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For many people getting pregnant means putting every choice you make under the microscope, especially when it comes to what you’re putting into your body. Some decisions are obvious, but what about protein, or more specifically, protein supplements? To help answer these questions, here’s a guide to understanding the role that protein plays during pregnancy, along with the questions to bring up with your doctor before supplementing with protein.
While protein supplements are traditionally recommended to those looking to build muscle or “bulk up,” protein itself plays an essential role in pregnancy. It’s no surprise that a balanced diet is essential during pregnancy for fetal development, but the right balance of protein during this time can directly impact this. Protein is key for fetal tissue growth, particularly for the baby’s brain, but also plays an important role in the growth of breast and uterine tissue for mothers. It even helps increase your blood supply! Protein can also help with the necessary weight gain that comes with a healthy pregnancy, since the average woman needs about 300 additional calories per day to support fetal growth. Though you’re not really “eating for two,” this translates to about 25 to 30 pounds of weight gain during pregnancy for the average woman, while underweight women often need to put on slightly more, around 28 to 40 pounds. Women who enter pregnancy overweight only need to gain between 15 to 25 pounds. Regardless of starting weight, protein supplements can help with the necessary gain, since they’ve been shown to increase muscle gain when combined with exercise.
The exact amount of protein you consume during this period of weight gain, however, is key. Studies have shown that a lower protein diet during pregnancy can lead to babies with smaller body measurements compared to those who had been subjected to a balanced protein diet, while a diet with too much protein has been shown to produce the opposite effect, and may even be a potential contributor to obesity later in life.
So how much protein during pregnancy is right? While this is definitely something you should confirm with your doctor, since each body is unique, experts recommend around 71 grams of protein per day, although factors like carrying twins affect this estimation. The best, and often easiest way to get the daily recommended amount of protein is through a balanced diet. Lean meat, chicken, oats, cottage cheese, quinoa, fish, eggs, beans, nuts and seeds are all high in protein, and are great place to start when creating your diet plan. That said, some diets make it difficult to get the 71g of protein ––a higher daily value than usual –– from food alone. This is where supplementation comes in, and where protein powders can help you fill in any gaps you may have.
If you are considering adding protein powders to your diet during pregnancy, here are four questions you should ask:
As with most medical questions, there isn’t one universal answer, since this can depend a number of variables that are unique to every woman. At the end of the day, your doctor is your best resource and can help you make an informed decision about what’s right for both you and your baby.
This is especially important if you already use protein powders (particularly in smoothies or shakes), or if the powders themselves contain any additives, like stevia or other sweeteners. Some protein powders can contain ingredients like dextrins, maltodextrins, fillers or thickeners that your doctor may advise against.
If your regular diet before pregnancy already included protein powder, your new protein intake may be different than what you’re used to. Depending on your body, your doctor may advise you to adjust your protein consumption.
Protein powders come in a number of different forms, depending on the protein source (whey, casein, plant-based, etc.) and whether or not they are a complete source of protein. Your doctor may recommend one of these varieties over another, even if it’s different from what you’re used to taking.
Speaking with your doctor will help you decide whether or not protein powder is right for you during your pregnancy. While the best source of protein comes from a balanced diet, powders can be an amazing way to ensure that both you and your baby are getting the nutrients you need for a safe and healthy pregnancy.