Meal Replacements: Who Are They For?

Meal replacements. It's easy to criticise them. But when implemented sensibly, they can be a great way to improve and control diet for busy individuals, such as parents or those working long, unsociable shifts.

What's in them?

While quality and ingredients vary, as a rule, most will contain: a protein blend, carbohydrates from oats and/or maltodextrin, vitamins and minerals, MCTs or other oil powders.

Protein Blend

Different protein powders digest at different rates. For example, whey isolate is digested very quickly, while casein is digested very slowly. Using a blend in a product means that our bodies are supplied with amino acids for protein synthesis and recovery over a longer period, it will also work to keep us full for longer. Protein also has a high thermic effect, therefore a high protein diet, along with resistance training to increase muscle mass, can increase metabolism.


Meal replacement shakes tend to be very low fat to keep overall calories down (fats are more calorie dense than carbs and protein). A low fat shake is a great choice for around workouts as it will not slow digestion. Fat is also the easiest macronutrient to store as, you guessed it, fat, if consumed in excess. While we don't recommend going too low fat, priorising quality sources such as MCTs (medium chain triglycerides, as found in coconut, are an excellent source of energy for the body- think bulletproof coffee) is preferable for fat loss.

Vitamins and Minerals

Even with a healthy, varied diet, it is incredibly difficult to meet requirements for all of your essential vitamins and minerals in a day of eating. Supplementation takes the stress away and supports an already micronutrient rich diet to fill in the gaps food cannot.


What not to do

Stop eating any solid meals, have 2-3 shakes a day only, causing short term extreme weight loss which is unsustainable and will ultimately lead to binging and equally extreme weight gain due to the metabolic adaptation that has occurred.

What to do

Many meal replacements are a great source of quality protein and carbohydrates, fortified with vitamins and minerals in amounts that would be difficult to attain through food alone. Use a meal replacement to fill the gaps when you do not have a prepared meal on hand. This can make prepping for the work day ahead much quicker and easier when you already have lots of responsibilities. Having a meal replacement shake at your desk is a much better option than heading to the closest vending machine or fast food outlet for sustenance!

Meal replacements also make tracking calories easier. Rather than having to weigh a variety of ingredients, the calories in the shake are clearly shown. This takes away the need to constantly have your head in an app logging your intake for the day.


A day might look like:

-Breakfast: oats, diet whey and berries
-Mid-morning snack: MR
-Lunch: chicken, sweet potato, salad
-Afternoon snack: MR
-Evening meal: salmon, rice, vegetables

About the Author

Savannah Westerby, BSc Sport and Exercise Nutrition. IG:@savannahwesterby
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