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Meal Replacement Shakes: Which One Is Right for You?

By Fitoru | 21 February 2019
meal replacement shake next to apple

With food being so delicious, you might not readily assume a meal replacement shake would be desirable, but that’s just not the case. While going out to a restaurant where the food is prepared and served to you is great, it can’t be an everyday thing (nor should it be, based on the extra calories found in restaurant food). Meal replacement shakes are fantastic Monday through Friday, when you’re on a dozen deadlines and just trying to eat something so you can get enough energy to get on with the day!

Meal replacement shakes come in many different varieties, some for muscle building, some for weight loss, and some as a nutritional necessity for those with temporary or permanent deficiencies. However, even without any specific goal in mind, some people may want a meal replacement shake just to save time. Think about it: especially for breakfast or lunch, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to grab the food you need in one conveniently portable bottle? To not have to worry about meal prep or sit-down time? Wouldn’t it also be nice to know you’re getting real nutrients, instead of grabbing the closest sugary snack or salty fast food option, or worse yet: not eating at all?

Peruse the different types of meal replacement shakes below, and decide which one might be best for you in the right circumstances.

Best Meal Replacement Shakes with Protein for Muscle Building

A quick way to increase protein intake during the day, check out the specifics of protein shakes.

Why You Would Need This

There are many reasons to increase your protein consumption:

  • To build muscle. Whether for looks, utility, or both, building the size of your muscles is one use for increased protein.
  • To heal tissue injury. When you need extra protein above and beyond your normal, healthy diet to re-knit tissue after injury or surgery.
  • To guard against protein deficiency. While not as common concern in First World countries like the United States where food is easily accessed, protein deficiency can be a concern to vegetarians and vegans, as well as people with certain protein deficiency diseases.

Best Ingredients

Protein in meal replacement shakes can come from many sources:

  1. Whey proteinRemember how little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet, eating her curds and whey? Whey is a milk protein with a high level of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). Whey digests quickly, arriving to your muscles fast so they can start building as soon as possible. There are small proteins called peptides in whey protein as well, short-chain amino acids that are great for increasing blood flow. For these reasons, whey protein is an excellent ingredient to look for in a meal replacement shake if you want to build muscle and would be especially good to consume immediately after training.
  2. Casein: Also known as “the other milk protein,” casein is the curd in milk (and in Mother Goose’s “Little Miss Muffet” rhyme). Casein has a slower digestion rate. While it more often comes in a protein powder form rather than in pre-made shakes, you could easily include it in homemade protein shakes, but it would take extra prep time. However, it does make for an ideal pre-bedtime snack due to its slow digestion pace, so you could take the time at the end of the day to prepare this shake, and use it to prevent catabolism while you sleep. Just like whey, casein boosts muscle protein synthesis, but if you still don’t know how to choose, there are suggestions that a whey and casein shake taken after training might increase muscle growth even better than taking either protein by itself.
  3. Creatine: Made from the three amino acids glycine, arginine, and methionine, creatine has been in use as a supplement since the 1970s. Creatine turns into creatine phosphate in the body, which helps make adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP provides fast energy for muscle contractions, allowing muscles to perform more reps in the gym (for example). Creatine draws more water into your muscle cells as well, increasing their size and capacity, and more recently creatine has been found to increase levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), which is critical for stimulating muscle growth.

Things to Keep in Mind

There is such a thing as too much protein. The question as to what amount of protein is right for you is a personal and sometimes circumstantial question. You might need a lot more protein in your diet for a temporary period like qualifying in a weight-lifting competition. You might need extra protein on a doctor’s orders post-surgery. However, if you’re increasing your protein intake on your own for the purposes of working out, beware the potential complication of rhabdomyolysis (also known as rhabdo for short).

Rhabdomyolysis is a deadly serious syndrome caused by direct or indirect muscle injury. When muscle fibers die, they release their contents into the bloodstream, overwhelming the kidneys with excess protein. Symptoms might include severe swelling, as the kidneys are no longer processing at top speed, thus causing water retention. Without immediate treatment, this condition can lead to serious complications such as renal failure and death.

