The Best Meal-Replacement Shakes
The best meal-replacement shake packs a whole meal’s worth of nutrients into one easy-to-consume beverage. We talked to doctors and nutritionists and scoured the nutrition facts to find the shakes that had enough calories, protein, and fiber to tide you over through an entire meal.
Huel exceeded expectations in every way: It has all the nutrients we wanted; it’s made from real foods instead of artificial ingredients; and we found it surprisingly tasty. If you’re looking for an appetizing shake that can truly replace a meal, this is your best option.
If you’re looking to stock up on protein, this shake will help you get your fix without totally skimping on other essentials.
GNC Total Lean Lean Shake
If you’re looking to cut calories responsibly, GNC Total Lean Lean Shake has the nutrients you need in just 200 calories.
The Best Meal-Replacement Shakes
If you’ve ever had to choose between a fully cooked meal and getting somewhere on time, you understand the appeal of a meal-replacement shake. Whether you’re drinking a pre-made shake during your daily commute or scooping out a protein-heavy powder after a heavy workout, these shakes let you fuel up without slowing down. The trick is making sure your drink has enough nutrients to keep you going until your next full meal.
We researched more than 100 meal-replacement shakes and talked to nutritionists about what the ideal shake should include. Our experts told us to look for high protein, low sugar, the right amount of calories for your nutritional needs, and as many all-natural ingredients as possible.
We loved Huel for having high amounts of protein and fiber, and for its complete macronutrient profile — but we especially loved that this meal-replacement shake is made out of real food: oats, pea protein, flaxseed, brown rice protein, and more. You’ll be able to taste the difference — it’s like drinking a meal instead of a milkshake. Huel is also designed to fit your individual dietary needs, whether you want a 500-calorie meal or a 250-calorie one. You’ll get an instructional booklet explaining how to determine how much is right for you, as well as recipes to help you add Huel to a berry smoothie, a coffee drink, or even a tasty peanut curry. Plus, it’s vegan — and there are gluten-free and sweetener-free options, meaning there’s a version of Huel for just about everyone.
Need to get protein in your body fast? Grab a carton of EAS Myoplex Shred for 42 grams of protein — 84 percent of your recommended daily allowance — in just 16 ounces of shake. We liked the high protein in this shake, but we also loved the convenience of the single-serving TetraPak carton. Instead of dealing with giant tubs of protein powder, you can toss a carton of EAS Myoplex Shred in your gym bag and go.
Not everybody is the “average American,” and your caloric needs might not hit that 2,000-calorie-per day mark. If you’re petite, looking to lose weight, or just want a low-calorie shake for an afternoon snack, the GNC Total Lean Lean Shake will get you 200 calories, 25 grams of protein, and plenty of vitamins in a sweet, creamy beverage. We’ve recommended GNC Total Lean products before — check out our Best Protein Bar review — and we were glad to see that its shake held up just as well against the competition.
How We Found the Best Meal-Replacement Shakes
We wanted enough protein to keep you full.
Protein is what fills you up and tides you over until your next meal. “The body has to work four times as hard to work protein off versus carbohydrates and fat,” explains Lola Berry, yoga teacher, nutritionist — “Australia’s Favorite Nutritionist,” in fact — and author of The Happy Cookbook.
But protein does more than just keep you full. Dr. Keith Ayoob, nutritionist and associate clinical professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, told us that protein helps you both maintain muscle tissue and lose weight because “when you get enough dietary protein, your body can then break down fat for calories instead of muscle.”
Berry recommends a minimum of 10-20 grams of protein. Dr. Ayoob likes to see even more protein in a meal-replacement shake: “For satiety, 20-30 grams at each meal is considered necessary.” We cut all shakes that didn’t hit that 10-gram minimum and gave preference to shakes in the 20-30 range.
We cut shakes that didn’t have enough fiber per calorie.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends we consume 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories to keep digestion moving at a normal pace and even reduce the risk of heart disease. We cut all shakes that didn’t meet that benchmark.
