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Can Pregnant Women Consume Protein Drinks?

Can Pregnant Women Consume Protein Drinks?

Protein shakes are a popular choice for pregnant women who want to get some extra nutrients into their diet. However, not all protein shakes are created equal. Some contain too much sugar while others do not provide enough protein. To ensure you are getting the most out of your protein shake, consider the following questions before buying: 

  • What type of protein powder am I using? 
  • How many grams of protein does this product contain? 
  • Is there a list of ingredients? If so, what are they? 
  • Does the product contain added sugars? 
  • Are there any other additives?

With all of these questions to consider, we want to help you understand why protein is so important during pregnancy and if women can boost their protein intake during pregnancy with a protein drink.

Consuming Protein Powder During Pregnancy for a Nutritional Boost

You're probably aware that getting enough protein in your diet is important for anybody. But especially when you're growing another human, protein consumption has never been more vital. With food cravings, aversions, morning sickness, and changing appetites, getting more daily protein is no small feat. So if a protein supplement can safely be added to a pregnant woman's balanced diet, it's a great way to boost that protein intake.

Protein Needs While Pregnant

Many pregnant women wonder how much protein they actually need for a healthy pregnancy. According to healthline.com, pregnant women need to eat between 70 and 100 grams of protein per day, depending on their weight. This measurement is based on a woman's weight when she first becomes pregnant, but also as she grows throughout pregnancy. So, as you gain weight, your protein intake should also increase.

There are so many sources of protein in a healthy diet. Sources of protein might include the scrambled eggs you eat for breakfast, the chicken salad you enjoy for lunch, or the spoonful of peanut butter you snack on in the afternoon. Protein is found in many foods—probably more than you actually think. Of course, meat is a great source of protein, but you can also get protein from beans, nuts, nut butters, and some vegetables.

But even if you're used to eating protein-rich foods throughout the day, it can still be hard to hit that 70-100 gram mark. Healthline shares,

"If you’re struggling to get all that protein through your food, though, you may want to use a protein powder as a supplement — not a meal replacement — to boost your intake, with the approval of your OB."

One key point here is not to use a protein shake as a meal replacement. While that might have been acceptable before pregnancy, during pregnancy is not the right time to cut calories by skipping meals. Your baby needs all the nutrients from your daily food intake to grow and develop, including protein.

You might still be wondering though, why all the emphasis on protein?

Protein's Role During Pregnancy

It's common to associate protein supplements with body building and people wanting to pack on muscle mass. While people who lift weights do focus on protein intake, it's for a good reason! In general, protein helps build, maintain, and repair healthy tissue. And during pregnancy, it plays additional roles in growing a fetus. Livestong.com shares, 

"When your baby is developing, your body uses the amino acids from the protein you eat to create proteins in the body, like keratin and collagen, that are important for healthy bones, skin, joints, tendons and ligaments."

During the first trimester you won't need much more protein than your regular diet. However, as the baby develops and grows more quickly, so will its need for more protein. That's why doctors find that diet during pregnancy, including daily protein intake, can affect whether or not a baby has a healthy birth weight.

What Should Pregnant Women Look For In A Protein Drink?

You should definitely talk with your doctor before taking any supplement during pregnancy, including protein powder. But once you have the all-clear from your doctor, now you're left with the work of deciding which protein drink is right for you. There are so many protein shakes on the market which use protein from a variety of sources.

Vegans, people who eat a vegetarian diet, or just people conscious of their animal consumption might prefer sources like pea protein or hemp protein. Pea protein is just as effective as animal proteins and usually has comparable grams of protein to a whey or casein protein-based powder. And if you aren't concerned with getting plant-based protein, there are even more products out there for you to try. 

Reading labels—What to Look For

When you head to the grocery store or shop online, what should you look for on the nutrition label? Well, there are a few things to keep in mind. You want to take a close look at grams of protein, grams of carbohydrates, and grams of sugar (plus grams of added sugar).

