The wind was blowing to the kitchen through the window and I had just finished a deadlift session in my home gym, setting a new record high. The rain was pouring hard, the sky was dark and cloudy and my increased testosterone levels made me feel like a libido-enhanced Wolverine.
Good times, no doubt.
It was great to have my ex-Israeli girlfriend stay with me that day, but there were more important things on the scale (heh). ‘There’ll be enough time for reproduction’, I thought, ‘gotta hit the kitchen now’. Post-workout overfeeding windows are a metabolic godsend.
About five minutes later – 1800 calories of a delicious, fresh and complete meal replacement shake was on its way to my gastrointestinal tract. Homemade in Israel.
Too Much Information Warning: If you don’t care about the ‘why’ and the science and just want the meal replacement shake recipes, go ahead and scroll down to the bottom of the page and jump directly to the ingredients and guidelines.
Only a year earlier I was a 55kg (~120lbs) skinny bastard working out like crazy. All I wanted was just to get a little heavy and muscular but soon realized that it’s not going to happen without a massive spike of caloric intake. This can be a hugely difficult challenge for hardgainers like me, people with a low-appetite, and bodybuilders with huge caloric demands.
During their ‘mass periods’, most of the athletes I know use meal replacement shakes, which frankly would be more accurately described as ‘extra meal shakes’. Those are most commonly known as weight gainer shakes, but are often used by people who simply want to replace one or more of their daily meals as well and thus its name.
Those shakes allow athletes to consume a large quantity of nutrient-dense calories in the form of liquid, making it much easier to answer their body’s nutritional needs and build up the muscular mass they desire. However, even people who wish to lose weight might want to use a meal replacement shake occasionally, usually due to a very busy daily schedule.
Like most trainees, you can buy those shakes ready-to-drink from well known companies, as well as in the form of powder, and mix it with a liquid (milk is commonly recommended by these brands) to get the shake quickly ready. That’s an easy and a quite cheap way of obtaining more calories. In fact, dollar-per-calorie, it’s even cheaper than your average meal.
Those powders are usually low in fat and sugar, and high in protein and complex carbohydrates, also having a rich profile of processed vitamins and minerals. However, I prefer making them homemade, for a less processed and much healthier nutrient profile. I also want the ability to control the variables.
Why Would You Want a Meal Replacement Shake?
To be honest, most chances are you don’t really need them.
If you have enough appetite and time to consume your required calories (whether the goal is weight loss or gain) in the form of solid foods, I’d say don’t bother with those shakes. Most people agree that eating calories is much more enjoyable than drinking them.
However, there are a few scenarios where I would imagine meal replacement shakes to be useful:
- Unfortunately Low Appetite – If you got some life issues (recent breakup?) that significantly reduce your appetite and you can’t reach your daily nutritional needs, a caloric-dense meal replacement shake can be of a great use.
- Hargainers (Ectomorphs) – This is the most troublesome type of body for building strength or mass. Ectomorphs need more calories to have the same muscular gain (mass/strength) of other body-types, mostly due to a metabolism rate of a jet plane on ephedra and a highly adaptive metabolism for caloric intake. I am one of those. If you are too, consider the use of shakes in case you don’t have enough appetite to consume large amounts of solid foods.
- Solid Foods Limit – If you are an athlete, bodybuilders included of course, requiring a huge amount of calories (Michael Phelps comes to mind) to sustain or move towards your goals and can not possibly digest any more solid foods. – those shakes can help a great deal.
- Busy Schedule – That’s the most common situation. You might want to eat a solid meal but you simply don’t have the time to prepare or eat it. A meal replacement drink could be a great way to fill this gap whether your goal is gaining or losing weight. You can tailor your shake for your specific nutritional needs.
- Missing a Breakfast – This is important. If you do not have time to prepare a breakfast when you wake up – a protein rich shake will fix it. Protein-rich breakfasts increase your metabolic rates during the day and shakes may help if you don’t have the time to boil some eggs.
Meal Replacement Shakes vs Protein Shakes vs Weight Gainers
I do not like this categorisation, but it’s necessary to explain.
Protein shake are usually shakes that contain low to zero fats and carbohydrates, with a rich dose of protein. Weight gainers, on the other hand, are a complete meal replacement shake – consisting of carbohydrates, protein, fat sometimes, and a much higher amount of calories, vitamins and minerals.
