement Picks
- Best Meal Replacement Shake Overall: Ample
- Best Meal Replacement Shake for Keto: Ample K
- Best Vitamin-Rich Meal Replacement Shake: Huel
- Best Plant-Based Meal Replacement Shake: Vega One All-in-One Shake
- Best Meal Replacement Shake for Mass Gaining: Transparent Labs Mass Gainer
- Best Meal Replacement Shake for Weight Loss: IdealShape’s IdealShake
- Best Meal Replacement Shake for Men: Huel
- Best Low-Calorie Meal Replacement Shake: IdealShape’s IdealShake
- Best Meal Replacement Shake for Diabetes: 310 Meal Replacement Shake
- Best Meal Replacement Shake for Elderly: IdealShape’s IdealShake
Meal Replacement Shake Video Review
Just like the meal replacement shakes on this list, our video review is convenient, easy to digest, and loaded with useful stuff. Check it out to gain even more insight into how we picked and tested the best meal replacement supplements.
Note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t take the place of qualified medical advice. If you’re looking to make a significant change to your diet and training regimen, or to replace a significant percentage of your food with meal replacements, please consult your medical professional first.
Best Meal Replacement Overall
To land on the best, we didn’t just look at the vitamins and minerals. The macronutrients need to be balanced; it needs to be filling, and deliver more than just essential nutrition. And we found it.
Don’t let the 400-calories serving freak you out — after all, we’re talking about meal replacements, not light snacks. Ample has great macros: 27 grams of protein, 25 grams of carbs (10 grams of fiber), and 21 grams of fat. All that protein, fiber, and fat make it filling (and delicious). It also packs 40 billion CFUs of probiotic bacteria from six different strains, which may be an important part of losing weight and maximizing nutrient absorption.
Who Should Buy Ample
- People who limit artificial ingredients. There are no artificial flavors or sweeteners.
- Anyone who wants to emphasize their digestive health. Very few of these shakes provide this much fiber, prebiotic fiber, and probiotic bacteria.
- Folks who want to feel full, as the combination of fiber, fat, and protein make for a filling drink.
- People who are focused on reducing inflammation. Ample goes to great lengths to ensure it’s low in Omega-6 and other potentially inflammatory ingredients.
Who Shouldn’t Buy Ample
- People who want many vitamins and minerals in their meal replacement shakes. Ample only provides 25 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin D, magnesium, and calcium.
- Penny pinchers. This shake is pricier per serving. Though on a per calorie basis, it’s pretty reasonable.
- Vegetarians; it contains collagen.
Ample is extraordinarily tasty, and it’s all-natural, plus it has a big emphasis on gut health, fiber, and fat.
Best Meal Replacement for Keto
Ample’s attempt at a keto-friendly product hit the mark. Available in both 400- and 600-calorie varieties, it avoids some of the common pitfalls of keto shakes, like too much protein or not enough fat. There are 50 grams of fat in the larger size along with 19 grams of protein and 22 grams of carbohydrates with 13 grams of fiber and 3 grams of sugar. Compared to the other Ample brand on this list, Ample K has 25 percent of your daily Vitamin D, calcium, and magnesium. Remember, there are no artificial ingredients either, so there aren’t many reasons to avoid this one.
Who Should Buy Ample K
- People following a strict keto diet.
- Folks who don’t want artificial ingredients should avoid this pick.
Who Shouldn’t Buy Ample K
- Penny pinchers; this is a pricy product.
- An athlete or more active person who requires more carbohydrates.
Ample K is delicious and, unlike many keto shakes, has many ingredients known for helping reduce inflammation instead of merely making a shake out of butter powder and cocoa.
Best Vitamin-Rich Meal Replacement Shake
For folks who are more health-conscious, we’ve found a formula that offers up a tremendous amount of vitamins, minerals, and a few valuable extras.
This vegan powder delivers great macros (with a moderate amount of fat) and 27 vitamins and minerals — including chromium and choline — plus a few extras such as kombucha and acerola cherries (which are excellent sources of B and C vitamins). It also boasts an ample amount of Omega-3 fatty acids, so it’s a pretty-robust formula altogether.
Who Should Buy Huel
- Anyone tired of “meal replacements” that are more like protein shakes; this has carbs and fat, but not too much and not too little.
- People who want a meal replacement with as many vitamins and minerals as possible, Huel has everything from chromium to choline.
- Are you looking for Omega-3s? Huel has almost four grams per serving in the form of ALA.
