Jump to

Farrinstitute is reader-supported. We may receive commissions on purchases made through links on our site.

Meal Replacement Shakes: Convenient and Nutritious Options

Meal Replacement Shakes: Convenient and Nutritious Options

By Kire Stojkovski M.D
Editor Jonathan Hoarau Published 14 December 2020
Time to read 8 min

What’s to come

Meal replacement options contain all the nutrients of a complete meal, leaving you feeling full for longer.
Weight loss shakes have many benefits: They are convenient, effective for some people trying to lose weight and provide energy and nutrients to get you through the day. They also help maintain blood sugar levels.

What Are Meal Replacement Shakes?

Meal replacement shakes are intended as replacements for a meal. They contain the same nutritional value but generally a lower total calorie intake. The best meal replacement drinks are rich in protein, which helps to control hunger and manage your appetite. They also contain fiber, carbs, and other nutrients.
Most people use them to help maintain or lose weight. They are also popular with athletes and busy people who haven’t always got the time to prepare healthy balanced meals.

How Do Replacement Shakes Work?

An average man needs between 2,000 and 3,000 calories per day to maintain his current body weight. For the average woman, this figure is between 1,600 and 2,400 calories [1].
High protein meal replacements are calorie-controlled products that can accelerate rapid loss of weight. At the same time, they also preserve lean body mass.
Typically, high quality meal replacements contain a large amount of protein. The protein is generally in the form of milk protein or soy protein powders, which you have to mix with water or skimmed milk. Replacement shakes also contain few carbs, low levels of saturated fat, and extra amounts of minerals and vitamins.
A meal replacement aims to provide your body with the protein it needs but then tend to have a low level of calories.

What Are the Benefits of Meal Replacement Shakes?

Eating a nutritious and balanced diet is the best way for you to stay healthy. However, circumstances may get in the way of preparing a full meal. One meal replacement beverage can provide you with a meal’s worth of nutrients for those days when you don’t have the time or cannot enjoy a proper meal.
A meal replacement shake has many benefits which include:

  •  Nutrient-packed
  • Low calorie
  • Easy to prepare
  • Help to kickstart weight loss

Meal Replacements Contain Lots of Nutrients

When you cut back on your calorie intake, it can be challenging to get all the nutrients your body needs.
The products contain added nutrients such as protein, fiber, carbs, and many essential vitamins and minerals. These can fill up the gap you’ve created by cutting back on calories.
Other nutrients contained in a meal replacement powder include calcium, potassium, Vitamin D, and iron. Many people lack these in their regular diet.

Meal Replacement Shakes Are Very Low Calorie

Consuming more calories than you expend is one of the causes of obesity [2]. Reducing your intake of calories plays an integral part in preventing weight gain. However, low-calorie diets can be tough to stick to because they often leave you feeling hungry.
The protein content can help you feel full for longer, but at the same time, you’re consuming fewer calories [3]. A liquid meal replacement typically contains around 150 to 200 calories. When you eat fewer calories than your body needs, it has to burn fat stores for its fuel.
Low calorie also means there are lower levels of saturated fat and carbs. Many replacement products now contain sugar alcohols because they contain fewer calories than other sweeteners.

Some Shakes Contain High Levels of Protein and Fiber

Many have high levels of fiber and protein. If your diet has high levels of protein, you may experience fewer cravings. It can also lower your desire to eat late at night and prevent weight gain.
A diet high in fiber and protein also has several other benefits, including less belly fat, reduced body fat overall, preservation of lean body mass, and an improvement in cardiovascular risk factors [4].

You Can Prepare a Complete Meal in a Few Minutes

These drinks come in many forms, some of which are a powder form that requires the addition of water or milk. You’ll get a scoop to use to measure out the correct amount, add the liquid, mix, and it’s good to go.
Replacement drinks can also be ready-to-drink, which means you just need to crack the top, and they’re ready.

Meal Replacements Can Kickstart Your Weight Loss Program

For some people, meal replacement drinks can be beneficial at the beginning of a weight loss program. It is an excellent way of counting the calories that you’re getting, which can be a very time-consuming process to begin with.
Your body also gets used to consuming fewer calories, but it doesn’t feel so much of a chore. All the nutrients your body needs are provided by the drink and the increased levels of protein act as an appetite suppressant [5].
Having a meal in shake-form also removes the sensory experience from eating, which helps you avoid overeating. For some people, this sensory experience plays a large role in the amount of food they eat, because it activates the reward centre of the brain

Best Meal Replacement Shakes

There are many products to choose from, but to help in your search we’ve done the hard work for you. Here is our list of the top six meal replacement beverages for 2020.

1. Orgain Organic Nutrition Shake - Best All-Organic

All Orgain protein drinks are certified organic. The company also produces an organic protein bar range.  The products are low in sugar and have high levels of grass-fed protein. They contain no artificial sweeteners, preservatives, or colorings. Orgain also produces a plant based protein alternative that is suitable for vegans.

How Does It Work?