However, many people use protein shakes for weight gaining purposes since they don’t need the extra carbs or fats found in normal weight gainer shakes. Obviously they’ll make sure they get those nutrients directly from their diet.
In fact, all of them could be called a meal replacement shake! Both the protein and weight gainer shakes are there to supply nutrients and calories of a solid meal that can not be consumed at the moment, whatever the reason is. As you might have probably guessed so far, I like customising my own shakes for my own specific need at the given moment, without giving it any confusing name.
You Don’t Want to Consume Too Much Processed Shakes
It applies to processed meal replacement snacks and bars as well.
Unless most of your shakes content is consisted of whole foods, you really do not want to consume too much (or any) of them. This is why I recommend making them at home, they’re far healthier that way. But if you can not be bothered with a little bit of some kitchen work and insist on using processed commercial products, make sure you don’t replace any of your solid meals with them on a regular basis.
If you use those shakes to bulk, they should be an extra meal and not a replacement meal as the name suggests. You see, this is a processed product with processed protein, vitamins, minerals, everything. It lacks the natural substances and chemicals and perfect ratios of whole foods and you might end up with some troubles and deficiencies if you don’t consume enough solid foods and rely on them solely.
It’s like a computer driving simulation – it can be a fun addition, but nothing like the real thing.
Healthy Meal Replacement Shakes.. Or Are They?
Well, it depends.
There’s no way I’m gonna put the health tag on highly processed store-bought supplements. Commercial weight gainers or protein powders will never be as healthy as whole foods with the ever-dancing synergy of its scientifically discovered and undiscovered nutritional components.
This is another reason why I recommend making your shakes homemade. You control the variables. You know exactly what you put inside your shake, how fresh it is, and can change each component at a time to achieve a different nutritional need or taste. They are also very healthy if you get fresh organic whole-foods and incorporate them into this heaven-like beverage.
However, there is one thing I believe I must address here.
Consuming a diet consisted of many calories is an unhealthy thing by itself. There is a direct correlation between the amount of calories consumed during life and the length of lifespan.
The only thing you can do about it is use an Intermittent-Fasting (IF) protocol to try and flip things around. If you substantially cut (less than %50) your caloric intake once a week, something you should do anyway to avoid metabolic up-regulation if you’re trying to gain weight, you can get some of the life-extending benefits of a low calorie diet.
Your Organic Homemade Meal Replacement Shakes Should Be Consumed When..
- IF MISSING A BREAKFAST! A protein-rich breakfast (not coffee & bagel) is ultra-beneficial for people trying to lose weight. I’d take my three hard-boiled eggs dipped in Israeli olive oil and black pepper any day, but in times of little time or a malfunctioning alarm clock, a quick shake is blessed.
- Pre-Workout – I never really bothered, since I love solid foods – but many people take a shake an hour or two prior to a workout as an easy-to-digest meal.
- Post-Workout – Although I prefer taking advantage of the primal hunger after a workout to munch some real solid food, I’d definitely get a preferably homemade meal replacement shake if solid foods are not possible, whatever the reason is.
- Replacing a Meal on a Busy Day – If there is no way for you to get that meal you are craving for due to a busy schedule at work or whatever, a meal replacement shake will seal the deal.
- Before Sleep – Your body goes into a long fast when you go to sleep. That’s not a bad thing, especially if you’re fat-metbolised and especially if you’re doing Intermittent-Fasting. Some bodybuilders worry for that though and would take a shake before sleep. If you do, do add a good amount of fats (coconut oil, butter, nuts) for a nice and longer absorption.
Guidelines – Different Shakes for Different Purposes
What Are The Best Meal Replacement Shakes for Weight Loss Purposes?
Well, think about it. I mean, really think about it. If you’re like most people trying to lose weight, you’re probably left quite hungry in different times of the day, craving to have that satisfying feel of chewing and swallowing food. Why, in mother-nature’s name, would you replace your precious meals with a quickly-consumed weight loss shake? This kind of defeats it’s purpose.
So no, I wouldn’t recommend you to replace your meals with similarly-calorically-profiled shakes if you want to lose weight. Unless you have a VERY low appetite (a breakup maybe? forget the bitch) and you can’t seem to shove-in this low number of calories your body requires for losing weight properly (you’ll mimic a ‘crash diet’ if you don’t eat enough – you don’t want that).