- People who are looking to consume fewer animal products, as Huel is entirely vegan.
Who Shouldn’t Buy Huel
- Folks who limit artificial sweeteners, as Huel contains sucralose. There’s an unflavored version, but you’ll probably want to add some sweetener — it’s not great.
- If you’re sensitive to gums, you won’t love the xanthan, acacia, and guar here.
Huel suits almost everyone except low carb dieters, and the protein is complete even though it’s plant-based.
Best Plant-Based Meal Replacement Shake
The best plant-based meal replacement shake offers up protein, sure, but also an array of antioxidants, vitamins, fiber, and even probiotics.
Vega One Organic All-in-One Shake
Vega combines pea, sunflower seed, and pumpkin seed protein to deliver 20 grams of the muscle-building micronutrient in each 140-calorie serving. They also offer up 50% of the RDI of eight vitamin/minerals, include superfoods (such as kale, chard, and broccoli), and half a gram of Omega-3. For those who do care, it is certified organic, too.
Who Should Buy Vega One Organic All-in-One Shake
- Vegans and vegetarians who want to up their protein intake.
- Any person who wants to increase the number of green foods they get in their diet.
Who Shouldn’t Buy Vega One Organic All-in-One Shake
- People looking to bulk up. At 140 calories, this is essentially a protein shake with slightly more carbs (10 grams per serving).
- Folks who prefer to get their protein from dairy sources such as whey isolate.
Vega offers a complete meal replacement formula that leans heavily on micronutrients and “super” foods. However, it only packs 140 calories.
Best Meal Replacement for Mass Gaining
For some athletes, the idea of a meal replacement isn’t to replace food but to act as an additional meal to meet increased calorie and nutrient requirements. We think Transparent Labs Mass Gainer stands above the rest.
Transparent Labs Mass Gainer
Want to bulk up? The 53 grams of protein and 114 grams of carbs — made up of tapioca, oat, and sweet potato — will help. Transparent Labs’ Mass Gainer also includes MCTs from coconut, as well as a serving of creatine monohydrate (which can help with strength and power production). It contains no artificial flavors, colors or sweeteners.
Who Should Buy Transparent Labs Mass Gainer
- People who want a mass gainer supplement free of artificial flavors, colors, or sweeteners.
- Athletes looking for a convenient source of extra calories with a specific macronutrient split. This one offers 53 grams of protein, 114 grams of carbs, and just 14 grams of fat (per serving).
- Athletes who are also looking for a dose of creatine. Each two-scop serving offers three grams of creatine.
Who Shouldn’t Buy Transparent Labs Mass Gainer
- People who are looking to lean out. Other meal replacements on this list don’t pack 760 calories per serving.
- Folks looking for something with a more robust micronutrient profile.
Transparent Labs Mass Gainer shouldn’t replace food, but it’s a great choice for building muscle mass.
Best Meal Replacement for Weight Loss
When people are looking for weight loss focused shakes, the emphasis tends to be less on lots of fat and fiber and more on keeping calories low — which is fair enough!
Disclaimer: Please note that none of these products describe themselves as weight loss supplements and should not be taken as such. Please consult with a medical professional before beginning any weight loss protocol.
What’s to like is that IdealShake only has one gram of sugar and just 120 calories per serving. So, it’s pretty easy to keep the calories down with this product. That said, the shake only offers 11 grams of protein — which is half of what most whey protein shakes have — and 12 grams of carbs. That said, what makes this a great weight-loss specific supplement is the Slendesta. Potatoes, it turns out, are one of the most satiating foods on Earth and IdealShape believes that this potato extract could make the product one of the most filling low-calorie beverages around.
Who Should Buy IdealShape’s IdealShake
- Anybody who wants a shake that’s both filling and low calorie. The potato extract here really does help with satiety.
- Folks who like a wide variety of potently dosed vitamins and minerals; IdealShake has a good 50 percent of most of your micronutrients.
- It contains digestive enzymes, which might be useful for folks with sensitive stomachs.
Who Shouldn’t Buy IdealShape’s IdealShake
- Those who want to replace a meal; IdealShake is too low in calories and probably too sweet to replace a full 500- to 1,000-calorie meal.
- Athletes or bodybuilders who need protein and carbs. While great for keeping you full, IdealShake lacks in these two macros, big time, compared to other brands on this list.
IdealShake is one of our favorite meal replacements all around, and it’s terrific for those looking to minimize calories and hunger — yes, it can be done!
