No matter what your fitness goal is, meal replacement supplements could very well come in handy for you. When on a mass gain diet, you'll typically be eating 5-7 meals a day especially if you're a really skinny guy who finds it hard to pack on any weight. Obviously, cooking and preparing 5-7 meals every single day sounds like a nightmare to manage. By doing this you will likely lose motivation, and fast. So what you can do is replace a few of those meals with meal replacement powders.
Meal replacement powders (known as MRPs for short) provide all the nutrition, including high quality protein and carbs that your body needs, and it comes in a very convenient form. Instead of cooking something, all you need to make an MRP is a shaker bottle and some water or milk.
It's like having a whey protein shake, and most meal replacements will have some when in them anyway, but unlike most whey shakes meal replacements are usually fortified with more nutrients, vitamins and mineral to make it more suitable as a complete ready-to-go meal.
This makes it easy to have a quality meal if you're stuck in a situation where you can't cook up a meal. Just bring your MRP packet with you and a shaker bottle, and then when you need to eat just add water or milk and shake it, then just drink it. How easy is that?
It's like having your own personal chef available 24/7. Whenever you need a quality meal to feed your body the muscle-building nutrition it needs, you just call upon your magic chef Mr MRP.
But, and there's always a but, you shouldn't replace a quality whole food meal for a meal replacement if you don't have to. Meal replacement supplements should only be used to make it more convenient at certain times, but they shouldn't form the majority of your diet. That's why they are called a 'supplement' after all.
A quality whole food meal with nutritious protein, carbohydrates, fiber and a bit of healthy fats is always the best choice as a quality muscle-building meal. I would say it's fine to replace a maximum of 2-3 of your daily meals with an MRP, but nothing more than this. Never use more than 3 in any one day.
You should stick to quality meal replacement supplement products from reputable brand names in the fitness industry. Such good names are EAS, Optimum Nutrition, Met-Rx, and Prolab to name a few of the best. Some factors to consider when choosing the best meal replacements to include in your diet are the price, nutritional content, and taste.
The taste of an MRP can be a mixed opinion. Some people may love the taste, while some won't really find them too appetising. Personally, most of them I've ever tried have tasted good to great. But you may have to try a few different ones first to end up with your favorite.
If you have never tasted them before, don't go out and buy a box full because with meal replacements you can sometimes get a bad flavor that you can hardly stomach if you just select one randomly.
For me personally, it was an acquired taste. I started out with EAS Myoplex, which is one of the best meal replacements out there. At first, they were really hard to get down because of the thickness and the taste. I told myself to toughen up, and I kept drinking them until I started actually enjoying them after a week or two. Now I absolutely love them when I do ever have one.
The price is another factor to consider. Some people may say that MRPs are expensive, but when you do some basic math it's clear to see that they are very affordable for most people. For example, with the meal replacements I used recently they worked out to be just under 2 and half dollars each when bought in a box. In my view this is great for a high quality, protein-rich nutritious convenient meal that I can have anywhere on the go to maintain proper protein intake.
Hopefully this article helped, but always remember to never get stuck in research land. Information is great, but what's infinitely more important and the only thing that actually matters to get results and change your life is to be hitting the gym week in week out, with a properly-structured, intelligently-crafted and well-balanced strength training and nutrition plan that's based on actual scientific principles of building muscle mass (not bro science like you'll see practically everywhere you look online).
But here's the thing:
You don't just randomly stumble upon a highly-effective program that's designed specifically for hardgainers by simply browsing a popular mainstream bodybuilding/fitness magazine, site, or forum (or asking your average run of the mill trainer at a local gym who is highly likely to be just repeating the same old ineffective, incomplete mainstream advice they learned in a classroom).
To truly build that strong, ripped, lean muscular body that you want - and to not just leave it to chance and hope/pray that you'll get results - your training and eating program needs to be solid. Otherwise, you'll be wasting a ton of time in the gym for little return, which is unfortunately what happens to most guys who start hitting the gym as they eventually start spinning their wheels and getting nowhere due to a lack of knowledge and awareness of what actually works most effectively.
So the question remains, how do you ensure you're implementing an effective bulking program that will 100% get you the results you seek? You basically have three paths to take here, so choose whichever fits your situation best.
Path A: Design Your Own Effective Bulking Program (Recommended for Some Beginners & Intermediates)
If you're the patient type who also likes to know how every little detail works, and are willing to spend the time and effort necessary to study the most effective muscle building training and nutrition strategies out there right now to strategically piece together the best information that you find from credible sources to sculpt your own custom bulking program, consider the DIY path of creating your own program from scratch.
However, if you're a beginner, or intermediate lifter who hasn't been getting the results you want, you'll want to make sure that you get your advice from sources and people who understand what it's like to gain muscle starting out as a skinny hardgainer, which is a different beast compared to building muscle as a more naturally bigger guy with more favourable genetics. You also ideally want someone more experienced to look over your program just in case, because there are various things you could miss or do wrong, such as creating an imbalanced program that will lead to posture issues, muscular imbalances, or worse (injuries).
Up for the challenge? To get started planning your own muscle building program from scratch check out our full introduction to building muscle mass as a hardgainer which covers some important basic principles, strategies, and tips.
Path B: Follow A Proven Time-Tested Bulking Program (Recommended for Most Beginners)
If instead of creating your own program from scratch you'd rather follow an already-made complete program that has been proven to work for others in your shoes (ie skinny hardgainers) this is the path for you. Spending the few bucks to get your hands on a well-crafted, respected program that's specifically been designed with hardgainers in mind can really save you time and effort having to design your own program, and it ensures you don't miss out on the various important details that makes a good program.
This is what I'd recommend if you're just starting out or quite inexperienced in the gym, as you'll get off on the right foot to kick-start great results. Although this is also a smart path for intermediates, because if you've been training for a while and not getting great results, getting your hands on a fresh new program created by a natural bodybuilding expert could be the game-changer you need to spark the best results of your life. Sean Nal's Body Transformation Blueprint Program is currently the most comprehensive, polished bulking program for beginners on the market, and is the program that actually helped me the most when I first started out as a newbie so I can't recommend it highly enough if you're new and wanting to all but guarantee great results over the next few months and beyond.
There are other good premade mass gain programs out there that were created specifically (and scientifically) for hardgainers, but there's also a lot of overpriced, overly-marketed and low-quality programs that you should avoid out there so be on your toes when looking for the right program to follow to avoid wasting your money. I've personally used a ton of different programs and I compiled the best, highest-quality ones that I can comfortably recommend in my list of the best comprehensive bulking programs for hardgainers here.
Path C: Find a (Good) In-Person Trainer
This isn't going to be for everyone as a quality trainer who knows what they're doing, and most importantly has got great results themselves (ideally starting out in similar shoes to you) can be quite costly. This is the path you should probably consider if you have any type of injury or health problem, or obviously if you have the money to burn and want someone to carefully monitor what you're doing in the gym and be able to give you specific feedback.
Whichever path you choose, never forget the single most important thing: never give up, and your success in transforming your body, strength, health, posture, and self-confidence will simply be a matter of when, not if. I'd say good luck, but if you really understand that last sentence, you're not gonna need it, friend. I wish you nothing but success.
Mad-Scientist of Hardgainer-to-Hero Transformations for 12+ Years
Last and Definitely Least: Certified Fitness Instructor (real-world experience > school)