Recovery will require a complete cessation of all unnecessary muscle activity (no more working out, don’t even run to catch a bus), and a lot of hoping your body can recover and heal itself. So, if you’re working out harder than ever (which damages muscles before rebuilding them), and adding too much extra protein on top of that, beware of going too far, as rhabdomyolysis is an extremely dangerous concern.

Best Meal Replacement Shakes for Weight Loss

Find the best way to quickly access quick and healthy weight-loss solutions.

Why You Would Need This

  • To improve your physique. Sometimes the effort to lose weight is solely aesthetic, and that’s as good a reason as any. Whether to look slim and fit for your college graduation, wedding day, high school reunion, or theatrical debut, you want to find a healthy way to do it.
  • To increase your mobility. Excess weight puts a strain on your joints and your feet, not to mention it slows you down. Finding little ways to reduce calories without losing energy is key.
  • To avoid severe health consequences. You may need to lose weight on a doctor’s orders: to avoid or control type 2 diabetes, to qualify for a life-saving or life-changing surgery, or just for the sake of your heart health.

Best Ingredients

Whatever the reasons for your weight-loss efforts, here are the ingredients you’ll want to look for:

  1. Protein: Just because you’re trying to lose weight instead of stack muscles doesn’t mean a high-protein content shouldn’t be your first ingredient as well. Look for 10-15 grams of protein per serving.
  2. Fiber: Needed to keep your digestion in good working order, aim for shakes with 3-5 grams of fiber per serving.
  3. No or low sugar: Not so much an ingredient to find but to avoid like leprosy, sugar is too often added to ready-to-drink shakes and powder mixes because a sweet taste is more appealing to consumers. And while we’re on the subject, when seeking low-calorie shakes, the recommendation is to stay between 220-230 calories per serving (you don’t want your body to think it’s starving).

Things to Keep In Mind

Healthy weight management is important, so the dangers to watch out for include unhealthy ingredients added for taste like sugars, corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, and chemical preservatives. Some of the shakes on the market have more grams of sugar than they do grams of protein, which is why the right ingredients matter when it comes to pre-made shakes you can purchase. Homemade weight-loss shakes might be the best solution here: only choose foods and supplements you know you want, and know are good for you; mix and match to taste until you find what you like.

Also keep in mind that meal replacement shakes most likely won’t be a long-term solution for weight management. A healthy diet cannot be replaced fully or indefinitely, and when it comes to losing weight that was brought on by excess calories and a sedentary lifestyle, that weight might not go away without changing the way you eat and which foods you choose. Whole foods contain certain antioxidants and enzymes that are difficult to bottle, and there will always be less fiber in a shake than you’ll find in healthy foods like fruits and vegetables. If you’re going to utilize meal replacement shakes to lose weight, try to couple that with some sustainable changes to your eating habits.

Meal Replacement Shakes for Everybody!

Maybe not every body or everybody, but if you want to explore meal replacement shakes as an option for any reason, know that there are a variety of options to suit us all. For instance:

  • Vegan and vegetarian meal replacement shakes: If you want to go green while on the go and maintain your dietary ethics, there are vegan and vegetarian options for meal replacement powders and shakes. Organic? Non-GMO? Gluten free? Soy free? Stevia free? Look and ye shall find.
  • Low-carb meal replacement shakes: Say you’re on the keto diet and know that extra carbs only delay your journey to a state of ketosis…can you still use meal replacement shakes? Yes, you can! Just search for shake mixes that have the balance you’re looking for between low-carbs and good protein content.
  • Meal replacement shakes for women: If you are now or have ever been a woman, you know that while both men and women might need the shakes previously discussed—for weight loss or to build muscle, for vegetarian or keto diets—there are some vitamin and nutrient needs specific to women. Don’t be fooled by labels with pink colors and pictures of chocolate that pander to women. Look for nutritional contents that include the vitamins often lost during menstruation, for example.

The variety never ends. While there is no way to completely discontinue the need for a healthy meal in the human diet, you can replace one or two here and there to keep you fit while moving through this busy modern world.


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