Orgain Organic contains 16 grams of grass-fed protein and more omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin E than whey-based products. Protein is one of the most critical nutrients for losing weight. A high in protein shake boosts metabolism, reduces appetite, and changes several weight-regulating hormones [6].

Orgain Organic Nutrition Shake Side Effects

There are no severe side effects. However, one ingredient in Orgain Organic Nutrition may affect some people. Organic acacia gum provides 2 grams of fiber to help suppress appetite. However, some people may experience nausea, gas, and bloating.

Orgain Official Website

2. Labrada Whey Protein Meal Replacement Shake - Best for Reducing Appetite

Labrada is a company that has been manufacturing sports supplements for more than 20 years. Marketed as a Hi-Protein meal replacement product, the whey protein meal replacement also helps build muscle and burn fat.

How Does It Work?

Labrada Whey Protein Meal Replacement Powders contains 40 grams of protein powder per serving, which is a high amount compared with other shakes on the market. The protein powder provides a sustained flow of amino acids for increased strength and more rapid muscle growth. It also contains five grams of fiber, an ingredient that makes you feel fuller for longer [8] and no saturated fat.

Labrada Whey Protein Meal Replacement Side Effects

Side effects are not typical for anyone who takes Labrada Whey Protein Shakes. However, whey protein can cause some side effects when taken in high doses. These side effects might include nausea, bloating, and fatigue.

Labrada Official Website

3. Kirkland Signature Complete Nutrition Shake - Best Low Sugar

Unlike many other shakes on the market, Kirkland Signature Complete Nutrition contains a very low overall sugar content of just 5 grams of sugar per drink. There is no artificial sweet taste, thanks to a careful balance of real sugar and natural sweeteners. No artificial sweeteners are used. This drink is also gluten-free and excellent for people who are lactose intolerant.

How Does It Work?

Kirkland Complete Nutrition contains 15 grams of protein per serving. Amino acids help to enhance your energy and keep you fuller for longer. A Kirkland shake serving provides a balance of carbohydrates, fat, and protein along with vitamins and minerals. However, there are only 230 calories per serving, 20 of which come from fat.

Kirkland Signature Complete Nutrition Shake Side Effects

Kirkland Shakes have no serious side effects. However, some of the ingredients may cause digestive issues in some people.

Get Kirkland Signature

4. Garden of Life Organic Meal - Best for Vegans and Vegetarians

Garden of Life offers a raw, vegan, certified organic meal replacement. Each serving contains only 115 calories, but all the nutrients your body needs. There is no gluten, filler ingredients, or artificial sweeteners.

How Does It Work?

This product is perfect for those on a plant based diet because it contains 100% of your B12 needs, a vitamin that is often lacking in plant based diets [7]. A plant based protein level of 20 grams per scoop and 7 grams of fiber is more than most meal replacement products. Protein sources and fiber both help to alleviate hunger and help stave off reaching for unhealthy snacks.

Garden of Life Organic Side Effects

As with any product, certain ingredients may cause sensitivity in different people and result in some unwanted side effects. These might include indigestion, gas, and constipation. The chocolate-flavored shake contains naturally occurring caffeine, so it’s best enjoyed in the morning or early afternoon if you want to avoid it affecting your sleep.

Garden of Life Official Website

5. Shakeology - Best For Increased Nutrition

Shakeology is a cross between protein shakes and meal replacement shakes. It is popular among Beachbody enthusiasts. It is available in various flavors with vegan options for those who can’t or choose not to consume animal or dairy products.

How Does It Work?

You prepare Shakeology by adding water. It contains around 160 calories. Replacing a meal with a product that contains so few calories should result in lost weight. Many studies have shown that low-calorie meal replacements can be useful for short-term weight loss [8]. Shakeology contains whey and pea protein, vitamins and minerals, herbs, probiotics, digestive enzymes, and antioxidants.

Shakeology Side Effects

Side effects associated with Shakeology are mostly mild. They typically involve changes in digestion. Anyone sensitive to dairy products may experience discomfort as the non-vegan flavors are whey shakes.

Get Shakeology

6. Isagenix IsaLean Shake - Best for Lean Muscle Building

Isagenix is manufactured by a nutrition company that focuses on losing weight. IsaLean is one of its most popular products. They claim it has been clinically tested to promote lean muscle building and loss of weight.

How Does It Work?

You need two scoops for one serving. A typical service contains 240 calories, which is higher than some of the shakes we’ve reviewed here. One attractive benefit is that it can help you lose the excess pounds quickly because it restricts your calorie intake [9]. A typical serving contains 24 grams of protein, which can help increase lean muscle [10].

Isagenix IsaLean Shake Side Effects

Some people with lactose intolerance may experience gas and diarrhea after using IsaLean shakes..

Isagenix Official Website

How to Choose the Best Meal Replacement Shakes

With so many options available, finding the best meal replacement can be tricky. We’ve reviewed six popular varieties and uncovered what they could do for you. Fact-based research, backed up by scientific studies, means any claims made are legitimate.

