Best Meal Replacement Powders

Updated September 2020
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

39 Models Considered
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612 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best meal replacement powders

Last Updated September 2020

Sometimes, there just aren’t enough hours in the day. With work, family, and other engagements taking so much time, it can be difficult to prepare healthy, satisfying meals regularly. Meal replacement powders and shakes can fill much of this void, offering the protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and other nutrients you need in a convenient package.

Meal replacement powders aren’t just for people with hectic lifestyles. For athletes and bodybuilders, they’re a fantastic pre-workout fuel that can aid in recovery. Meal replacement powder is also a great tool to help you curb hunger and lose weight.

Meal replacement powders are typically mixed with milk or water and come in popular flavors like chocolate, strawberry, and peanut butter. There are varieties for nearly every need, including high-protein versions for muscle gain, high-carb versions for energy, shakes for weight loss, and even organic and vegan options. A meal replacement beverage may not be as tasty as a fast food burger, but it’s considerably better for you and can be just as filling.

Conventional wisdom says you should consume meal replacement drinks immediately after a workout, but in doing so, you may be doing your body a disservice. You need protein and carbs to “fuel” your workout, so use them to supplement your meals throughout the day. For post-workout recovery, consider a fruit smoothie or chocolate milk.

Key considerations

Nutrition

Aside from flavor, the obvious consideration to make while shopping is the degree of nutrition a meal replacement powder provides. In this guide, we discuss some generalized serving recommendations, but please remember that this can vary from person to person. Your doctor or nutritionist can advise you on how much of each nutrient you need. As a rule of thumb, try to seek meal replacement powders with a healthy balance of protein, carbs, and fat, along with a variety of vitamins and minerals that represent a solid chunk of your daily recommended intake.

Calories: Experts recommend that you pick a shake with around 300 calories per serving. This may vary from person to person (particularly for athletes), but 300 is a healthy number of calories to satiate hunger and provide energy for some time.

Protein: An essential macronutrient, protein helps build muscle mass. It also keeps you feeling full. Protein comes from a variety of sources including meat, poultry, whey, soy, and legumes. Nutritionists say 15 to 30 grams of protein per serving is ideal. If you can, prioritize “complete proteins” that have all nine essential amino acids. Examples of foods with complete proteins include soy, eggs, fish, meat, poultry, quinoa, hemp seeds, buckwheat, and blue-green algae.

Carbohydrates: Carbs are often labeled as the enemy, as unburned carbohydrates can turn into fat. They are necessary fuel for the body, though, and the important element here is balance. Look for meal replacement powders with 10 to 20 grams of carbs per serving.

Vitamins and minerals: Meal replacement powders are a fantastic way to feel full quickly, and they can also deliver the vitamins and minerals you need throughout the day. Seek a powder with a balanced spread, prioritizing those that offer 10% to 20% of your daily value per serving.

Fiber: Fiber, along with protein and carbs, helps you feel full quickly. It’s also vital for healthy digestion, which can stabilize blood sugar. However, some meal replacement powders don’t contain much fiber. If you need more fiber in your diet, add fruits, vegetables, grains, seeds, and nuts to your meals and snacks.

Essential fatty acids: Like vitamins and minerals, our bodies do not always produce the essential fatty acids we need. That’s why we need to consume them through food to remain fit, as these acids are linked to immune and mental health. Examples include omega-3 and omega-6. If you feel you are lacking in amino acids, find a meal replacement powder that offers them, or consider taking a fish oil supplement.

Flavor

A cheap, chalky meal replacement shake isn’t very appetizing. If you’re not excited about the flavor, you’re not likely to partake of the powder at all. Thankfully, tasty options are plentiful, with smooth, refined recipes that can tickle your sweet tooth while satisfying hunger. Outside of the basics, some of our favorites include vanilla bean, banana berry, caramel latte, chai, chocolate mint, cookies and creme, and coconut. Note that some flavors may contain more sugar than others.

DID YOU KNOW?

Meal replacement powders are fantastic for supplementing nutrition, but they can go a long way toward injury recovery as well. Specifically, high-protein powders can help repair and regenerate damaged muscle tissue. Protein also helps your body form antibodies to fight infection, which is especially important after surgery.

Features

Shaker bottle

Meal replacement powders aren’t typically offered with a bevy of flashy features, but some include a shaker bottle you can use to mix your drink. Doing so with a regular cup and spoon can get messy, but a large closeable container is a great solution. Many shaker bottles have easy-to-read measurements on the side and shaker balls inside to effortlessly blend your drink.

