Meal Replacement Shakes Vs Bars: Which Is More Effective?

Meal Replacement Shakes vs Bars: Which is More Effective?

Last Updated on July, 2024

Does anyone else remember Willy Wonka’s 3-Course Dinner Gum?

You know, the magical chewing gum equivalent to an entire 3-course meal of tomato soup, roast beef, and blueberry pie?

I used to think it was the coolest thing ever, and nothing could compare to the sheer genius of that invention in my seven-year-old brain. Flying cars could only dream of being that awesome.

And while this gum may not be readily available in stores (although scientists have cracked the code to replicate it in real life!!), meal replacements are the next best thing in our decidedly less magical world.

A shake or bar with the same nutrients as a complete meal but with fewer calories? Willy Wonka would be proud!

However, much like the overwhelming amount of sweets in Willy Wonka’s factory, stores nowadays are PACKED to the brim with various meal replacements, and it can be challenging to know what you should buy.

But don’t worry, I’m here to help you with that!

In this article, I’ll compare meal replacement shakes and bars, two options you have when it comes to meal replacement. 

Read on to find out the pros and cons of each, when it is most appropriate to use them, and what is ultimately better to consume.

What are Meal Replacement Shakes?

Humans holding meal replacemen shakes

Meal replacement shakes are pretty self-explanatory. They’re shakes designed to replace a full meal and contain most of the nutrients you would find in a traditional meal. 

They can either be pre- prepared in a can or bottle or come as a powder you need to mix with water or milk.

Experts recommend that a full meal contains vegetables, fruit, whole grains, dairy products, protein, oils, and fat. Meal replacement shakes don’t contain most of these elements but they are full of the nutrients you would find in these foods.

Their defining feature is that they are full of proteins meaning that they fill you up, but without the burden of extra calories. For this reason, you can use meal replacement shakes to aid weight loss and bulk up.

However, meal replacement shakes should not be confused with protein shakes

Protein shakes contain more proteins and less carbs and vitamins and minerals than a meal replacement shake. They are not meant to replace meals; instead, they are meant to supplement them. 

What are Meal Replacement Bars?

meal replacement bars

A meal replacement bar is similar to a protein bar, except that it’s higher in calories, fat and fiber because it is intended to replace a meal like a meal replacement shake. 

Meal replacement bars help you lose weight too, and you can also consume them in the middle of a busy day when you simply don’t have time to spare.

Meal Replacement Shakes vs Bars: Comparison

Meal Replacement Shakes vs Meal Replacement Bars

On the surface of things, meal replacement shakes and bars seem very similar (except that one is a drink and the other is not, of course). 

But let’s take a deep dive and compare all the aspects of these two meal replacements so that we can figure out what kind should be going into your shopping cart.

Ingredients, Nutrients, and Calories

Meal Replacement Shakes

Meal replacement shakes generally contain between 200-400 calories.

They contain protein (though not as much as a protein shake), essential vitamins and minerals and fiber.

Ingredients and nutrient compositions can vary between different brands of meal replacement shakes, all containing different proportions of protein, carbohydrates, and fat.

In general, however, a good meal replacement shake consists of the following;

  • Minimum 15 grams of protein per serving
  • Less than 10 grams of sugar per serving
  • Minimum 3 grams of fiber per serving
  • No corn syrup
  • No Hydrogenated vegetable oil (HVO)
  • And a minimum of 33% of the Daily Value for vitamins and minerals

Different kinds of protein are used in meal replacement shakes, and an ideal type to look out for is whey protein as it promotes satiety, which means you’ll feel fuller for longer. Other common protein sources are pea protein, quinoa, and rice protein.

Meal Replacement Bars

Meal replacement bars also contain between 200-400 calories in general.

They can include nuts, oats, fruits, peanut butter, egg whites, etc.

You can get bars that are gluten, soy and dairy-free and choose brands that suit your taste.

An ideal meal replacement bar should have:

  • At least 300 calories
  • Ten grams of protein per serving
  • Less than 4 grams of added sugars per serving
  • Less than 4 grams of saturated fat per serving



Meal Replacement Shakes

For a kilo or 2.2 pounds, meal replacement shakes should be around $20-25. Premade drinks can be between $2-4, depending on their size. 