A good protein shake will have anywhere from 15- 20+ grams of protein per serving. We'll speak more on the importance of carbohydrates in a minute, but for now, just know that a balance of protein and carbohydrates is important. This protein can come from a variety of sources. We already mentioned various plant proteins, and whey and other milk-based proteins are very common sources of proteins.

Nearly all protein drinks will have some sugar—and that's not a bad thing. Sugars naturally occur in some ingredients in protein supplements. What you do want to avoid though, are added sugars. Added sugars are often simply added just for taste. But there are plenty of protein drinks out there that taste great and don't have tons of added sugars.

Too many added sugars can cause unnecessary weight gain for mom. And if you and your doctors are concerned about gestational diabetes and blood sugar imbalances, your will want to keep an eye on sugars and carbs to keep your blood sugar levels at a healthy place.

Of course, if you're experiencing nausea during pregnancy or food aversions and all you can stomach is a protein drink with added sugars, the benefits probably outweigh the negatives. Sometimes, especially during the first trimester, just getting a healthy amount of calories is a difficult task so you take what you can get!

Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Protein?

If you've ever tried the keto diet, or a low-carb diet, you might be used to looking for a low number of carbs in a protein drink. This is not the case during pregnancy. Your body needs a healthy balance of both proteins and carbs for fetal development. You also need to have the carbs to balance out your diet because there is such a thing as too much protein as well. Livestrong mentions,

"[A] report recommends limiting protein intake to no more than 20 percent of calories to avoid any potential problems. MedlinePlus outlines a pregnant woman's calorie needs as 1,800 for the first trimester, 2,200 for the second trimester and 2,400 for the third trimester.

If you do the math, that means protein should not exceed 90 grams in the first trimester, 110 grams in the second trimester and 120 grams in the third trimester."

The risks of not following this guideline include premature birth, lower birth weight, and impaired growth. To keep that percentage of protein where it needs to be, you also need to make sure you're getting plenty of fats and carbs in your diet.

And if you're like most pregnant women, the idea of keeping track of percentages is a daunting task. You don't need to be crunching the numbers every day. As long as you're filling your plate with a variety of foods and taking a prenatal vitamin, tracking protein should be good enough!

Avoiding Toxic Ingredients

One potential risk of drinking protein shakes while pregnant is ingesting toxic ingredients. No need to panic though. You should be able to look at the label and read the ingredients to determine if it's a good drink for you. One rule of thumb is to stick to drinks made with ingredients you can pronounce. 

Since protein drinks fall under the "dietary supplement" category, they aren't regulated by the FDA. We'd like to think most drinks you can find at big box stores or supplement shops are still trustworthy, but you can never know for sure. Do some research on the brand and make sure that it seems reputable and is widely used. If you're nervous about toxic ingredients, you can also avoid protein drinks with protein from fish. It's the same reason you avoid sushi during pregnancy. Fish can have high levels of toxic metals in them.

What is the difference between a "diet" and a "low-calorie" diet?

The last thing you should focus on when choosing a protein supplement is that you are simply integrating it into your daily diet and still getting protein from food sources. Especially in a culture that hosts a revolving door of fad diets, pregnancy is not the time to think about a low-calorie diet.

And while the term "diet" can refer to a restricted way of eating, it can also simply refer to the foods you're eating day to day. A healthy pregnancy diet includes a balance of foods and slowly increasing your calorie intake throughout the pregnancy and never a low-calorie or restricted diet. Protein drinks should not be used as a meal replacement during pregnancy, just as an add-on or a snack.

Conclusion

As long as you ask your doctor first, protein drinks are a safe and helpful way to get more protein during pregnancy. Just make sure your protein drink is an addition to your balanced diet and that you're also getting plenty of protein from the foods you eat, too. Read the nutrition labels to avoid added sugars and toxic ingredients. And, listen to your body and give it what it needs during this precious time!

 



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