Best Meal Replacement for Men
In our extensive article on optimizing testosterone production, one pointer leaped out at us: you need to eat enough protein, carbs, fat, and all the micronutrients. It’s not just about fat or Vitamin D. You need enough of everything.
That’s why Huel landed at the top of our list for meal replacements for men: it’s got a fantastic balance of macronutrients and micronutrients (yes, including Vitamin D), plus it’s got plenty of Omega-3 fatty acids to help with inflammation, which might hamper T production. It’s also a great product for both low and high-calorie diets: you simply adjust the number of scoops, and the flavor is mild enough that it’s too not overwhelming that you can’t down 600 calories of the stuff.
Who Should Buy Huel
- People who don’t just want plenty of micronutrients, but a good serving of protein, carbs, fat, and fiber as well.
- Anyone looking to build or maintain muscle. It’s easy to adjust your serving to provide as many calories as you like.
- Those who want Omega-3s with their meal replacement.
Who Shouldn’t Buy Huel
- Folks who want to limit artificial sweeteners, although there is a “natural” version.
- Women. That’s not to say women can’t benefit from Huel, but there may be a better option on this list.
Huel is a fantastic meal replacement for just about any goal, so long as you’re fine with a little sucralose and an oat-like taste.
Best Low-Calorie Meal Replacement
Some meal replacements are low in calories, but they’re so low in fat and carbs that they’re not that satiating or nutritious.
There are only 100 calories in a scoop but you’re getting 11 grams of protein, five grams of fiber, and about 75 percent of your recommended daily intake of 15 vitamins and minerals. There are also enzymes to aid digestion, but what makes it even more diet-friendly is the addition of an extract made from potato protein, which may help to decrease hunger.
Who Should Buy IdealShape’s IdealShake
- People who want a lot of nutrition in their shake; there’s about 75 percent of the RDI of most vitamins and minerals here.
- Anyone who struggles with hunger. The fiber, protein, and (above all) potato extract do a great job of satiating hunger on very few calories.
- Folks who like enzymes in their shakes, as they may help nutrient absorption.
Who Shouldn’t Buy IdealShape’s IdealShake
- People who want to support athletic performance; there are very few calories and carbs, here.
It’s hard to combine “low calorie” and “satiating,” but IdealShake does a very commendable job here.
Best Meal Replacement for Diabetes
It’s imperative to note that people with diabetes should speak to a physician or certified diabetes educator before trying any new supplements. This isn’t medical advice.
310 Meal Replacement Shake
People with diabetes tend to prefer shakes with plenty of protein and fiber and not much saturated fat or cholesterol. 310 Shake fits that bill perfectly. With 15 grams of protein and five grams of fiber, there are just two grams of net carbs per serving and no saturated fat or cholesterol at all. 310 Meal Replacement is also on point with about 30 percent of the recommended daily intake of some two dozen vitamins and minerals. The consumers concerned about the potential effects of sucralose on insulin sensitivity will be glad to learn there are no artificial sweeteners here either.
Who Should Buy 310 Meal Replacement Shake
- People who want a shake with protein and fiber to help slow digestion.
- Anyone after a really low-calorie shake; there are just 90 in a serving.
- Those who want to avoid artificial sweeteners.
Who Shouldn’t Buy 310 Meal Replacement Shake
- Anyone who wants a shake to replace a meal. Let’s be honest, 90 calories isn’t a meal.
- People who like plenty of carbs to fuel energy; there are just two net carbs in a scoop.
310 shake has a nice, mild flavor, and it contains no saturated fat or cholesterol. Whatever your diet, there’s a good chance there’s room for a 310 shake.
Best Meal Replacement for Elderly
As people age, they tend to absorb certain nutrients more poorly and therefore need more of some vitamins and minerals. That’s why we landed on this nutritious meal shake.
This shake is particularly high in a lot of vitamins and minerals that are important for older folks. IdealShake includes a good hit of protein, over 50 percent of the RDI of calcium, and 20 percent of your Vitamin D, all of which are crucial for strong bones. Plus, there’s plenty of B12 for brain health and 20 percent of your daily fiber to help you stay regular. It’s quite sweet, but IdealShape also has a naturally sweetened version that may be an alternative for those without a sweet tooth.
Who Should Buy IdealShape’s IdealShake
- Folks interested in bone health; there’s plenty of Vitamin D and calcium here.
- Those who want a lot of micronutrients, which may be preferable to those with hampered absorption.