We also looked at which shakes included insoluble fiber, like wheat bran. Dr. Ayoob told us that fiber comes in two different types — soluble and insoluble — and although both are good for you, insoluble fibers are best for bowel regularity. We didn’t cut shakes that only included soluble fiber, but we kept it in mind for our final rankings.
What about carbs? "Shakes that are too low in carbs are just as inadequate as shakes that are too low in protein,” explains Dr. Jennifer Bowers, a registered dietician nutritionist. Carbs give you energy, and they’re an essential part of a balanced meal — or meal replacement. So don’t worry about drinking your carbs. You need them to keep you going until lunch or dinner!
And we nixed products that were packed with sugar.
As with protein, our experts had slightly different opinions on how much sugar was best. Berry prefers shakes with no more than 10 grams of sugar, and Dr. Jennifer Bowers, a registered dietician and nutritionist, recommends avoiding added sugars altogether and getting your carbs from complex carbohydrates like oats. Monica Auslander, MS, RD, LD/N, and founder of Essence Nutrition in Miami, suggested we limit our picks to 12 grams of sugar. “If I was making my own shake/smoothie … 12 grams would probably be the amount of carbohydrates in one-half cup of fruit, which is what I would use.”
We cut all shakes with more than 12 grams of sugar to ensure we weren’t testing any products that were more like milkshakes than meals.
- Carnation Breakfast Essentials High Protein Complete Nutritional Drink
- Core Nutritionals MRP
- EAS Myoplex Shred Protein Shake
- GNC Total Lean Lean Shake
- Labrada Carb Watchers Lean Body Hi-Protein Meal Replacement Shake
- Labrada Lean Body Hi-Protein Meal Replacement Shake
- NutraBio Muscle Matrix MRP
- Nutrition53 Lean1 Fat Burning Meal Replacement
- Optimum Nutrition Opti-Fit Lean Protein Shake
- PlantFusion Phood Meal Replacement Protein Powder
- SDC Nutrition Super-Lean
- Soylent Meal Replacement Powder
Then we tasted them ourselves.
With our list down to 13 shakes, it was time to start mixing and drinking them to make sure we could stomach these shakes — after all, a meal-replacement shake won’t do you any good if it’s too awful to finish. Some of the shakes tasted delicious; the Carnation Breakfast Essentials High Protein shake, for example, tasted like drinking the leftover milk from a bowl of Lucky Charms. (Carnation also had the most sugar of any shake we tasted, which may have had something to do with its deliciousness.)
Other shakes were less appetizing. We tried Soylent’s “neutral flavor profile,” which tasted kind of like licking your arm. (Go ahead. Try it.) The worst contender was PlantFusion Phood Meal Replacement Protein Powder, which boasted an impressive ingredient list — everything from organic quinoa to sprouted broccoli — but smelled and tasted like fish food. No thanks.
Outliers aside, we’ll be really honest: Most of these shakes tasted pretty much the same. They’ve got a watered-down vanilla or chocolate flavor, and they’re roughly the consistency of thick milk. Which meant that when it came time to rank the shakes, we could eliminate a few obvious choices — sorry, Phood — but then we focused on nutrition over taste.
When selecting our top picks, we returned to one question: Which of these shakes provides the most of what you need in a meal?
Our Picks for the Best Meal-Replacement Shakes
If you’re looking for a shake that’s high in protein, packed with fiber, free of sugar, and full of essential vitamins and minerals, you’re going to want to try Huel, or Human Fuel. This meal-replacement shake is designed to adapt to your needs — scoop out 1 cup for a 500-calorie meal, or half a cup for a 250-calorie meal.
Don’t forget the scoop! There’s usually a scoop hiding in your meal-replacement powder, so reach in and dig it out. Then use that scoop to make sure you're mixing the right amount of shake (“two scoops”) with the right amount of water (“8 oz.”). Otherwise, your shake could turn out thin, lumpy, or grainy.