Meal Replacement Bars

Meal replacement bars generally cost between $2-4 per bar.

When Should You Use?

Meal Replacement Shakes

Meal replacement shakes are generally used when you are trying to lose or maintain weight.

You can replace your breakfast or lunch with a meal replacement shake to enjoy its fullest effect on your lifestyle.

Conversely, protein shakes are used to fuel intense workouts and build, tone, and repair muscle tissues. For this reason, it is essential to note that protein shakes and meal replacement shakes are not interchangeable.

Meal Replacement Bars

Like their liquid counterpart, you can use meal replacement bars to aid weight loss or maintenance. 

It would help to consume these bars when you’re stuck between eating something and skipping the meal altogether.

Because meal replacement bars are solid foods and take longer to digest, you are likely to feel more full after eating one of them than when compared to taking a meal replacement shake.

Because you will feel satisfied for longer, you will be less likely to eat more than you should at your regular meals. For this reason, it may be believed that meal replacement bars are better at aiding weight loss than meal replacement shakes.

Meal Replacement Shakes: Pros and Cons

meal replacement shake

Let’s look at the main pros and cons of meal replacement shakes.


Great Source of Protein

Meal replacement shakes are plentiful in their protein content, which is good news for anyone who’s hoping to lose weight with the help of these shakes. 

High protein intake is linked to reduced hunger throughout the day due to increased and prolonged satiety.

Studies have proven that consuming increased amounts of protein aids weight loss. 

For example, thermogenesis (which is the production of heat in your body) was doubled in women who consumed a high-protein meal compared to those who consumed a high-carbohydrate meal.

Your body burns calories to generate heat, so increased thermogenesis means increased energy expenditure, eventually leading to weight loss.


Meal replacement shakes are the epitome of convenience.

You don’t have to cook a single thing, and you also won’t find yourself ordering fast food as an alternative because you’ll have a quick, healthy, and filling meal in the form of a shake that you can drink on the go!

Helps Achieve Weight Loss

Studies over the past 15 years have shown that creating a caloric deficit through meal replacement shakes is an effective weight management method recognized by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in the United States.

As stated earlier, the presence of protein aids weight loss. 

The presence of fiber in brands of meal replacement shakes also supports weight loss as fiber slows down the movement of food through the stomach to the small intestine. Slow food movement means you will feel fuller for longer and avoid overeating throughout the day.

A bonus of fiber in your shake? Healthy digestion.

Is More Nutritious Than Regular Diets

When you cut back on high-calorie foods, getting all the nutrients you need from your regular diet can be challenging.

Meal replacement shakes are chock-full of nutrients like vitamin D, iron, potassium, and calcium, which many people don’t get in sufficient amounts while also being low in calories.

Calcium is necessary to keep your bones strong and maintain muscle function and heart rhythm. 

Potassium is necessary for many organs to function normally, and iron is vital in producing hemoglobin. Vitamin D is, like calcium, necessary for maintaining strong and healthy bones.

Speeds Up Metabolism

Boosting metabolism is a first-class ticket to weight loss because you can burn more calories. 

You can boost metabolism through a high intake of protein because the thermic effect of food (TEF) is higher for proteins (20-30%) than it is for fat (0-3%) and carbs (5-10%).

And a higher intake of protein is exactly what a meal replacement shake gives you. 

Aim for a meal replacement shake with 15-20 grams of protein to speed up metabolism.


Not a Long-Term Solution

While it is true that meal replacement shakes are full of essential nutrients, they cannot completely replace a healthy and balanced diet.

Whole foods contain enzymes, antioxidants, and plant compounds that can’t be found in all meal replacement shakes.

So while a meal replacement shake can help once in a while, it is not sustainable in the long run.


Meal replacement shakes often contain elements like MSG, pea protein, and soy protein, common allergens that can cause adverse side effects like headaches, constipation, etc.