Who Shouldn’t Buy IdealShape’s IdealShake
- People who don’t love artificially sweetened products, though there’s a naturally sweetened version that may be preferable.
- Folks who need help consuming more calories; IdealShake is quite low in calories. High energy meals will still need to be consumed at other times.
If you’re concerned about your nutrient absorption or any other nutrition-related issues as you age, it’s best to share them with a physician. That said, we found IdealShake to contain a lot of nutrients that tend to be favored by older folks.
Can You Live On Just Meal Replacements?
So can you really replace a meal with powder? It depends on who you ask. There have been quite a few meal replacements out there that have aspired to completely replace food and encourage consumers to live on nothing but their product.
That has now become pretty uncommon, with the argument leaning toward what became one of Soylent’s slogans: it shouldn’t replace every meal, but it can replace any meal.
Is that a good idea? It’s complicated, but there’s pretty decent evidence that meal replacements can be smart for certain consumers. A meta-analysis of six randomized controlled trials, published in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, found that adding one of these products into a low-calorie diet — that part is important — “can safely and effectively produce significant sustainable weight loss and improve weight-related risk factors of disease.” (1)
Multiple studies, like a 2018 randomized controlled trial published in Nutrition & Health, have also suggested they can be effective at helping to manage Type 2 diabetes, perhaps by helping with calorie control or blood sugar levels. (2)(3)
That said, there are a lot of ingredients in whole foods that aren’t vitamins or minerals but are still healthful. Meal replacements will often (but not always) have all the essential vitamins and minerals. However, certain antioxidants and phytonutrients are more abundant in whole foods. (An example would be indole-3-carbinol, which may help to balance hormones and is found in broccoli.)
So, you should use these shakes as supplements and still eat plenty of real foods in addition to your powder.
How We Decide the Best
Meal replacement shakes vary enormously concerning the nutrition they provide — and human beings differ significantly with regard to the nutrition they need. Athletes might want more carbs. Women might want more biotin. Men might want more Vitamin D. Some folks want a lot of calories. Others want a nutritious snack. Here are the criteria we used when trying to select the best meal replacement for a variety of needs.
Diets are composed of calories, which are pretty much always made up of a combination of the three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. A good meal replacement, unless it’s marketed for an unusual type of diet (e.g. keto) has a balanced combination of the three.
When looking at what makes a diet healthy outside of macronutrients, you’re more or less looking at five components.
Organic molecules that an organism needs for the proper functioning of its metabolism but can’t synthesize on its own. There are thirteen required for human metabolism.
Chemical elements are made in the earth and can’t be made by living organisms. Plants get them from the soil and animals get them from plants. There are five major minerals for humans (calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and magnesium) and the rest are called “trace elements.”
Essential fatty acids
Fatty acids that we can’t make ourselves so we need to consume them. Linked to a variety of health effects such as immunity and mental health, a 2011 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the amount of Omega-6 in Americans’ diet has increased astronomically over the past hundred years. (4) You want your ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 to be as close as possible, which is why a lot of people supplement with fish oil.
A kind of carbohydrate that the body doesn’t quite digest, fiber is usually categorized as “soluble” or “insoluble,” both of which serve important functions for digestive health. It’s uncommon for a product’s nutrition label to mention what kind of fiber it contains.
Compounds found in plants that aren’t considered essential for human survival — and some are poisons — but many (like catechins in tea) are linked to health benefits and lower risks of various diseases.
When you’re assessing the quality of a meal replacement, you’re usually looking for vitamins, minerals, fiber, and if you’re lucky, Omega-3 fatty acids. While they may contain ingredients with phytochemicals (like the isoflavones in soy), they’re seldom specifically written on the ingredients list. For those kinds of supplements, you may want to look at greens powders.
Before Buying a Meal Replacement
It can be a little daunting to look for products that are meant to replace a whole meal not just one macronutrient like a protein shake. Here are a few pointers.
You’re Not Replacing Your Whole Diet
Don’t even think about living on meal replacements alone; the body needs phytochemicals and enzymes and antioxidants that you’ll only get from plants. This attitude — that shakes are helpful, but not everything — should help to take the pressure off of finding the absolute perfect option.
Ask About the Calories
When people consume too many calories they gain weight, but if they don’t eat enough calories they experience fatigue, nutrient deficiencies, and more. So before you buy the lowest calorie meal replacement on the market because you want to lose weight, ask yourself if it’s enough to keep hunger at bay and lower the odds of you overeating later. For some people, they’ll eat one or two large meals after taking one or two meal replacements, and it works wonders for them. For others, they’ll have 90-calorie shakes and wind up so hungry and unsatisfied that they binge later.