If you want to be a little more precise, Huel provides a small scoop that contains 150 calories, allowing you to adjust to your specific nutritional needs. Huel also provides a booklet that includes recommended serving sizes for different caloric requirements (including a weight-loss plan), as well as series of recipes to help you turn your Huel into a fancy coffee drink or a savory peanut curry. We loved these extra levels of customization.
Plus, Huel is vegan — and you also have the option to buy your Huel gluten-free.
But what exactly is in “human fuel”? Let’s start with protein. A 1-cup serving of Huel has 37 grams of protein, or 74 percent of your recommended daily allowance. If you size down to a half cup of Huel, you’re still getting 18.5 grams of protein in one meal, which is way more than the 10g minimum recommended by Berry.
She also recommends meal-replacement shakes with natural ingredients like pea protein, oats, and brown rice protein — three of the first four ingredients in Huel. (The fourth is flaxseed, which is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids.) Ingredients are ordered from most to least, so we liked seeing so many food-based items at the top of the list. Some of our other meal-replacement shakes listed “protein complex” as the first ingredient, which sounds more like a disorder than food.
Dr. Ayoob recommended meal-replacement shakes with insoluble fiber, and Huel delivers. A 1-cup serving provides 9 grams of fiber that “is a mixture of soluble and insoluble forms all naturally supplied from the food ingredients, mainly from oats and flaxseed, and provides more than most modern solid diets.”
Because Huel is so fibrous, it’s best if you mix it with a lot of water: Huel recommends five parts of water to one part Huel. This means if you want to consume a full cup of Huel for a 500-calorie meal, you need to mix it with 5 cups of water. That’s a pretty tall beverage, but it will definitely fill your stomach! (It might also give you a little extra gas or a few more bowel movements as you get used to drinking Huel.)
A cup of Huel will also get you plenty of vitamins A, C, D, and E, plus 27 other vitamins and minerals on the ingredient list. “If it’s truly replacing a meal, the shake should include enough calories, protein, carbs, fats, and fiber, as well as micronutrients (vitamins and minerals),” Dr. Bowers explained — and Huel has you covered.
Regional differences Huel is headquartered in the United Kingdom, and there are slight differences in the formulas for the UK and the US. Our testing is based on the US version (1.0), so we recommend checking the nutrition label if you’re ordering from anywhere else.
What about sugar? Huel contains 1 gram of sugar per cup, and gets most of its sweetness from stevia, which Berry confirms is a great natural sugar source. Vanilla Huel also includes a small amount of sucralose, so if you’d prefer your Huel artificial-sweetener-free, you’ll want to buy the unflavored version.
On the subject of flavor: How does Huel taste? We tried the Vanilla Huel, and it tasted like an oatmeal milkshake with a hint of vanilla. You can tell you’re drinking real food; there’s a bit of natural texture and a lot of nutty oat flavor. Unlike many of the other shakes we tested, Huel doesn’t include that sticky chemical aftertaste — which is probably because it isn’t packed with artificial ingredients.
If you’d like to add additional flavor to your Huel, you can mix it with coffee, fruit, or any of the other suggestions in their recipe book, or you can try a flavor boost packet – Huel offers nine different options to mix with your shake, including chocolate, banana, and toffee.
Here’s one more detail that made Huel stand out: Our package came with a free shaker, so we could mix Huel on the go, and a free T-shirt. The T-shirt felt a little unnecessary, but we loved having the shaker and the instructional booklet with caloric information and recipes — it made us feel excited about using Huel, because we’d been equipped with all the tools we needed to make our Huel consumption a success.
Best High Protein Shake
Most products that market themselves as protein shakes pack a ton of protein without offering much overall nutrition, making them unfit as meal-replacement shakes — they’re just meant to supplement your workout. But EAS Myoplex Shred managed to meet our other nutritional requirements. This pre-mixed shake packs 42 grams of protein in a 16-ounce, 210-calorie package, and its convenient packaging makes it easy to toss in a gym bag and drink before or after a workout.
Why do we recommend this shake? It has a lot of protein — 84 percent of your recommended daily allowance, which is more than any other shake we tested. The protein comes from milk protein isolate, which is a good protein source, although experts like Berry prefer pea and brown rice proteins like the ones found in Huel.