Caffeine

For some, the success of a day correlates directly to the amount of caffeine consumed. It only makes sense, then, to add caffeine to meal replacement powder formula, as it provides the energy you need in a healthier form than sugary energy drinks and coffees.

Caffeinated meal powders commonly have around 100 mg of caffeine per serving, which translates to about one cup (8 ounces) of coffee. Tolerances can vary to due body weight, metabolism, medications, and other factors, but the U.S. Food & Drug Administration cites 400 milligrams a day as an amount “not generally associated with dangerous, negative effects.”

If your meal replacement powder makes you feel jittery or nervous or gives you a headache, it may have too much caffeine for you. Consult with your doctor or nutritionist for individualized recommendations.

EXPERT TIP

Plant-based proteins sometimes have rough, gritty textures that simply aren’t satisfying to drink. To smooth out the feel of your drink, throw in a banana or some avocado and mix in a blender. Also, don’t let your drink sit for too long, as the ingredients can separate.


Staff  | BestReviews

Meal replacement powder prices

Inexpensive: For less than $10, you can find a meal replacement powder that will quell your hunger, supplement your nutrition, and potentially help you lose weight. These varieties come in smaller packages that often weigh less than a pound, and they may not have as much protein as pricier powders. Also, the flavor choices tend to be quite basic.

Mid-range: Up your budget to $20 to $30, and you’ll enjoy a higher concentration of nutrients in larger packages with more satisfying flavors like coffee and vanilla. You may find more complete proteins in these products as well.

Expensive: At the top of the range, expect to spend $50 or more for nutrient-rich powders with low sugar and good taste. You’ll also encounter vegan and gluten-free products in this range.

DID YOU KNOW?

Whether it’s from lack of healthy sunlight or a poorly balanced diet, we often don’t get the vitamin D we need. Vitamin D is vital for keeping bones, muscles, the nervous system, and the immune system healthy. Thankfully, several meal replacement powders have a bountiful amount of vitamin D in them.

Tips

  • Pair your meal replacement powder with a healthy supplemental snack. Meal replacement powders are stellar options for busy people, athletes, and dieters, but when you pair the beverage with fruit or nuts, you get additional nutrients and fiber.
  • Watch out for artificial colors, sweeteners, and flavors. Products that rely on artificial fillers and marketing gimmicks tend to use lower-quality ingredients overall.
  • Consider adding milk instead of water. If your meal replacement powder is lacking in calcium, try mixing it with milk instead of water. You can also do this if you prefer a thicker mixture.
  • In general, the number of protein grams in your meal replacement shake should be equal or higher to the number of carb grams you're consuming. Why? This prevents your blood sugar from dropping and keeps you fuller longer.
There is a plethora of meal replacement powders that fit the vegan lifestyle. Instead of animal proteins, these products are made with plant-based proteins from nuts, soy, seeds, grains, or legumes. Keep in mind, however, that soy is the only “complete” vegan protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids.

FAQ

Q. Can you consume too much meal replacement powder?
A.
Meal replacement powders are meant to be healthy, but yes, you can overdo it. Ingesting too many vitamins, too much iron, or too much protein at once can cause myriad health issues, including digestive problems, kidney problems, and bone problems. In addition, some low-quality protein powders may have unsafe levels on contaminants like mercury, arsenic, or cadmium.

We recommend you follow the manufacturer’s directions to stay healthy. If you’re looking to increase your serving size or just want some professional guidance, seek out a licensed nutritionist or ask your doctor.
 

Q. How should I store meal replacement powder?
A.
Meal replacement powders are generally sold in opaque, air-tight containers, and for good reasons. Exposure to moisture and excessive heat can cause the powder to clump, degrade, and develop an unpleasant taste.

We recommend that you store your meal replacement powder away from direct sunlight, moisture, and rapid temperature fluctuations. Keep the lid closed while you’re not using it, and for extra peace of mind, store the powder in several small containers instead of one large one. Avoid storing your powder in the fridge, as this can cause moisture to accumulate.
 

Q. What are macronutrients and micronutrients?
A.
You’ll see these terms on nearly every container of meal replacement powder on the market, but what do they actually mean? Simply put, macronutrients are nutrients that the body needs in large amounts. Macronutrients provide the body with energy (calories), and examples include carbohydrates, proteins, amino acids, fats, minerals like calcium and potassium, and water.

Micronutrients are nutrients the body needs in smaller amounts. The majority are vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin A, iron, and zinc. 

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The team that worked on this review
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    Digital Content Producer
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    Web Producer
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    Senior Editor

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