Make Sure It’s Satiating
If you’re trying to bulk up and gain a lot of muscle, this won’t apply to you. But if you want a shake to be satiating, consider not just the calories but also ensure there’s adequate protein, fiber, and fat, all of which are great for satisfying hunger. Slimfast, for example, is very low in protein and fat, so although it’s nutritious we didn’t find it to be that great a meal replacement.
Chat With a Doctor
Before making any changes to your diet and supplement regimen, like replacing a meal with powder, be sure to book an appointment with a physician or a registered dietitian to make sure it’s a good option for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
Meal replacement shakes are designed to do what they say: Replace a meal, which can be a convenient way to get nutrition for your specific dietary needs. Some meal replacement shakes were originally designed to serve as a full and complete nutritional substitute for regular food. However, relatively few recommend drinking only their product to meet your full nutritional needs. Speak to your medical professional before you consider switching to a completely meal replacement-based diet. Meal replacement shakes can be a convenient and easily measurable way to track calories, macronutrients, and micronutrients. Many people use them to help meet weight loss goals by tracking calories and hitting a calorie deficit. But like it or not, you only lose weight if you’re in a calorie deficit — that’s the main thing to be mindful of. A good meal replacement has a balance of protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals. Usually the ingredients have whey (made from dairy) for the protein, maltodextrin for the carbs, and vitamins and minerals are added in. Many meal replacements try to be as low in fat as possible, and it’s hard to say where the fat comes from — sunflower oil isn’t uncommon. Some meal replacements are as low as 90 calories, others are as high as 700 calories or more. It’s fair to say that 90-calorie meal replacements aren’t really replacing meals — these sorts of products are typically very low in carbs and fat and wind up closer to nutritious protein shakes than anything approximating the calorie and macronutrient balance of an actual meal.
Can I only drink meal replacement shakes?
Can I use meal replacement shakes to lose weight?
What is in a meal replacement?
How many calories are in a meal replacement?
Meal replacement shakes are designed to do what they say: Replace a meal, which can be a convenient way to get nutrition for your specific dietary needs. Some meal replacement shakes were originally designed to serve as a full and complete nutritional substitute for regular food. However, relatively few recommend drinking only their product to meet your full nutritional needs. Speak to your medical professional before you consider switching to a completely meal replacement-based diet.
Meal replacement shakes can be a convenient and easily measurable way to track calories, macronutrients, and micronutrients. Many people use them to help meet weight loss goals by tracking calories and hitting a calorie deficit. But like it or not, you only lose weight if you’re in a calorie deficit — that’s the main thing to be mindful of.
A good meal replacement has a balance of protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals. Usually the ingredients have whey (made from dairy) for the protein, maltodextrin for the carbs, and vitamins and minerals are added in. Many meal replacements try to be as low in fat as possible, and it’s hard to say where the fat comes from — sunflower oil isn’t uncommon.
Some meal replacements are as low as 90 calories, others are as high as 700 calories or more. It’s fair to say that 90-calorie meal replacements aren’t really replacing meals — these sorts of products are typically very low in carbs and fat and wind up closer to nutritious protein shakes than anything approximating the calorie and macronutrient balance of an actual meal.
Meal replacements really aren’t just for the bedridden and the elderly. They can support a variety of lifestyles and needs, and let’s be honest: we could all stand to save a few minutes of meal prep. Of all the products we’ve tried these were the most outstanding in their field, so no matter if you’re looking for nutrition, for weight gain, for weight loss, or another goal, we’re confident the best meal replacement shakes can be easily picked for you.
- Heymsfield SB, et al. Weight management using a meal replacement strategy: meta and pooling analysis from six studies. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2003 May;27(5):537-49.
- Boonyavarakul A, et al. Effects of meal replacement therapy on metabolic outcomes in Thai patients with type 2 diabetes: A randomized controlled trial. Nutr Health. 2018 Oct 1:260106018800074.
- Kempf K, et al. Individualized Meal Replacement Therapy Improves Clinically Relevant Long-Term Glycemic Control in Poorly Controlled Type 2 Diabetes Patients. Nutrients. 2018 Aug 4;10(8).
- Blasbalg TL, et al. Changes in consumption of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the United States during the 20th century. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 May;93(5):950-62.