We also like EAS Myoplex Shred because of its convenience; most of the shakes we tested came in enormous powder jugs that we had to scoop and mix ourselves. EAS Myoplex Shred comes in pre-mixed, individually packaged cartons that don’t even need to be refrigerated until after you open them. (EAS recommends drinking your shake cold, but it tastes fine at room temperature.)
One carton of EAS Myoplex Shred is roughly the size of two of those chocolate milk cartons you probably drank in grade school. We tried the Chiseled Chocolate flavor, which tasted less like chocolate milk and more like chocolate syrup — it’s a thick shake, and it might leave your mouth feeling a little sticky afterward. (Just drink some water; you probably need to hydrate anyway.) If you don’t like chocolate, EAS Myoplex Shred also comes in Cinnamon Swole and Muscle Mocha.
If you’re looking for vitamins and other macronutrients, you’re not going to get a lot out of EAS Myoplex Shred; although you get 18 percent of your iron and 100 percent of your calcium, the shake doesn’t include any vitamin A or vitamin C — or any other vitamins. It doesn’t include a lot of fiber, either, though it does exceed the USDA minimum requirement. In other words: EAS Myoplex Shred hits all of our nutritional requirements for a high-quality meal-replacement shake, but it doesn’t include any extra nutrients besides the big one: protein.
On the plus side, there’s also very little sugar — but on the minus side, you’re getting that chocolate syrup sweetness from a combination of cocoa, sucralose, and acesulfame potassium. One of our testers felt a little gassy after drinking a sample of EAS Myoplex Shred, possibly because of the artificial sweeteners involved.
If you want a few more nutrients with your high-protein shake, we recommend trying Huel. You could also try the Labrada Carb Watchers Lean Body Hi-Protein Meal Replacement Shake — it has 40 grams of protein, mostly from whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate, and 250 calories. Even though it’s a powder, it comes packaged in individual serving sizes you can shove into your gym bag and easily mix with water in a locker room or lunchroom. (No scoops required!)
The Labrada Carb Watchers shake includes at least 25 percent of most of your major vitamins and nutrients, but it doesn’t have any more fiber than the EAS Myoplex shake does and it contains plenty of sweeteners: sucralose, acesulfame potassium, and corn syrup solids. We also weren’t huge fans of the texture — it was one of the only shakes to remain stubbornly lumpy even after mixing. However, it will get you that protein boost plus vitamins!
Best Low Calorie Shake
If you read our review of the Best Protein Bars, you know that we were huge fans of the GNC Total Lean Lean Bar — and we love the GNC Total Lean Lean Shake as well. This 200-calorie shake includes 25 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber, which means it’ll help keep you full and satisfied. It’s also packed with micronutrients: 60 percent of your vitamin C; 50 percent of your calcium; and 20 percent of your vitamin A, vitamin B12, zinc, and more. It was also one of the best-tasting shakes on our list.
Go ahead, shake things up! Don’t have a blender? Don’t worry. Every meal-replacement powder we tested was designed to mix just as well when you shake it up. Get a tumbler, a thermos, or a bottle with a tightly fitting lid, and shake your shake.
What’s to love? You get 50 percent of your protein (from whey and milk protein concentrates and isolates) in a powder that blended into a thick, creamy shake without any lumps or grit. Not too sweet, not too bland — though if you’d prefer a sweeter shake, the powder tub suggests mixing in some cinnamon and crushed graham crackers.
GNC also includes an instructional booklet to help you integrate the Total Lean Lean Shake into a low-calorie diet, along with meal plans and suggested exercise routines. (GNC and Huel were the only two contenders to provide these booklets, and we appreciated them both.)
There were a few things that didn’t completely impress us, though. The GNC Total Lean Lean Shake has plenty to say about its soluble fiber, but it doesn’t mention whether it also includes insoluble fiber:
Each serving of GNC Total Lean Lean Shake 25 also includes 8 grams of fiber including oat beta-glucan. Oat beta-glucan is a naturally occurring, powerful, low-glycemic soluble fiber found in oat bran that helps support normal, healthy blood glucose levels.
