MRP's And Body Composition!

What exactly is a meal replacement powder? Is it a substitute for having a salad, vegetables, steak and desert, and maybe even a glass of red wine? Don't be ridiculous. Learn more about what these are right here.
Meal replacement powders (MRP's) have become popular in the last decade. While people tend to lump all MRP's together, it's important to know that there are substantial differences in various MRP's. It's also important to know what they are and what they're good for.

What Does MRP Stand For?
Meal Replacement Powder.

What exactly is a meal replacement powder? Is it a substitute for having a salad, vegetables, steak and desert, and maybe even a glass of red wine? Don't be ridiculous.

Do the manufacturers of these products simply put a meal in a blender and then take out the water to make it into a powder? It would be pretty gross if they did.

Do they really replace carefully planned meals? Not really, because these powders are not whole foods. In fact, if it comes as a powder in a tub, can, pouch, or whatever, it's not a meal, although under certain circumstances they can replace a meal and/or a snack.

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What Are They & What Are They Good For?

Ideally they should be a well-constructed blend of ingredients that can be used for specific purposes, among which are:

  • Weight gain,
  • Weight loss, and
  • Maximizing body composition.

For the purposes of this article we're only going to discuss MRP's for weight loss and for maximizing body composition. Actually both of these purposes are almost the same if used in the context that the weight you want to lose is fat and not anything else.

In fact, losing muscle can be counter productive for effective fat loss. It certainly is counter productive for bodybuilders and other athletes who are trying to either maximize the amount of muscle they can carry or carry the maximum amount of muscle at a certain bodyweight. In both cases the goal is to minimize body fat while maintaining or building muscle.

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But it's also counter productive for those who are just looking to lean out and stay that way. That's because muscle helps you lose more weight and eventually keep weight off. If you lose enough muscle it'll be harder to lose weight and it'll pile back on a lot easier.


Using MRP's To Lose Weight

The trick to losing weight is to lose mostly fat so that when you're down to your target goal you still have most of your muscle. The result is that you'll be more likely to keep the weight off and you'll look and feel good.

MRP's should help you decrease body fat without impacting much on your muscle mass or even help you to gain some muscle. To that end they should be sophisticated formulations that include several ingredients that help these processes along.

So MRP's really aren't meals, they're structured nutritional supplements that contain not only specific macronutrients but also a number of special ingredients to make the best use of the macronutrients and direct the body on how to most effectively use these macronutrients.

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When you look at MRP's in this way you're actually thinking of pharmacological rather than physiological effects. And for those of us that are looking for serious MRP's this is the way it should be.

However, many meal replacements are simply physiological in nature as all they try to do is to give you a blend of macronutrients along with a mix of vitamins and minerals - essentially trying to duplicate what you would get with a regular meal.

These MRP's work if what you want is an easy to prepare meal substitute that's not really a meal but will do under certain circumstances. For example if someone isn't able to eat solid food or doesn't eat enough food, or can't prepare meals, then these types of MRP's will do the trick in the short term.

Also, because they're easy to prepare and tend to add structure to diets, several studies have shown that even these kinds of MRP's are useful for weight loss.

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But that's not what you should be looking for. What you really want and need is a much more effective product that targets fat loss and spares muscle.

The caveat, however, is that an MRP that uses the high quality ingredients that will give you these effects to help you to maximize body composition will be prohibitively expensive, unless the manufacturer is willing to make the best product possible and then mark the product up minimally so as to give the consumer a break.


So What's the Answer?

Well in most cases there is no real answer since MRP's on the market today tend to be the food and supplement industry's idea of a compromise between what they can put into powder form as inexpensively as possible, and what you will accept in powder form instead of real food - banking that with some "education" on their part your expectations will be really low.

What they can put in is the three macronutrients - protein powder (usually milk proteins such as whey and casein), corn syrup/starch, polyunsaturated oils, some vitamins and minerals, and some fiber. And then they sell you this combo in such a way as to make you think you've got something that may actually be better than a meal.

As a result MRP's are usually wimpy and manufactured to make them look good to the consumer while at the same time being cheap to make.

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Most of them just have a protein source with some fancy name, some cheap carbs, usually maltodextrin (from corn starch), some plant oil, and a dash of the usual vitamins and minerals. If they do add some of the good stuff, it's in minute amounts.

And it shows in the production costs. Most usually cost between 25 to 50 cents a serving to manufacture. Given that most MRP's have 20 packets or servings, that runs to a maximum of $10, and often as low as $5, for the ingredients in the whole box. They then list the box for around the $50 to $80 mark.

What you usually get for your money in these cases is not a meal replacement but a cheap supplement with protein powder, some corn starch/syrup, a minimal amount of vitamins and minerals, and fiber.


What Should They Be?

MRP's shouldn't be classified strictly as meal replacements as they're not, at least in the context you and I would use them. They should be classified as body composition nutritional supplements to be used mainly between meals, when you can't get a proper meal in, and for special times such as after training.

At these times, MRP's can be extremely effective in increasing metabolic rate, decreasing muscle breakdown, and increasing the use of fat, including body fat, as a primary fuel.


Two Factors Of Anti-Catabolic Effects

For example using properly formulated MRP's between meals has anabolic, anti-catabolic and fat burning effects.

