You’d think by now we’ve all heard the theory about eating 5-6 small balanced meals a day. If this is news to you, you need to get out more! This ‘theory’ has been proven in many clinical studies and, more notably, in real life, as the best way to raise your metabolism and put your body in an efficient fat burning state at all times. But who really has time for 6 meals a day? Seriously… even if they are small, 6 meals a day is much easier said than done. So… what can you do if you can’t nail a 6-meal-a-day regimen? Take an MRP … or 2 or 3!

I knew this kid in high school who desperately wanted to be a soldier in the Army. He was one of those kids that everyone made fun of behind his back because he wore fatigues on a daily basis. But I really respected him because he was in the weight room with me every morning at 7am. Somehow, this kid was always one step ahead of me. The difference between he and I wasn’t our workout regimen or our dedication to the weights, it was our diet. While I was eating like crap, he was eating clean and taking everything he could afford to help himself get better … not much when you’re in high school! Every day this kid ate 2 military “MRE” rations – one between the morning classes and one between the afternoon classes and I think he was taking creatine too. Back then, my dumb ass thought taking creatine was cheating! OOPS! My point is… I was working just as hard as he was but I was being left in the dust! Every one of his lifts was better than mine and while I was struggling to barely get my abs to show, he was worrying about getting more separation in his quads! Anyway, he was kicking my ass mainly because he was eating better than I was. By better I mean more often. Military MREs are good meals but they aren’t designed for bodybuilders and athletes like MRPs are. It wasn’t like he was taking these super anabolic muscle pills. It was simply that he was eating often enough to put his body in an anabolic state. His body was being an efficient fat-burning machine! Just imagine if he was taking an MRP instead!

What is an MRP? MRP stands for Meal Replacement Powder and they aren’t the 10-pound bags of weight gain formulas or the no-carb protein mixes that most people think of. They aren’t the colon cleansers or creatine loaded energy drinks either. They are totally sound meals that contain all the aspects of a completely healthy, bodybuilder-inspired diet, including carbs. They are perfectly balanced food supplements! MRPs have completely revolutionized bodybuilding in a way that no other product ever has before or ever will again. There will always be improvements done to the ingredients in them, but nothing will ever replace the MRP. They are a healthy, effective, convenient, dare I say… essential part of every athlete’s diet! And if you find the right one, they even taste good too!

In the quest to find the right MRP, there are many factors. Unfortunately, most people only consider 2 things – protein and carbs. Which type of protein is in it? How few carbs does it have? But like I said before, MRPs are complete Meal Replacements, not no-carb protein mixes. An MRP should have a good balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fats. And it should also be equipped with a good vitamin array, L-Glutamine, and Essential Fatty Acids. To pick the right MRP, you need to understand what exactly to look for in each of these items.

The Protein

Essentially, a good high quality MRP should contain between 30-40 grams of protein. Much more than that, I would consider a protein powder, not an MRP. Protein is made up of amino acids (the building blocks of muscle) and is absolutely essential for muscle growth. Choosing the right type of protein should be the biggest determining factor when looking for the right MRP. But when you look at the facts, the choice is an easy one to make. Right now there are 4 main choices available on the protein market, whey, soy, egg, and casein. All of which have slightly different structure and functionalities. Let’s look at the different proteins individually.

Whey Protein Isolate is the top choice among all athletes. The fact is, whey protein is the single best protein for building and repairing muscle, it is the richest in branch chain amino acids (BCAA), and it is easiest and fastest for your body to digest. You really can’t go wrong with whey! Something else to note: You’ll sometimes see whey protein concentrate (instead of isolate). Isolate is the most pure form of whey protein.

Soy Protein comes from vegetables. One of the biggest benefits of soy protein is that is has a complete array of all the essential amino acids. But it also helps reduce heart related disease by lowering LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) while it doesn’t seem to have a negative effect on HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol). Actually the FDA approved soy containing dietary supplements to claim – diets that have at least 25 grams of soy protein per day are “Heart Healthy”!

Egg protein. Remember when Rocky cracked some raw eggs into that cup and just downed ‘em like it was nothin’? I swear, that movie put egg protein on the map! I still to this day haven’t summoned up enough guts to down a single raw egg! Egg protein has been coined “the World’s most perfect protein” because it has the most complete total amino acid profile of all the different forms of protein.

Casein and whey are both derived from milk protein. The difference is that casein takes much longer to digest. This proves to be a very beneficial addition to an MRP because things that take longer to digest burn more calories. Not only does it burn more calories, it kind of acts like a timed or extended release protein so you get the benefits of protein in your system for a longer period of time.

When you look at the benefits of each protein it is easy to see why whey is the protein of choice for pure protein supplements for athletes. It’s what I’d recommend and what I choose myself when I take one. However, whey protein by itself is not a great choice for a true MRP. Again, MRPs are Meal Replacements, not strict protein supplements! And because each type of protein is important to your body, your MRP should have a combination of them all! In fact, many studies show that nitrogen retention is actually increased through a staggered protein release – something you get when you take a combination of fast and slow digested proteins.

The Carbs

A good MRP will have between 15 and 30 grams of carbohydrates. The bad thing is, to make an MRP taste good, you have to add sugar and other carbs, particularly ones that have a higher impact on blood sugar levels – a bad thing. Fortunately some companies have taken the extra step in their labeling process to inform the consumer of how many “net” carbs their MRP has. If they don’t tell you how many are in there, you should just assume that all of their carb content is high on the glycemic index. Let me clarify this to you so you have a better understanding of how this works.