However, if you have a very busy day with no time to be messing with food – a meal replacement shake will be useful and provide a quick and easy solution. The most reasonable reason for using diet meal replacement shakes for weight loss purposes is a lack of time to prepare a solid protein-rich breakfast. A rich-protein breakfast will keep your metabolism rolling during the day, decrease your impulses for carbs, and will aid you tremendously in losing that fat tires you desire to get rid of.
If you wish to lose weight and reduce your bodyfat percentage – make sure your whole diet is appropriate for the purpose. Low-carb diets have a great reputation for losing fat without the need to count calories. Because of that, I will include an appropriate low carb meal replacement shake for weight loss purposes. Ready? Use a blender for the ‘recipes’ below.
High Protein Low Carb Meal Replacement Shake for Weight Loss
- Organic egg-whites (Eggology sells ‘Pure, fresh, organic, cage free, tested for salmonella & listeria’ egg-whites) or whole eggs if you want the fatty and highly-nutritious yolks. You can also use organic unprocessed whey powder or organic unprocessed hemp or yellow-pea protein powder for vegans.
- You may add a very small portion of some kind of a berry (blueberry, raspberry, strawberry, blackberry, etc) for the sake of living life and enjoying a good taste along with some über-phytochemicals and good nutrients.
- If you want some good fats with your shake – consider adding some coconut oil, nuts, butter or simply keep the egg yolks. Or have them all. Up to you.
- A little bit of Stevia to sweeten the shake if you choose not to include some berries. It’s an amazingly sweet plant with zero calories. Say goodbye to sugar.
- If you can stand it, consider adding some green leafy vegetables (spinach is king). They will provide a good amount of vitamins and minerals with some extra protein, and their taste will often be positively dominated by the berries taste.
- Ice cubes and cold water (Will also aid in fat loss, but that’s another post).
You may add a few dashes of cinnamon or other spices to your taste.
This can be a very low-fat or a very high-fat protein shake, depending on your choices. Fat is important in weight-loss but can easily become counter-productive if taken to an extent. Fat is highly-dense in calories – 7 walnuts will lend you around 18g of fat and 180 calories. You can ditch fats altogether if you’re getting enough nutrition the rest of the day and just need a proteinic metabolism-boost.
I did not mention the nutritional value of each food because I want you to play with it and tweak it for your own needs. Each egg white contains around 3 or 4 grams of protein. Add as many as needed (6-12 usually). Stevia contains zero calories. Berries contain some carbs, but we put a very small amount of them for taste. You can easily skip them if you don’t feel the need. Put as many greens as you like (if you like). I recommend going organic all the way, for all ingredients.
This recipe can also be used for people trying to gain weight, who also don’t the cheap extra carbs that usually come from commercial weight gainers. If it’s weight you’re trying to gain – add some of the great fat sources I mentioned, and consider adding some fruits for carbs – and even full-fat whole organic milk if you don’t have any problems digesting it.
Or just use this recipe:
High Protein Meal Replacement Shake for Weight Gain (aka Weight Gainer)
- Whole organic egg-yolks or organic egg whites/unprocessed whey powder if you don’t want the nutritious yolks (you probably want them if you’re trying to gain weight).For vegans: organic unprocessed hemp or yellow-pea protein powder.
- Fruits to your taste – Bananas/Berries/Papaya/Watermelon/Etc. Consider adding some carrot for extra carbs and vitamins.
- Good fats: Avocado, fresh pecans/almonds/cashews/walnuts or even better: coconut meat/milk/oil, organic grass-fed butter or ghee, organic egg yolks. All these give you a huge spike of calories with a lot of minerals, vitamins and good fats.
- If you can stand it, consider adding some green leafy vegetables. The fruity sweetness will often cover their taste, and they will shape up the shake’s nutritional profile and add a lot of good nutrients.
- Organic grass-fed whole-milk if you can digest it properly. If not – coconut milk is always king.
- Ice cubes.
Without getting into specific amounts (again, tweak and play with it for your needs. NutritionData.com is a good website for checking nutritional values). Careful with the nuts, they contain a lot of omega-6 which isn’t a good thing.
If you need a low-fat meal replacement shake, you know what you have to do. Control the amount of nuts and milk you’re putting inside and supplement your shake with a little more of the other ingredients.
MILK: There is a popular method for bulking athletes – GOMAD (Gallon of Milk a Day). It definitely works. It’s like a meal replacement shake by itself if you consume enough of it. I don’t feel comfortable recommending it from an health perspective since a lot of people can’t digest milk properly and experience bloating, mucus and other symptoms. A lot of those disappear when you go for full-fat grass-fed organic (even raw!) whole milk, you’ll have to decide for yourself.