There are also more artificial sweeteners in this shake than we’d prefer – sucralose, acesulfame potassium, and corn syrup solids.
The GNC Total Lean Lean Shake is a powder shake, so if you prefer the convenience of a bottle, we suggest trying Carnation Breakfast Essentials High Protein Complete Nutritional Drink. Carnation has a long-standing reputation in the meal-replacement world, and we found its shake to be perfectly blended and extremely delicious, with no mouth stickiness or aftertaste. Carnation Breakfast Essentials High Protein Complete Nutritional Drink has 220 calories per 8 oz. serving, as well as 15 grams of protein and — as the name implies — a complete nutritional slate of vitamins and minerals. However, it also has a whopping 12 grams of sugar and only 3 grams of fiber, which means you might still feel hungry — or a little sugar-crashy — afterward.
You could also use Huel for your low-calorie shake. Half a cup only has 250 calories, and since you’ll be mixing one part Huel with five parts water, you’ll get a full 3 cups — 24 oz. — of healthy, nutritious, protein- and fiber-heavy goodness.
Soylent is an extremely popular meal-replacement shake, and we were excited to see how it stood up to its competitors. Unfortunately, Soylent had a lot of added sugar — 8 grams in a 200-calorie serving, and 15 grams in a 400-calorie serving. Soylent also only had the minimum amount of protein and fiber that we were looking for, and although it’s got plenty of vitamins and minerals, we already had contenders offering all of those macronutrients and more.
Did You Know?
Use your height, weight, and activity level to figure out how many calories you need in a meal-replacement shake.
Everyone’s daily caloric requirements are slightly different, depending on their height, weight, age, gender, and activity level. Use this TDEE Calculator to figure out your total daily energy expenditure — that is, the amount of calories you’re likely to burn every day.
If you burn 2,500 calories per day, you might want a shake with 400-500 calories, or roughly 16–20 percent of your daily caloric needs. If you only burn 1,500 calories per day, you might be better off with a 200-300 calorie shake. After all, you’ll be eating other meals throughout the day, along with the occasional snack.
To be as accurate as possible, you’ll want to track all your food on an app like Fitbit or MyFitnessPal. That way, you know exactly how much you’re eating and how many calories your shake should be replacing. If you’re trying to lose weight, you’ll want to eat fewer calories than you burn.
If you need extra calories, don’t double up on shakes; eat real food instead.
If your favorite shake is a little low-cal for your nutritional needs – or if you’re just still hungry afterward — don’t grab a second bottle. Instead, pair your shake with a piece of fruit, an egg, or a handful of nuts. Dr. Bowers told us, “Instead of drinking more of a shake that’s only 200 calories, I’d recommend pairing it with some ‘real’ food such as fruits and vegetables or grains in order to reach a desired calorie level for the meal.”
You can also add extra calories to your shake by mixing it with milk instead of water, or by adding a banana or a tablespoon of peanut butter before blending.
Give your stomach time to adapt to your meal-replacement shake.
Not everyone can go straight from three meals a day to two meals and a shake. At first, you might find that switching to a shake leaves your stomach grumbly — or gassy — afterward. Give yourself a little bit of time to adapt. (Huel suggests three to five days.)
You should also pay attention to your shake’s sugar source. Sugar alcohols are great if you’re cutting calories — or if you’re diabetic — but some people find that they cause gas, bloating, or gastrointestinal distress. So give yourself time to get used to your new diet before buying the economy-sized pack.
Some people are always going to need to eat something — even after drinking a meal-replacement shake.
Still hungry after drinking your shake? Always hungry after drinking your shake? Dr. Ayoob said that’s fine. “Sometimes you want to chew something, too.” He suggested combining your shake with vegetables, a small salad, or some Greek yogurt — something that fits your caloric needs and satiates your hunger. “Nature doesn’t make things in one neat package — that’s why we need to eat a variety of foods to get what we need.”