Can Meal Replacement Shakes Build Muscle?

There is a prevailing misconception that they have powerful “steroid-like effects” that will miraculously transform your body from fat to fit.

Q: What is you’re feeling about meal replacement shakes? Can they really help build muscle?


In order to evaluate the efficacy of meal replacements, it’s necessary to understand their nutritional composition. Essentially, these products are a high-protein, low-fat, moderate-carbohydrate food source that’s rich in vitamins and minerals. They are designed to provide a maximal amount of nutrients in a format that is not inclined to promote significant body fat storage.

As a rule, meal replacements are best utilized as an adjunct to a well-balanced nutritional regimen – not as a substitute for natural foods. They fill a specific dietary niche, but by no means are a complete source of nutrition. Hence, their overuse can lead to a disparity in dietary ratios as well as a deficiency in vital nutrients. Combining meal replacements with natural foods is the best way to satisfy all your nutritional requirements, ensuring an optimal intake of nutrients.

In practice, it’s best to eat a hearty breakfast, lunch, and dinner, using shakes as “interim” meals. It’s widely recognized that a diet consisting of small, frequent meals (five or six a day) spaced out every two to three hours provides optimal nutritional utility. Eating in this fashion increases metabolic function, regulates blood sugar levels and stabilizes various hormonal processes, allowing your body to operate at peak efficiency. Furthermore, it helps to suppress hunger and thus prevent the temptation to snack on “empty calorie” foods that are high in saturated fat and sugar. Since meal replacements are convenient and easy to prepare, they facilitate your ability to consume quality nutrients at regular intervals without expending a great deal of effort.

On the other hand, meal replacements will not directly build your muscles or make you stronger. There is a prevailing misconception that they have powerful “steroid-like effects” that will miraculously transform your body from fat to fit. However, despite the hype, muscular development can only be achieved through intense strength training. Although consuming adequate dietary protein will aid in the muscle building process when combined with a dedicated weight training regimen, simply adding meal replacements to your diet will have no effect on building better muscles!

Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D., CSCS, CSPS, FNSCA is an internationally renowned fitness expert and widely regarded as one of the leading authorities on training for muscle development and fat loss. He is a lifetime drug-free bodybuilder, and has won numerous natural bodybuilding titles. He has published over 60 peer-reviewed studies on various exercise- and nutrition-related topics. Brad is a best-selling author of multiple fitness books including The M.A.X. Muscle Plan (Human Kinetics, 2012), which has been widely referred to as the “muscle-building bible” and Strong and Sculpted (Human Kinetics, 2016), which details a cutting-edge, body-sculpting program targeted to women. Brad also has authored the seminal textbook Science and Development of Muscle Hypertrophy (Human Kinetics, 2016), the first text devoted to an evidence-based elucidation of the mechanisms and strategies for optimizing muscle growth. In total, Brad’s books have sold over a half-million copies. For more information, visit

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