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Meal Replacement Powders (MRPs)

Meal Replacement Powders (MRPs) once formed the foundation of a good fitness nutrition program. Experts repeatedly affirmed that if you can afford only one supplement, then a high-quality MRP should be it.

We wrote this article back in the days before good MRPs lost marketshare to sugary, junk-laden ones and then disappeared. It is possible someone somewhere still makes an MRP fit for human consumption, but I have no idea who that might be. Anyhow, when reading this you'll have to remember it talks about a product that, to the best of our knowledge, no longer exists.

What is an MRP, and how does it differ from a protein powder? How does it fit into your fitness program?


Where MRPs came from

To answer the question of where MRPs came from, it's necessary to look at protein powders first. Protein powders originally came about back in the early days of competitive body building.

The idea was to provide the muscles with a source of quality protein to accommodate the repair needed following intense exercise. Most of these were egg-based. As the science of protein powders matured, other protein sources became more prominent.

Meal replacement powders started to appear on the market long after protein powders gained a foothold. A driving force behind these was to provide a source of quality protein and quality carbohydrates.

People who traveled or worked in an office (or other location) with limited quality food choices could mix a powder with water and meet their protein and carbohydrate needs without blowing their diets.

Before the MRPs came along, "weight gainer" powders were the only alternative to protein powders. These promoted the gain of body fat and some muscle. The idea behind the MRP was to promote the gain of lean muscle.

Today, the variety of MRPs on the market is enormous. It seems everyone who makes any kind of nutritional powder also makes an MRP. Some of seem to be very inexpensive, while others seem to be quite pricey. But, things are not always as they seem.

Evaluating MRP options

One of the big issues with protein powders is the quality of the protein that makes up the powder. This quality is a function of the protein source plus the processing method used. The lower the quality, the less effective the protein powder is--and therefore, the more of it you must consume to get the desired effect (think of a drink that has been watered down).

With MRPs, protein quality is also a big issue. However, it's not the only issue. After all, you are trying to replace a meal, not just a protein source. Here are the issues to look at when evaluating an MRP:

  • Quality of the protein
  • Quality of the carbohydrates
  • Quality of the fats
  • Ratio of protein, carbohydrates, and fats
  • Fiber (a meal should fill you up!)
  • Vitamins and minerals (a meal should be nutritious)
  • Taste (if it tastes like kerosene, how long will you use it?)

If you examine the universe of MRPs per the seven attributes above, you can very quickly narrow down your choices. The MRPs shown in this article are all good ones I have personally tested. The Optimum Nutrition and Lean Body are outstanding.

More about MRPs, below....


The role of MRPs

How can this one supplement be so beneficial? Why not creatine, HMB, or some andro stuff? The answer is very simple: basic nutrition. This is what is missing from most fitness programs. Unfortunately, many people are in denial on this point.

If you are taking other supplements but are not getting leaner, stronger, or more muscular, what do you think is happening? Most likely, your cells simply lack the building blocks to do what they need to do. And those other supplements are simply wasted.

How you should specifically use an MRP really depends on your specific goals. Here are some examples:

  • Rapid fat loss. Reduce normal meals to one-fourth of their normal size. Eat three such meals a day (breakfast, lunch, and supper). Eat one-half of an MRP serving between breakfast and lunch. Eat another half between lunch and supper. Eat a full one between supper and bed. Do not stay on this regimen for more than two weeks, or your body will start going into fat conservation mode.
  • Rapid muscle gain. Eat breakfast, lunch, and supper, with a heavy emphasis on greens rather than grains. Eat three MRPs each day, evenly spaced between the meals. Eat one of these MRPs immediately after a workout, as an after-workout recovery meal.
  • Travel. Eat an MRP for breakfast, rather than eating the typically poor restaurant breakfast choices. Eat one normal food meal each day--make the other five MRPs (use partial MRPs for calorie control, as warranted).
  • Normal maintenance. Eat three small meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner), and eat three MRPs or partial MRPs (depending on calories needed) evenly spaced throughout the day. Use one MRP for an after-workout recovery meal.


Should you take vitamins with an MRP?

This depends on your nutrition needs, but generally you can cut back on normal vitamin supplementation if you are using a quality MRP. You should probably take a sustained-release C and a B-complex on workout days, regardless of what MRPs you use.

MRPs and cycling

There is no reason to cycle MRP usage. A good MRP is food, not a collection of synthesized chemicals. You may want to switch brands or flavors on occasion, but there is no reason to "go off" MRPs periodically--or really ever.

MRPs and water

One of the criticisms levied at MRPs is "You have to drink a lot of extra water if you take them." This is fallacious. First of all, you don't "take" MRPs. You eat them. They are food. Second, if you are drinking the normal amount of water that you should be drinking, MRP consumption doesn't require extra water. The cure for dehydration isn't starvation--it's drinking water.

MRPs and fat

Don't overdo it! Making an MRP with two scoops (or whatever the serving size is) will give you X amount of calories. How many calories and grams of protein fit your program? Probably not more than those two scoops.

Don't make the mistake of throwing scoop after scoop into a blender, then adding all kinds of other stuff. This very typical behavior is how you turn a 240 calorie body-sculpting meal into a 2400 calorie fat-making brew.

Used properly, an MRP is a godsend to the serious athlete, bodybuilder, bodysculptor, or anyone else seeking to have a lean, healthy body. Use it properly, and reap the benefits.




Article Authorship

The articles on this site are authoritative, because:

  • Every contributor is an expert in his or her field.
  • The articles comply with the accepted principles of the bodybuilder literature.
  • The articles comply with the teachings of such luminaries as 8-time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney.

 Where an article is not bylined with a specific author's name, it was written by Mark Lamendola (see photos on home page and elsewhere on this site). Mark is a 4th degree blackbelt, has not been sick since 1971, and has not missed a workout since 1977. Just an example of how Mark knows what he's talking about: In his early 50s, Mark demonstrated a biceps curl using half his body weight. That's a Jack LaLanne level stunt. Few people can even come close. If you want to know how to build a strong, beautiful body, read the articles here.

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