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What are Meal Replacements?

A meal replacement is a general name given to a manufactured supplement that can be used to replace a part of, or an entire meal. Meal replacements are generally used for weight loss, to reduce total calorie intake, or by bodybuilders who consume meal replacements on top of whole foods to meet their high calorie demands. Additionally, they can also be a suitable source of nutrition for those who are too busy or are unable to eat.

Types of Meal Replacements

Meal replacements generally come in two forms, solid or liquid. Solid meal replacements tend to be in bar form, while liquid meal replacements are shakes.

Meal Replacement Bars

Meal replacement bars are generally filling, are larger than the average protein bar, and can weigh close to 100 g. These tend to be high in protein, carbs, and also contain a significant amount of sugar. Despite this, they still provide fewer calories than a whole meal (approx. 300 to 400 calories vs 600 calories), thus being effective for weight control. For more information about these, please read our article on "Choosing the Best Protein Bars".

Meal Replacement Shakes

Meal replacement shakes tend to come in powder form. They often contain more nutrients than the average protein shake. They are usually a protein blend, containing fast and slow proteins that are designed to keep you fuller for longer. This, combined with varying levels of carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals, make it an ideal replacement for a meal during the day. Quite often, meal replacement shakes also come in convenient single serve sachets.

Meal Replacement Benefits

Meal Replacement Benefits for Bulking

For the making lean gains, it meal replacements should be consumed in addition to whole foods. Many serious bodybuilders and high level athletes need to consume a huge amount of protein, carbs, and calories to maintain or build their weight. This may mean consuming 6 to 8 meals. It is difficult for many people, particularly those with busy careers, to pre-prepare multiple meals before work. Meals replacements are therefore a very convenient way to provide protein and calories when needed, without having to breakout the chicken and brown rice.

Meal Replacement Benefits for Weight and Fat Loss

With the increasing threat of obesity conquering the developed world, increasing amounts of research have been conducted into finding effective ways to combat this epidemic. One effective method that has been recommended by nutritionists and dieticians is the use of meal replacements. In this case, one or two meals could be entirely replaced by a meal replacement product, while the remainder of the diet can stay unchanged. This can lead to a reduction of total calories consumed per day. This reduction calorie intake is the secret to weight loss. Additional, the high protein content of many meal replacements help to maintain muscle mass during periods of weight loss.

Meal replacements offer an affordable calorie, portion, and nutrient controlled product that are easy to follow (Heber et al, 1994; Rothacker et al, 2001). It was found that subjects using a meal replacement were less likely to put weight back on than those practicing traditional dieting methods. This is likely because less drastic lifestyle changes are necessary in order to see results (Rothacker et al, 2001). Pretty much every trial using meal replacements as a method of weight loss has reported significant reductions of body weight, which was also sometimes accompanied by improvements in blood test results (Allison et al, 2003; Heymsfield et al, 2003).

Meal Replacement Benefits for the Sick

Appetite decreases when you are sick. However, to fight off the disease and make a quick recovery, this is the time that you most need good nutrition. If you've been struck hard by the flu, chances are you will not have the energy to make a proper meal, yet at the same time, your demand for nutrients sky rockets. This is when meal replacements can be extremely valuable.

It is important to note that if you have any serious or chronic diseases, make sure you consult with your healthcare professional before introducing any dietary supplements, such as meal replacements, into your diet.

Cost of Meal Replacements

For what they are, meal replacement products are very good value for money. They range in price from $1 to $4 per serve, and even at the higher end of this price bracket, it is difficult to find a nutritionally balanced meal for so cheap. So if you switch out a Big Mac meal for a meal replacement shake, not only will you be saving your waist line, you'll also be saving a few bucks.

Taste of Meal Replacements

Just because you are having a meal replacement doesn't mean you have to miss the tasty things in life. If you have a sweet tooth, you may very easily take to meal replacements because pretty much all of these products are sweet and come in a variety of flavours. Chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and cookies and cream are common varieties. Meal replacement bars are particularly impressive because quite often, they will contain real chocolate as an ingredient, along with peanut butter, caramel, cookie pieces, and other tasties. For tips on how to pick the best bar for you, check out our article on "Choosing the Best Protein Bars".

One potential downside, is that not everyone has a sweet tooth. If you do not enjoy sweet things, then you may be short of choice when it comes to meal replacements. At the time of writing, this author is not aware of any savoury meal replacement products.

Summary

Meal replacement bars or shakes are a clinically proven way to help you lose weight. Simply replace one or more meals with one of these products. For the exercise addict, meal replacements are a great way to meet your high protein and energy demands during the day. These can help you maintain your hard earned muscle, or even pack on a few extra kilos. Being so effective, tasty, cheap, and convenient, meal replacements should be seriously considered by anyone looking to lose or gain weight.

Allison et al (2003), A novel soy-based meal replacement formula for weight loss among obese individuals: a randomized controlled clinical trial. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 57: 514-522
Heber et al (1994), Clinical evaluation of a minimal intervention meal replacement regimen for weight reduction. J Am Coll Nutr, 13: 608-614
Heymsfield et al (2003), Weight management using a meal replacement strategy: meta and pooling analysis from six studies. International Journal of Obesity, 27: 537-549
Rothacker et al (2001), Liquid Meal Replacement vs Traditional Food: A Potential Model for Women Who Cannot Maintain Eating Habit Change. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 101: 345-347

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