Meal replacements can be your best friend in your pursuit to gain weight fast or in any fitness quest for that matter. It is extremely important that you feed your body regularly with many smaller meals as opposed to the traditional three big meals.
The practice of eating frequently increases nutrient absorption and regulates insulin levels. The benefits of this cannot be overstated (go here for more on Six Meals A Day). However you do it, just make sure you get it done if fast results are your goal.
But how do you do it? Prepare six meals a day? Are you kidding?
Enter meal replacement powders (MRPs), a supplement of convenience. Essentially MRPs do nothing for you that good and nutritious meals will not. They just make getting those good and nutritious meals possible at any and all times.
Thanks to an increasingly knowledgeable consumer base, the top nutritional companies are providing some very good MRPs with a good assortment of vitamins and quality protein (talking about fitness nutrition brands like EAS, Optimum Nutrition, Prolab and Met-Rx, not some of the MRPs you may see at the grocery store).
No need for a kitchen, just some water and a shaker bottle. They are like having your own personal chef always by your side constantly ready to provide you the nutritious meal that you need just at the right time.
Now, realize meal replacement powders or bars are not going to compare to the abilities of the average chef to pleasure your taste buds, they aren’t a better alternative to quality whole food nutrition but…
They are a much better alternative to just not getting the nutrition you need.
How To Choose Your Meal Replacement
The first step to picking the best meal replacement is designing your diet. From there, look for a product that will help you meet your nutritional needs. Beyond that, consider these factors…
Taste – Meal replacement powders can be considered an acquired taste. When you first add them to your weight gain diet, they aren’t likely to become your favorite meal of the day. But as you continue to drink them they become rather tolerable and, as the results they can help you achieve start to show, you really learn to appreciate them.
Taste is by far the most important factor in choosing your MRPs. It doesn’t really matter how cheap or nutritionally superior to the competition they may be, if you can’t stomach them, they won’t help you.
Price – A reason often given for leaving MRPs out of weight gain diet plans is their cost. People seem willing to pay large amounts for fanciful supplements that make ridiculous claims but will let their basic nutrition intake suffer. I wonder how the reputation for prohibitive costs became associated with MRPs…
The same people who cry poverty at the mention of meal replacement powders will often admit they find themselves in fast-food restaurants a few times a week.
Basic math – You can pay less than $2.50 for a quality MRP, a quality meal (at least in comparison to a great many alternatives). Now, the last time I purchased an extra-value meal I spent nearly $7. The argument just doesn’t add up.
Nutritional Content Hype – As much as I give credit to the major nutritional companies for providing good quality MRPs, rest assured their main goal is to get your money. As your goal with bodybuilding supplements is to get the most bang for your buck, their goal is to get the most buck for the littlest bang.
Beware of the upgrades – This is when supplement companies add ingredients to their basic products. Extra whey protein and glutamine are common additions you’ll see, and along with them you’ll see an additional cost. The additional ingredients rarely justify the additional cost.
In general, the add-ons you see to supplements like meal replacements, the little extras advertised as difference-makers should always be looked on with a healthy dose of skepticism. They can usually be supplemented directly more effectively and cost efficiently and often times aren’t in great enough supply within the products to have any effect on anything but your zest to buy.
Meal Replacement Bars
Like meal replacement powders, I am referencing the meal replacement bars produced by reputable nutrition companies not necessarily the entirety of the large assortment of bars that can appear at grocery stores these days.
When you bite into a true high quality protein bar, you may look again to make sure you didn’t mistakenly bite into a piece of chalk. High protein is not to be savored in this form. And those of us looking to gain weight most often are looking for high amounts of protein from our meal replacements in order to meet our daily needs.
Unless you have an affinity for the taste of chalk, your protein needs are best met through sources other than meal replacement bars.
Meal replacement powders are actually a better alternative than bars anyway. This is due to the additives necessary to get the bar’s ingredients into their barely edible form. Bars tend to also have a greater amount of fat content for similar reasons. They are also typically less cost-effective as compared to MRPs.
Having meal replacement bars available, however, isn’t a bad thing. I don’t recommend them for daily or even weekly use, but there may be times when their convenience factors outweigh their bad taste.
I take them with me on long outings where a shaker bottle might be a pain. Also, there are times I get so sick of MRPs that I somehow find a chalk rock more appetizing. One chalk rock though, and I am more than ready to return to my meal replacement shakes.
Dangers of Overdoing It with MRPs
No matter how much you find yourself enjoying your meal replacements and the convenience they provide, don’t go overboard with them. Remember that they are bodybuilding supplements, meant to ‘supplement’ a diet – not be the base for it.
Among other things, whole foods provide phytochemicals, essential fats and fiber that are important to your health as well as your gain weight fast goals. Whole foods also require your digestive system to work harder as compared to meal replacement shakes, keeping it in shape as you bring the rest of your body up to speed.
Keep your consumption of meal replacements at an absolute maximum of 3 per day, or half your total meals. Meet your nutritional needs as much as possible through whole foods and only use meal replacements to supplement. If you find yourself at a plateau, ease off the MRPs and go with more whole foods. This has worked to get me past some plateaus in the past.
Other Means of Liquid Nutrition?
Very closely related supplements to MRPs are weight gainers (in fact, really, they are the same thing just marketed differently).
They can provide you with nutritious meals as well and sometimes can be a better value (provided you take the time to choose a quality one).