Are Meal Replacement Shakes Legal?

Yes, good meal replacement products are legal and have been marketed in the US for many years. Consumers suffering from a nutritional deficiency or those unable to eat solid foods initially used these products.
Over the last few decades, companies have marketed them as a convenient and nutritious alternative or specifically for weight management.
There are no specific regulations for meal replacement products. However, there are restrictions on labeling and claims. The products we’ve chosen to review are known as “conventional foods.” The label must include a Nutrition Facts Panel to comply with regulatory requirements for food [11].
When manufacturers market products as weight-loss or weight maintenance products, the label needs to give details of the basis on which they’ve based the claims.

Are Meal Replacement Shakes Safe?

Research has shown that liquid meal replacements are safe and can be an effective way to lose body fat in the short term. In the long term, they can be useful as long as they are coupled with a long-term strategy to reintroduce whole foods

Do Meal Replacement Shakes Have Side Effects?

The best meal replacement shakes are generally suitable for most people, and there are little or no side effects. However, these shakes contain a range of different ingredients such as fiber that doesn’t affect everyone in the same way.
One of the main ingredients in many replacement meal drinks is whey. It is usually in the form of whey concentrate powder. The concentrate contains less lactose than milk, but it is not lactose-free. Anyone with lactose intolerance should avoid this type of product.

How to Use Meal Replacement Shakes?

Each best meal replacement shake is unique, so you should always follow the manufacturer’s recommended serving. Also, bear in mind the time you take the shake.
A meal replacement shake at breakfast is very convenient if you’re rushed for time. It helps to promote energy early in the day when you need it most.
A lunchtime shake is a great alternative if your typical lunch consists of a fast-food drive-thru or a rushed meal of junk food.
Take a meal replacement shake when you’re feeling peckish rather than reaching for an unhealthy snack.


Is a best meal replacement shake the answer if you want to manage your weight? Can you replace a meal with a meal replacement powder or ready-to-drink shake? There is some pretty good evidence that meal replacements can work for many people and can help them meet their weight loss goals.
They can contain essential vitamins and minerals, many of which might be missing from your usual diet. A meal replacement shake can also be a good meal option if you’re pressed for time and often eat on-the-go.
You should seek advice from a medical professional if you have underlying health issues or are pregnant.

“@context”: “https://schema.org”,
“@type”: “Article”,
“mainEntityOfPage”: {
“@type”: “WebPage”,
“@id”: “https://farrinstitute.org/best-meal-replacement-shakes/”
“headline”: “Best Meal Replacement Shakes in 2020: A One-Stop Solution To Help You Lose Weight”,
“description”: “Meal replacement options contain all the nutrients of a complete meal, leaving you feeling full for longer.”,
“image”: “https://farrinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/shakes.png.webp”,
“author”: {
“@type”: “”,
“name”: “Nadine Rabchenok”,
“url”: “https://farrinstitute.org/author/nadine-rabchenok/”
“publisher”: {
“@type”: “Organization”,
“name”: “Farr Institute”,
“logo”: {
“@type”: “ImageObject”,
“url”: “https://farrinstitute.org/”
“datePublished”: “2020-12-14”,
“dateModified”: “2023-05-29”


1. “Appendix 2. Estimated Calorie Needs per Day, by Age, Sex, and Physical Activity Level”. 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines. Health.gov. https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/appendix-2/

2. “Why people become overweight”. Harvard Health Publishing Harvard Medical School. June 24, 2019. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/why-people-become-overweight

3. “ Losing weight without dieting. Use of commercial foods as meal replacements for lunch produces an extended energy deficit”. 2011 Oct;57(2):311-7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21600254/

4. “Benefits of high-protein weight-loss diets: enough evidence for practice?”. Curr Opin Endocrinol Diabetes Obes. 2008 Oct;15(5):416-21. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18769212/

5. “The Influence of Higher Protein Intake and Greater Eating Frequency on Appetite Control in Overweight and Obese Men”. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2010 Sep; 18(9): 1725–1732. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4034047/

6. “The role of higher protein diets in weight control and obesity-related comorbidities”. Int J Obes (Lond). 2015 May; 39(5): 721–726. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4424378/

7. “Vitamin B12 among Vegetarians: Status, Assessment and Supplementation”. Nutrients. 2016 Dec; 8(12): 767. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5188422/

8. “Efficacy of commercial weight loss programs: an updated systematic review”. Ann Intern Med. 2015 Apr 7; 162(7): 501–512. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4446719/

9. “ Very Low Calorie Diets for Weight Loss in Obese Older Adults-A Randomized Trial”. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2017 Dec 12;73(1):59-65. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28329121/

10. “Dietary Protein and Muscle Mass: Translating Science to Application and Health Benefit”. Nutrients. 2019 May; 11(5): 1136.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6566799/

11. “The New Nutrition Facts Label”. US Food and Drug Administration. Published 06/29/2020. https://www.fda.gov/food/nutrition-education-resources-materials/new-nutrition-facts-label