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Meal Plans on the Go

Help clients and members to design healthy meal plans using drinks and bars as supplements to their diets.

Following a well-balanced and nutritionally sound diet can be quite a chore. It's tough enough to get clients to exercise on a regular basis, let alone follow the "five-to-six small and frequent meals per day" type of regimen that is often endorsed for optimal health and weight loss. If accepting this idea that consuming frequent daily meals may work to your clients' benefit, you may wonder how they can fit this type of schedule into their already busy lives. Consider recommending high-quality meal replacement drinks and bars to supplement their whole-food intake.

Stress to your clients that these products are "supplements"to a healthy diet. While many of these products provide an abundance of nutrients, they should not be used exclusively. There are nutrients contained in whole foods that are not present in sufficient quantities in meal replacements (e.g., fiber, photochemicals, vitamins, minerals). Beyond this, consuming a diet comprised mainly of drinks and bars does not allow an individual to learn how to maintain a healthy diet in the presence of whole food alone. This needs to be considered, as situations will arise when the meal replacements may not be available. It is during these times when appropriate knowledge of nutrition will be required. Therefore, it is recommended that the products discussed in this article be used only as adjuncts to an individual's whole-food intake, and preferably for no more than two to three of their five to six daily meals. These products are nutritional tools that simply allow greater ease in the quest to consume frequent daily "meals."

Meal replacement specifics

First brought to the fitness market in the early 1990s, meal replacement products are distributed in three classes, each containing a high percentage of protein, and moderate to low amounts of carbohydrate and fat. This is the general rule, although some products are marketed to endurance athletes or as post-workout supplements and contain a higher carbohydrate content. Most products also contain a high concentration of vitamins and minerals.

Breakfast bars, granola bars, fruit bars, etc., are not included in the "meal replacement" category. These products are often little more than a package of sugar, with minimal nutritional value. They may be inexpensive and taste good, but they will do little to help support optimal health if consumed on a regular basis. It is important that clients understand the distinction between these products and those discussed in this article.

Class 1: Meal replacement powders

Approximate cost per serving: $1.25 to $1.75. Meal replacement powders are packaged either in single serving pouches or sold in multi-pound containers, in which two to three scoops is equal to one serving. These are generally added to water, milk, juice, etc., and mixed in either a shaker bottle or a blender. Each serving generally contains 250 to 300 calories, 40 to 45 grams of protein, 15 to 20 grams of carbohydrate, and 2 to 3 grams of fat. Some products are marketed as "lite," however, they are essentially the same product with less powder per packet. Other products have a low carbohydrate content for those individuals following a high-protein, low-carbohydrate plan. However, most of these products are simply protein powder with added vitamins and minerals. Clients would be better off just using a quality protein powder and a multivitamin/mineral (see Protein Powder).

The amount of liquid added to each serving of powder can vary the consistency of the drink, making it more suitable to the individual's taste. The powders can be mixed with ice, fruit, yogurt, flax seed oil and additional flavorings, such as a variety of extracts, spices, drink mixes, graham crackers, peanut butter, etc. They can also be made into pudding (add 14 ounces of water, blend and refrigerate). A dietary fiber supplement can also be added without any discernable difference in taste. These shakes can be made in advance and placed in the refrigerator to be consumed throughout the day. They are an excellent alternative to the typical poor-quality foods that so many people tend to eat during the day. A client may consider including a shake mid-morning and again mid-afternoon to offset the usual long wait between breakfast and lunch, and lunch and dinner. These shakes also work great as a quick breakfast, and can be consumed on the commute to work.

Powdered drinks can be purchased in awide variety of flavors, including chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, mocha, peanut butter and fruit flavors. The flavors and tastes will vary based on the product, so discuss with clients the need to try different brands, as some are certainly much better than others. Many manufacturers include a recipe guide with the product, which will provide clients with a variety of mixing options. Recipes can also be found on the Internet under the supplement company's name.

Class 2: Ready-to-drink meal replacements

Approximate cost per serving: $2. Ready-to-drink meal replacement shakes are the ultimate in convenience, as they are pre-mixed and ready to consume. These are nutritionally similar to meal replacement powdersas far as the macronutrient breakdown and calories. These shakes offer a convenient tool clients can use to help make sure their bodies have the nutrients needed to maintain an active lifestyle.

Ready-to-drink meal replacement shakes are especially useful when traveling. And, althougha bit more expensive than the powders, these products still remain cheaper than many traditional meals found on the road. Think about recommending these to clients who do a good deal of traveling, or who are always on the go. They may benefit greatly from their convenience and quality.

Class 3: Meal replacement bars

Approximate cost per serving: $1 to $2. Meal replacement bars are one of the most convenient ways to consume a quick, relatively healthy meal on the go. These are nutritionally similar to meal replacement drinks, although they often have less protein and more carbohydrate (sugar) and fat. Most health food stores and supplement supply companies allow buyers to mix and match flavors if purchasing an entire box of bars.

Bars are great to use during a long exercise bout (cycling, hiking, etc.); when away from home running errands or catching a movie; or any time that carrying a meal replacement beverage or whole-food meal may be difficult. While the bars do serve a useful purpose, from a nutritional standpoint, the drinks are superior due to the fact that many bars have a significant amount of sugar and processing ingredients. Therefore, rather than making these a staple in the diet, suggest that clients use these on occasion when they have no other options.

The use of meal replacements can offer a healthy alternative to the typical high-calorie, high-fat, high-sugar, low-nutrient fast foods commonly available today. They are nutritious, convenient and very often tasty. These products are a great alternative for people who find cooking to be a chore, who eat most meals away from home, or whochoose poor-quality processed meals and snacks to consume as their main nutritional intake.

If you have clients who enjoy cooking and prefer to eat five to six whole-food, nutrient-dense meals per day, that's great. However, if clients follow the typical one-to-three-meals-per-day plan, consider recommending the addition of meal replacements. Keep in mind that their diets will need to be modified to allow for the proper caloric intake now that they are adding the meal replacements. Together with the intake of quality whole food, meal replacements may assist in providing optimal nutritional support.

* Crush three to four ice cubes
* Add 1 cup juice and 1 cup water
* Add one container of low-fat or fat-free flavored yogurt (about 100 to120 calories)
* Add one piece of fruit
* Add flax oil (1/2 tbsp.)
* Add protein powder (one to one-and-a-half scoops, 30 grams of protein)
* Blend for 30 seconds
* Add fiber supplement, if desired, and blend for 10 seconds
* Drink entire shake, or save in refrigerator for consumption later (blend again prior to drinking)
* Nutritional content: 450 calories, 38grams protein, 55 grams carbohydrate, 8 grams fat
* 6:30 a.m. Breakfast (oatmeal, banana, 20-gram protein powder)
* 9:30 a.m. Meal replacement powder mixed with fruit and flax seed oil
* 12:30 p.m. Lunch (turkey sandwich, salad with vegetables, one piece of fruit)
* 3:00 p.m. Meal replacement powder mixed with fruit and flax seed oil
* 5:00 p.m. Exercise (weight training for 30 minutes, cardiovascular exercise for 30 minutes)

* 7:00 p.m. Dinner (8-ounce steak, baked potato, 1 to 2 cups vegetables, one piece of fruit)

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