Protein needs rise during pregnancy, especially at the end of pregnancy. However, many pregnant women have food aversions that make it challenging to consume adequate protein at times. Protein powders are very popular, and the first question many new moms have for their midwives and OBs is whether they can consume protein powder during pregnancy. Be sure to check with your own healthcare providers (OB, Midwife, and Registered Dietitian), but here are a few considerations and recommendations when looking for the best protein shakes for pregnancy.
Importance of Protein in a Healthy Pregnancy
Adequate protein during pregnancy is important for both the health of the mother and infant. Protein is necessary for the expansion of blood volume and growth of maternal tissue as well as the growth and development of the fetus and placenta. You should strive to consume a variety of different protein foods throughout your pregnancy to provide a wide range of nutrients needed.
Nutrient needs actually change during pregnancy, making some amino acids, such as glycine, more important. Glycine, for example, actually becomes conditionally essential during pregnancy due to its role in the formation of fetal DNA, internal organs, bones, connective tissue, and joints. This means the maternal diet should include adequate amounts of glycine.
Protein Powders During Pregnancy- FAQ
Many women (like myself) realize the importance of protein during pregnancy but find it difficult to consume adequate protein throughout pregnancy due to food aversions and taste preferences during pregnancy. If this sounds like you, then you may be interested in supplementing with protein powder. Here are a few commonly asked questions about the best protein powder during pregnancy.
Can you take protein powder while pregnant?
Protein powder is generally recognized as safe during pregnancy. However, you should consult with your/ OB/Midwife or personal Registered Dietitian before supplementing with protein to make sure you get one that is right for you and your baby.
How can I get protein during pregnancy?
It’s always best to focus on whole foods before supplements. The best protein sources for pregnancy come from whole foods sources including:
- Meat such as beef, fresh pork, venison, etc
- Poultry such as chicken and turkey
- Homemade bone broth
- Wild Caught Fish and seafood
- Cheese and yogurt
- Beans, lentils, and legumes
- Nuts and nut butter
However, supplements can be beneficial and may be an appropriate choice for your diet after speaking with your healthcare provider.
How much protein should you consume during pregnancy?
The RDA (recommended daily allowance) for protein during pregnancy is 60 grams per day. However, as Lily Nichols, RDN mentions in her book Real Food for Pregnancy, this recommendation is based mostly on data from non-pregnant women and new research shows protein needs in late pregnancy may actually be as high as 100g per day.
Are protein powders safe while breastfeeding?
Yes, protein powders are generally considered safe while breastfeeding, but again, check with your baby’s pediatrician, IBCLC, or Registered Dietitian to make sure the supplement you choose is appropriate for you and your breastfeeding journey.
How do you take protein powder?
Protein powder can be mixed in beverages or soft foods. Some protein powders (such as collagen powder) may work well in hot beverages, while others are best in cold. Because it is important to still consume a variety of nutrients during pregnancy and not rely too heavily on protein supplements, mixing the supplement into a smoothie with other foods such as avocado, nut butter, leafy greens, fruits, and coconut milk can be a great way to consume them during pregnancy and increase consumption of other nutrients as well.
Benefits of Protein Powder During Pregnancy
Although protein is very important for pregnancy, many mothers may experience food aversions including those to a variety of protein sources during pregnancy. If a mother finds it difficult to consume a variety of protein sources throughout the day or meet the protein requirements, a protein supplement such as protein powder or shakes may be beneficial in obtaining the necessary protein.
What to Look for in Protein Powders and Shakes for Pregnant Mothers
If after speaking with your OBGYN/Midwife or Registered Dietitian you decide that a protein supplement would be a beneficial addition to your diet, here are a few things to consider when looking for the best protein powder (or shake) for pregnancy.
Considerations in Choosing a Protein Supplement
- Protein Source – Protein supplements can come from a variety of different protein sources. For example, both whey and casein proteins are protein supplements that come from milk. Supplements made from egg proteins, bone broth protein, and collagen are also gaining in popularity. Finally, there are many different vegan protein supplement options include pea protein, hemp protein, rice protein, bean proteins, and seed proteins to name a few.
- Sweeteners – It’s best to minimize the use of sweeteners in general and protein powders are no exception. Protein powders can be sweetened with a variety of different sweeteners. In general, avoiding artificial sweeteners as well as sugar is best when possible. The best choice for any protein powder would be unsweetened.
- Additives – Many protein powders and shakes have a variety of other additives and supplements that may not be suitable for pregnant women. For example, some shakes or powders may contain creatine, caffeine, and various fillers. Choosing a powder or shake with a simple ingredient list that is free of additives is best.
Different Types of Protein Powder
Whey Protein Concentrate
Whey protein is a very common protein source in protein powder. It contains all of the essential amino acids and is easy to digest. Whey protein is generally recognized as safe unless you have a dairy allergy/sensitivity. When feasible with your budget, a high-quality grass-fed whey protein is best.