What Does Anabolic Mean?
Anabolic refers to the metabolic process that is characterized by molecular growth, such as the increase of muscle mass. Thus, it means "muscle-building" in most common bodybuilding contexts.

The Anti-Catabolic Effects Is Due To Two Factors:

  1. First of all it supplies the body with dietary macronutrients. This is important since the body requires a constant supply of energy and if it doesn't get the energy it needs using food then it uses up energy stores in the body, including amino acids from the breakdown of skeletal muscle.

  2. And secondly it's due to other ingredients that increase the levels and functioning of the anabolic hormones, including growth hormone, IGF-I and insulin.

What Is HGH, And How Does It Relate To IGF-1?
HGH stands for Human Growth Hormone (also known as Somatotropin), an amino acid produced in the pituitary gland of the brain. HGH plays an important role in human development by affecting skeletal growth.

HGH levels are high during childhood, and peak at adolescence. During puberty, HGH levels determine height and bone size. After puberty, HGH levels start to decline, and by age 61 decrease to 20% of what they were at age 21.

HGH is continually produced throughout the human lifecycle, and continues to regulate the body's metabolism. HGH is carried into the liver and partially converted into IGF-1 (see below).

What Are IGF-1, Somatomedin C, And NSILA?
IGF-1 (Insulin-like Growth Factor 1) was known as "Nonsuppressible Insulin-Like Activity" (NSILA) in the 1970s, and as "Somatomedin C" in the 1980s.

IGF-1 is a protein hormone similar in molecular structure to insulin. IGF-1 plays an important role in childhood growth and continues to have anabolic effects in adults.

IGF-1 is produced by the liver upon stimulation by HGH (human growth hormone, see above), and stimulates and regulates cell growth and multiplication in bones, cartilage, and nerve cells, among other things.


Fat Burning Effects

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The fat burning effects are only seen in some of the MRP's and is due to an increase in Metabolic rate secondary to the protein in the MRP and some other ingredients that should be in the MRP's that increase body fat breakdown and oxidation.

It uses up energy stores in the body, including the amino acids in your skeletal muscle, when all the food in the gut has been absorbed, usually three to four hours after you eat.

MRP's, again if they're formulated properly are also extremely useful after training. Again the formulation has to use the best macronutrient mix, and ingredients to maximize post training nutrition.

Unfortunately most MRP's on the market are short on both the ingredients and effects.


MRP LoCarb

MRP LoCarb is the premier MRP on the market today, with the best blend of macronutrients, low carbohydrate content, and several ingredients that provide anabolic, anti-catabolic, fat burning and nutrient partitioning effects.

Because it's so complete it's one of the few MRP's that can be safely used as a meal replacement in low carbohydrate, high protein, very low calorie diets such as the low carb phases of my Anabolic, Metabolic, Anabolic Solution, and Radical Diets.


Value For Your Money

Most of the MRP's on the market are made on the cheap, regardless of what they have in their nutrition panels. That's because in order to make a substantial MRP, and stay in business, they'd have to charge more than anyone would be willing to pay.

So they compromise on the ingredients and try to make it up with their marketing.

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Not so with my MRP LoCarb, which costs three times more to manufacture than the more expensive MRP's on the market. But it's only about 20% more expensive as far as the list price.

The reason MRP LoCarb is so expensive to manufacture is that I use the highest quality macronutrient and other ingredients and have it made in a pharmaceutical grade facility to guarantee its purity and effectiveness.

For example, MRP LoCarb has in it several expensive ingredients that help give it a pharmacological rather than physiological effects, including L-carnitine, alpha lipoic acid (ALA), conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), D-ribose, and much more.

References

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  2. Ashley JM, St Jeor ST, Schrage JP, Perumean-Chaney SE, Gilbertson MC, McCall NL, Bovee V. Weight control in the physician's office. Arch Intern Med. 2001 Jul 9;161(13):1599-604.
  3. Winick C, Rothacker DQ, Norman RL. Four worksite weight loss programs with high-stress occupations using a meal replacement product. Occup Med (Lond). 2002 Feb;52(1):25-30.
  4. Clifton PM, Noakes M, Keogh J, Foster P. How effective are meal replacements for treating obesity? Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2003;12 Suppl:S51.
  5. Heymsfield SB, van Mierlo CA, van der Knaap HC, Heo M, Frier HI. Weight management using a meal replacement strategy: meta and pooling analysis from six studies. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2003 May;27(5):537-49.
  6. Westerterp-Plantenga MS, Lejeune MP, Nijs I, van Ooijen M, Kovacs EM. High protein intake sustains weight maintenance after body weight loss in humans. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2004 Jan;28(1):57-64.
  7. Noakes M, Foster PR, Keogh JB, Clifton PM. Meal replacements are as effective as structured weight-loss diets for treating obesity in adults with features of metabolic syndrome. J Nutr. 2004 Aug;134(8):1894-9.
  8. Anderson JW, Hoie LH. Weight loss and lipid changes with low-energy diets: comparator study of milk-based versus soy-based liquid meal replacement interventions. J Am Coll Nutr. 2005 Jun;24(3):210-6.
  9. LeCheminant JD, Jacobsen DJ, Hall MA, Donnelly JE. A comparison of meal replacements and medication in weight maintenance after weight loss. J Am Coll Nutr. 2005 Oct;24(5):347-53.