When you eat carbohydrates your body breaks them down into glucose (sugar). This glucose is our body’s main source of energy. In order to use the sugar however, your body releases insulin. Insulin is what carries the glucose into the body’s cells. Glucose and insulin are essential to the development and functionality of brain cells and for the production of red blood cells. We need carbs! So what’s the problem with carbs? Well the carbs really aren’t the problem. How your body responds to the glucose build up is the problem. Some carbs (simple carbs) are digested quickly and the result is a fast glucose buildup. This can be bad. If your body isn’t primed to use this quick energy buildup, it will store the glucose instead (as fat). Other carbs (complex carbs) are digested slowly. This is what you want most of your carbohydrate intake to be. The slow digestion brings on a slow glucose release and in response, a slow and steady insulin release. Eating complex carbs will make your body work to utilize that energy! And because of the slow release it won’t feel overwhelmed and start storing all the extra energy as fat. The fitness industry has coined the term “net carbs” and applied it to all the carbs that have a higher glucose response.

The Fats

The best MRPs on the market will have some fat in them. And they should, because just as protein and carbohydrates are important, so are fats! Again, your body needs fats! But just as there are different forms of protein and carbs, there are different forms of fats too. I don’t want to spend a lot of time telling you the difference between all the good and bad fats. I’m just going to reiterate stuff you probably already know. Stay away from saturated fats. Saturated fats are mainly found in meat, butter, and cheese. No more than 10% of your fat intake should come from saturated fats. The fats that are important to supplement are called Essential Fatty Acids or EFAs. They are called essential fatty acids because your body doesn’t produce them naturally so it is essential that you get them from your food or supplements. EFAs are an important addition to MRPs because they promote optimal hormone production, muscle tissue repair and recovery, insulin metabolism, and fat burning potential!

Support Ingredients

It’s funny when you see everyone comparing MRPs because all they do is compare protein and carbohydrate content. There’s no doubt that those are the two most important factors, but what makes an MRP stand out from the pack isn’t that it has more protein or fewer carbs, it’s the support ingredients! Think about race cars for instance. I don’t pretend to be Mario Andretti’s mechanic or anything but I know that just because a car has more horsepower and wider tires, doesn’t mean it’s faster around the track. What about the shocks? Gear ratios? Aerodynamics? The driver? These are the “support ingredients” that make champion racecar teams champions! And the same goes for MRPs! The support ingredients are what separate the men from the boys!

Branch Chain Amino Acids are the main building blocks for muscle production. Whey protein is considered “DA SHIZNIT” because it has the highest concentration of BCAAs at about 25% of its total content. So if you are taking whey protein, do you need BCAAs? No, if you are taking over 150 grams of pure whey protein per day you probably don’t. But if you are, then you are probably taking a pure whey protein supplement… not an MRP. A good high quality MRP will be fortified with extra BCAAs because it will not contain only whey protein.

L-Glutamine is a key addition to MRPs that some companies keep out so they can sell you another individual supplement. The coolest thing about glutamine is that it is both anabolic and anti-catabolic, in other words, not only does it promote muscle production; it will help prevent muscle tissue breakdown! This makes it a great supplement for bulking up or cutting down.

Every MRP using bodybuilder will tell you the benefits of taking fiber. Or you could just go ask your grandma! Think Metamucil. Fiber plays a key role in keeping you regular. And when you are taking over 150 grams of protein a day this is something that will not go unnoticed, trust me! High protein diets are notorious for this so be sure your MRP has some fiber in it.

Potassium is another thing to look for in the support ingredients. Most MRPs contain enough potassium for your average bodybuilder but I wanted to throw this in because I think it’s very important. Potassium helps prevent dehydration and cramping in your muscles and believe it or not, most people don’t get enough potassium in their regular diet. It’s one of those supplements that seems to get overlooked. If you are a bodybuilder, the last thing you want is to get dehydrated and start cramping up!

A good vitamin/mineral array is something you’d think would never go unnoticed when a company makes an MRP, but it does! It’s almost so obvious that no one thinks of it! All the top-notch companies will have at least a 30% array. They figure you’ll be taking the MRP three times a day, so that would give you 90% of the US RDA. Good enough because you’ll be getting the rest from your other 3 meals right?

So which one is it?

I’ve talked a lot about what to look for in a good high quality MRP. But you should also really know what not to look for in an MRP. You should not get an MRP that has weight loss products in it. An MRP is something you’re going to take all year around – three times a day – no matter what your goal is. You don’t want to be taking 3 doses of an ECA or something like that during your bulking stages! Another thing to steer clear of is pro-hormones in your MRP. Again, these are something you should cycle, not take year round. Creatine is taken in loading and maintenance phases; it shouldn’t be added to your MRP. Oh, and high fructose corn syrup is something to avoid too.

When you consider that there are literally hundreds of MRPs on the market, each with its own good and bad points, it is really hard to find the one that meets all my criteria and tastes good too. You would think that the top names would come through as the best, but you may be surprised! Most companies try so hard to get the formula right, they forget about the most important part… the taste!

Ok… there you have it. When it comes to choosing your MRP, you have to consider everything in it, take my word for it! Actually, strike that. Don’t take my word for it. I implore you to research the information yourself. Be an educated consumer and make the best choice for you – that’s how all your decisions should be made!