How to Choose Meal Replacements

Two Methods:Understanding the Functions of Meal ReplacementsChoosing the Right Form of Meal Replacement

Meal replacements are popular and becoming more available. Due to this popularity, there are many meal replacements on the market to choose from. Meal replacements are used for everything from weight loss to weight gain. Health conscience consumers may find meal replacements as a quick way to have a nutritious meal, but they may not know how to choose a meal replacement. Different meal replacements have different functional purposes. Some are high nutrient or calorie dense and others may be high protein with low carbohydrates. It is important to understand the different purposes for meal replacements in order to choose what will work best.

Method 1
Understanding the Functions of Meal Replacements

Meal replacements are often used for more than just a meal replacement. They have specific functions based on what a person will use it for. A meal replacement designed for only replacing meals would have different nutrients than a meal replacement designed for post workout.

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    Use a meal replacement as a meal-on-the-go. This is great for busy people who usually don’t find time to eat during the day. This type of meal replacement should have the most “meal-like” nutrition available; it needs to have a good mix of protein, fat, carbohydrates and micro nutrients to replace what would have been eaten in a balanced meal. Another important factor is satiety - when using a meal replacement because you are too busy to eat a meal, you need to feel full until the next meal in order to avoid unhealthy snacking.
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    Use a meal replacement due to a health reason. When using a meal replacement for health reasons, you need to be sure it fits your specific need.
    • Diabetics looking to lose weight and keep blood sugar level low may use meal replacements that are low in carbohydrates, but high in nutrients and protein. Diabetics that are overweight may use it to replace most of a main meal to cut back calories and carbohydrates without cutting out nutrition. They can also be used as snacks to keep energy up without spiking blood sugar.
    • Many meal replacements are now high in fiber and/or probiotics to help maintain gastrointestinal health and promote satiety. People with these types of issues may use the meal replacement as a more natural way to treat the problems.
    • Underweight individuals can use meal replacements to add an extra meal throughout the day. These types of meal replacements are convenient and full of nutrients. They also may not leave you feeling overly full because they are meant to supplement normal meals.
    • Meal replacements are great for people deficient in many nutrients. Ones that are used to increase nutrient consumption are usually lower in calories and contain high amounts of vitamins and minerals. It is important they contain some protein and fat to increase the absorption of the nutrients in the body. These are generally not used to replace a main meal, but as a snack.
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    Use a meal replacement to lose weight. This is the most popular use for meal replacements. According to multiple studies, meal replacements are an effective way to lose to weight. They must be part of a planned healthy diet in order for them to work properly. When using one for weight loss, it should contain a minimal amount of fat, but still contain enough calories for energy. A meal replacement containing only 100 calories would not be sufficient to replace a main meal because the body requires more calories to properly function. The meal replacement should contain more than 300 calories and have protein, some fat, carbohydrates and micro nutrients. Be sure to avoid meal replacements high in sugar and refined carbohydrates because the body will burn the energy more quickly leaving you feeling hungry quicker.
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    Use a meal replacement during athletic training. When you are training athletically your body will need more of everything. Meal replacements are great to use because they provide more than just energy in the form of calories, but also vital nutrients.
    • During intense training, use a meal replacement within an hour post workout that is high in protein and carbohydrates to help with muscle recovery and fatigue.
    • When exercising daily use a meal replacement as a snack to get the extra calories your body needs. It is best to avoid empty calories when exercising because your body is using protein, carbohydrates, and nutrients to a greater degree. If you are not obtaining these from your diet then your body will begin using its reserves.
    • During an athletic event, use meal replacements to keep carbohydrate levels up without being excessively full. Be sure to avoid ones that contain high amounts of fiber because it can lead to bloating and gas. Also, digestion slows during intense physical activity so consuming something that doesn’t take a long time to digest will help ease any stomach discomfort during the event.

Method 2
Choosing the Right Form of Meal Replacement

Meal replacements come in bars, shakes or drinks, or ready to mix powders. They can also be homemade if you have the time and can store them properly. Each form has different advantages depending on when you plan to consume them.

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    Choose bars if satiety and convenience is important. Studies have shown that solids are better for satiety than liquids when choosing meal replacements. They are usually higher in carbohydrates and fiber than liquids also. Bars can be made at home or purchased. There are many varieties to choose from that can be found in most grocery stores. Also, bars are shelf stable and can be eaten right away without preparation. This makes them good for eating on the go or in the gym.
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    Choose shakes or drinks if taste and high nutrient content is important. Shakes tend to taste better and require minimal effort to prepare. They can be homemade and consumed right away or stored for later that day. There are frozen shake mixes that can be found at the grocery store. Shakes and drinks also come premade in shelf stable cans. This makes them convenient for on the go consumption. Also, meal replacement drinks and smoothies can purchased and need to stay refrigerated. These drinks are usually fruit and vegetable based, containing high amounts of nutrients and carbohydrates. Depending on the drink or shake base, they can be high or low calorie. Shakes and drinks usually contain a high amount of bio-available nutrients that can be absorbed by the body quickly.
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    Choose powders if you are using a meal replacement for optimal health. Powders can be protein powders or packets that are complete meal replacements. The powders usually do not contain high amounts of calories, which makes them a bad choice for a main meal. They also require a liquid to mix with, usually milk or water. They are good for office snacks or part of a small meal. Many of the powders serve a specific health purpose and contain high amounts of nutrients. If the powder does not dissolve well in water, then the nutrients will probably not be easy for your body to use.


  • Yogurt based smoothies make nutritious meal replacements by supplying protein, calories, carbohydrates and micro nutrients in a satiating drink that can be made at home. Be sure to use fresh fruit and add minimal sugar for the healthiest mix. Smoothies are also good for incorporating extra functional ingredients, such as ground flax-seed or soy protein.


  • Using meal replacements take careful planning in order to ensure you still maintain a healthy diet.

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Categories: Meal Planning