Egg White Protein
Egg white protein may be beneficial for those who need to avoid whey protein due to dairy intolerance. Also, egg whites contain all 9 essential amino acids making them of high biological value.
Collagen or Gelatin Powder
Collagen or gelatin powder can be beneficial in pregnancy in that it provides not only protein but also glycine, the amino acid that is conditionally essential during pregnancy. However, collagen is not a complete protein (consuming complete proteins is not necessarily important as long as the protein is being used in addition to a wide variety of other foods and protein sources each day.)
Vegan Protein Powders
Rice and pea protein are the most common forms of vegan protein powder. However, some vegan protein powders are a mix of seeds and grains. Pea protein powder actually contains all 9 essential amino acids (though it is low in methionine.) Additionally, most brands contain as much as 4-7.5 mcg or Iron per serving.
Prenatal Specific Protein Powders
There are many protein powders marketed specifically for pregnant women including Protiva and Baby Boosters which I don’t necessarily recommend. In general, the protein powders specifically for pregnant women include vitamins as well as a protein source.
The protein source in Protiva is hydrolyzed collagen which is great, but the powder contains several additives including sweeteners (stevia and cane juice.) In general, a pure unsweetened collagen powder (as recommended below) would be a better choice especially given that collagen is essentially flavorless and therefore easy to tolerate unsweetened. Similarly, Baby Boosters is a whey protein blend that contains stevia and small amounts of sugar along with vitamins essential during pregnancy including folic acid. However, current research shows methylated folate to be preferable to folic acid for many women. In this case, a basic high-quality unsweetened whey protein along with a high-quality prenatal vitamin would be a preferable (and likely more cost-effective) choice.
Many of these products often have a cost mark up as they market to a specific population when the quality may not be the same as other brands (grass-fed whey would be preferrable for example.) The one exception to this is Seeking Health Optimal Protein Powder described below.
Best Protein Powder Brands for Pregnancy
Collagen is essential for skin elasticity, hair and nail support, and healthy bones and joints. I love that this product only has one ingredient (bovine hide collagen peptides) making it free of added sugars and sweeteners. It is very easy to use as it mixes easily in hot or cold beverages or even added to baked goods.
Why I like this option: This is what I’ve personally been supplementing with through my pregnancy. I love the minimal ingredients, nutritional benefits, and that I can simply mix it in my water, hot beverage, or smoothie once a day. Plus, Vital Proteins really is flavorless (I can only tell if it’s in my water.)
Tera’s whey unsweetened protein powder is a great option with only 2 ingredients: Organic Whey Protein and Organic Sunflower Lecithin in their plain variety. Their sweetened varieties use stevia and they have a simply pure (not organic) line available that is a bit easier on the budget. Tera’s use an ultrafiltration process which helps to keep the whey close to its original form.
Why I like this option: I love the simplicity of Tera’s ingredient list, the filtration process, and the company’s mission for sustainability. However, it’s not as easy on the budget as other options.
Promix is a wonderful budget-friendly alternative to Tera’s Whey and a whey protein my husband and I frequently buy. The company uses grass-fed whey protein from cows in Northern California and the whey is cold-processed and micro filtered. Finally, they have both unflavored/unsweetened as well as flavored options. The flavored choices are sweetened with Non-GMO cane sugar and coconut sugar (as opposed to artificial sweeteners) and tout a relatively low sugar content (6 grams per serving) compared with many alternatives.
Why I like this option: My personal preference is to avoid artificial and zero-calorie sweeteners including stevia. I love that this option is free from both and also only lightly sweetened. While I typically use an unflavored protein powder, this is great for occasional use.
Optimal prenatal protein powder is a powder created specifically for pregnant women. It combines prenatal vitamins with protein. Thus, you could potentially use it for a prenatal vitamin and protein powder (as always, speak to your own OB/midwife/dietitian before making any change.) One serving contains 15 grams protein in addition to the prenatal vitamins (which include active folate forms.) The protein is sourced from pea protein isolate and it is sweetened with both dried cane syrup and stevia leaf extract and only has 4 grams sugar.
Why I like this option: This could be a good option for someone needing a little extra protein (15 g) and wanting to minimize the pills that they need to take. Additionally, it’s a vegan formulation for those who don’t eat meat products.
A Note on Pre-made Protein Shakes During Pregnancy
In general, most pre-made protein shakes have sweeteners and additives. Typically making your own protein shakes at home is the best choice using a high-quality protein powder discussed above.
Protein Shakes and Breastfeeding
Adequate nutritional intake is also imperative while breastfeeding as well as in a postpartum diet to aid in healing and repletion. An additional 25 grams of protein per day is recommended for lactating women. In general, protein shakes made using the recommended powders above are also safe for lactating women. However, you should always check with your own Family Physician/Pediatrician/Registered Dietitian/IBCLC before supplementing.