Get the skinny on meal-replacement and workout supplement drinks

Looking for a healthy way to supplement or replace a meal? Many people turn to nutritional drinks to fill those needs, and their stomachs. There are many different drinks available and each type helps address specific needs of the consumer.

Meal Replacement

Heather Mangieri, MS, RD, author of the book Fueling Young Athletes, and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, notes meal replacement drinks are much more than just a jolt of protein.

“Some ready-to-drink shakes vary significantly and are marketed for different uses,” Mangieri says. “A nourishing meal includes a balance of carbohydrates for energy, protein for building and, dietary fat for flavor, consistency and satiety. It also should include vitamins and minerals. Make sure all those components are present in your meal-replacement drink. Then, formulate how much you will consume based on what your needs are. If you need help, a registered dietitian can help you figure that out.”

These drinks are typically lower in calories, designed to help the user lose weight. Having a healthy caloric intake will help users maintain their energy and avoid accidental malnutrition from not maintaining a healthy diet.

“Meal replacement (drinks) can be a great way for busy consumers to get a meal on the go,” Mangieri says. “Make sure to check the nutrition label and ingredients list closely and that the drink contains all of the macronutrients, carbohydrates, proteins and some fats in amounts that are right for your needs and goals.”

Supplementing Workouts

Drinks intended for workout supplementation tend to be higher in calories and some dietary fats, Mangieri says. Used before a workout for an energy boost or after to help build muscle and recharge.

Meal replacement and workout boosting drinks are often sold side-by-side, which can be confusing to consumers. When choosing a supplemental drink, Mangieri recommends they contain at least 20g of protein; energy-replenishing carbs like whole-grains, essential fats like omega-3s; amino acids that promote hormone production; and vitamin C to help restore cellular health.

Using both types of drinks long-term is safe, but Mangieri stresses the importance of creating a nourishing meal plan that consists of foods you enjoy that is good for you and fits your nutritional needs at the time. This can keep you from getting bored with consuming the same things every day.

 What’s inside


These are some key ingredients to look for when choosing a meal-replacement drink:

  • At least 10g of protein
  • No more than 250 calories per serving
  • At least 18 total vitamins and minerals
  • Low sugar and sodium
  • Contains complex carbohydrates and rich dietary fiber