Adverse Health Effects Due to Unhealthy Ingredients

The Food and Drug Administration does not regulate meal replacement shakes because they are classified as dietary supplements.

A 2010 “Consumer Reports” study found that 15 commercially produced protein drinks contained traces of arsenic and harmful heavy metals like lead, cadmium, and mercury. 

Chronic low-level heavy metal poisoning can lead to issues like headaches, joint pain, fatigue, and constipation.

These toxic substances are also linked to brain damage, cancer, and reproductive issues.

Particular meal replacement shakes also contain artificial ingredients like sucralose, which also adversely affect one’s health.

SO we recommend you to get a meal replacement shakes without artificial sweeteners. Just click here to see our picks.

Meal Replacement Bars: Pros and Cons

meal replacement bars


Good Source of Nutrients

Meal replacement bars are a good source of protein, carbs, and micronutrients like calcium, vitamin B, potassium, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus.

They are also a good source of dietary fiber, which is good for your digestive health and prevents overeating between meals. 


Meal replacement bars are a simple, easy, ready-to-eat snack that is healthy. What more could you possibly want?

You can get these bars in various flavors and pick brands that best suit your tastes.

They also last for a while, so they are a convenient meal to keep at hand.

Supports Weight Gain and Loss

Meal replacement bars are generally used to support weight loss by creating a caloric deficit.

But you can also use them to gain weight if that is necessary. 

Adding some meal replacement bars to your regular diet can provide extra calories without consuming a lot of extra food.

In this way, whatever your weight goals may be, meal replacement bars can help!


Highly Processed

Some meal replacement bars contain so many calories and added sugar that they might as well be shelved in the candy aisle. 

While a bar once in a while is alright, if you rely on them for an extended period, you are filling your body with processed ingredients that can deter weight loss and even cause weight gain.

Artificial sugar is a leading cause of weight gain, and they are added in abundance to some meal replacement bars to fill them with enough flavor. 

And while these meal replacements provide nutrients, they don’t provide nearly everything that a traditional meal of whole foods can provide.

What’s Better?

meal replacements and meal replacement bar

Different brands of meal replacement shake and bars can differ significantly in terms of ingredients and nutrient composition, making a direct generalized comparison and conclusion very difficult.

A good quality meal replacement shake will be better than a low-quality meal replacement bar and vice versa.

Meal replacement shakes and bars are very similar, as can be seen by the fact that they share many pros and cons. 

Their primary and most glaring difference is that their different forms can mean different digestive processes. For example, liquids can move through your system faster, which could mean you won’t feel full for long.

But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it is sometimes thought that for this reason, meal replacement shakes are better for gaining weight, and meal replacement bars are better for losing weight.

But the effect these meal substitutes have on you depends on how you use them. For example, if you consume meal replacement bars on top of your regular diet, you will gain weight.

A sit-down meal is by far the best approach for healthy weight management. But that isn’t always possible for everyone. So meal replacements are the next best thing.

You can choose whether to purchase shakes or bars based on your preference.

This is because meal replacement bars or shakes will help you achieve your weight goals as long as you choose good quality products with minimum artificial ingredients.


Meal replacement shakes and bars are very similar, making a generalized comparison extremely difficult. 

Both are equally effective, and at the same time, both have similar downsides. 

Whether you buy meal replacement shakes or bars doesn’t matter. What matters is that you buy good quality products that aren’t chock full of artificial ingredients and that you compliment them with a healthy balanced diet.

If you follow this approach, all your weight goals will be within your reach, easy peasy!


Meal replacement shakes can aid in weight loss through caloric deficit or increased protein metabolism.

Protein bars are considered meal replacements due to their high protein content of 15 to 20 grams per bar.

Meal replacement shakes are not a complete meal replacement and should not be consumed exclusively. A healthy balanced diet including whole foods is recommended.

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Jennifer Pantall
Jennifer Pantall is a Nutrition Therapy Practitioner. She loves tennis and has one daughter with a lovely husband whom she adores. Jennifer also loves to spend time outdoors playing with her dog or walking in nature. You can find more about me here.

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