As always, make sure everything’s organic and unprocessed. Homemade rules.
What About Soy Based Meal Replacement Shakes? I Love Soy!
Soy contains toxins, allergens, phytates, lectins and phytoestrogens. We don’t want that and I recommend avoiding it, but if you still wish to base your shake on soy protein, you can easily do that by substituting the egg white or protein powders with organic soy protein powder in either of the above ‘recipes’ .
Vegetarian or Vegan Meal Replacement and Protein Shakes
If you’re a lacto-ovo-vegetarian, the above ingredients are all perfectly suitable for you. If you’re vegan, you can simply use organic unprocessed hemp or yellow pea (or even rice) protein powder as your basic protein ingredient. Use almond or coconut-milk (DELICIOUS) to replace dairy milk and give your shake a more liquid feeling.
Robert Cheeke is a vegan bodybuilder who does wonders with his vegan lifestyle. Google his name to find some of his meal replacement shake recipes, they might be useful to you if you plan to build your body the vegan way.
And Gluten Free Meal Replacement Shake? I’m Worried!
All my recipes are gluten-free.
Some people like to add oats as a carb for their weight-gain shakes. Besides the fact that ‘avenin’ in oats is controversial in its toxicity levels, I’d recommend removing it from your diet. It’s not healthy and more than often stored in equipment used to store other grains, resulting in a cross-contamination.
I Need a Lactose-Free (Non-Dairy) Shake! Help!
Simply remove all dairy from the ingredient list. That includes whey protein if you planned on using it. You have many other options, and they are all listed above. People usually tend to stuff their shakes with milk, ice cream and yogurt – but a non-dairy, lactose-free meal replacement shake is very easy to make.
Ditch all dairy except for ghee (clarified-butter, contains no lactose) – and use eggs, fruits, veggies, nuts, coconut milk and the like. Easy peasy.
Low Carbs High Protein Shakes for Diabetic People? Anything Different?
The first recipe is perfectly safe for diabetics. We use Stevia which is perfectly safe for diabetics to sweeten our shakes. You don’t even have to worry about the small amounts of berries, though you can ditch them if you want.
If you’re a diabetic, I recommend avoiding stuffing huge caloric shakes like the second one (weight gainer), and would definitely advise you to keep a close eye with your doctor or medical supervisor. This kind of sport can be especially dangerous for you if the nutritional side of it is done incorrectly. Again, let your doctor know whatever you choose to do.
And in all cases, avoid unnecessary carbohydrates intake – in your overall diet and in your homemade diet shakes.
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TIP #1: Change the ingredients from time to time, mainly as a psychological weapon to kill the boredom of eating the same thing over and over.
TIP #2: Add some fresh grounded flaxseeds for a boost of ALA omega-3 fatty acids if you’re vegan. Though they’re nothing like the real EPA/DHA omega-3 found in fish oil, the body does convert and use a small percentage of them. Don’t go too-crazy though, it can do more harm than good to your gastrointestinal tract. A dash goes a long way.
TIP #3: Some nice exotic addons to some of the shakes will be bee pollen, hemp seeds, and even organic 100% cocoa beans! (I am now in the Philippinies, having a good time with those). There are interesting health benefits to each of the three, but feel free to experiment with other stuff as well, just control the amount you’re putting inside and know what you’re doing. Too much sugar or omega-6 fats won’t make your body happy.
TIP #4: I highly recommend the Breville BSB510XL Immersion Blender for making your shakes. Trust me, I did my thorough research before buying it, and it’s freaking awesome. I use it daily.
Those shakes can be a great additional caloric and nutrient source for your diet.
If you decide to go for processed powders or shakes, don’t constantly substitute your meals for them. The most important thing is to keep up a well rounded nutrient-dense diet. The shakes are just auxiliary. Constantly overusing powders or prepackaged meal replacement shakes instead of proper meals can lead to a serious disproportionate dietary ratios and nutrient deficiencies. Your body is not very welcoming for artificially processed nutrients.
However, all my whole-foodish organic homemade shakes made of real foods are very safe, healthy and invigorating.
I hope you find my organic homemade shakes tasty and useful. Tweak it and tailor them for your own nutritional needs. I give you my sincere hope to achieve whatever fitness goal you’re after.