Pregnant women are supposed to resist the urge to look things up on the internet, but it can be just too tempting to get answers to things like whether or not you can take a bath, dye your hair or drink coffee. This can be especially true regarding nutrition, as pregnant women want to ensure they're doing the right thing for their and their baby's health.
Protein intake is essential in pregnancy and might be something you've wondered about, but it can be hard to think about stomaching massive amounts of protein daily. Enter the protein shake. If you're asking yourself, can you drink protein shakes when pregnant? Read on to hear what our experts say.
The short answer is yes, you can drink protein shakes while pregnant, says Robyn Van Hooks, RDN, LD, a clinical dietitian in women's health at UH Rainbow Ahuja Center for Women and Children. "Consuming the recommended amount of protein per day can be tough at times, especially if you're dealing with morning sickness, food aversions or a hectic schedule," she says. A shake can make getting the recommended protein amount easier.
Remember, pregnant women—despite the old saying that you're eating for two—only need a few hundred extra calories daily. A pregnancy-safe protein powder or shake can be a good idea if you cannot get sufficient calories and sufficient protein. However, if it's one filled with additives, sugar or ingredients high in calories, especially non-quality calories, these dietary supplements can work against you.
Van Hooks says newer research points to optimal intake of at least 80 grams of protein per day in the first trimester and at least 100 grams in the second and third. For reference, a 3-ounce chicken breast has about 21 grams of protein.
If these amounts stress you out, know that shakes can make it easier to incorporate protein and that doing your best is what counts. "Aim to get as close as you can with regular protein sources," she says. "As long as you eat a balanced diet and aim to include protein food at each meal and snack, you and your baby should do well."
It's ideal to get most of your intake from protein-rich food sources such as meat, cheese, yogurt, eggs, or nuts. "Food sources of protein provide other important nutrients that might not be present in a protein shake or powder," says Van Hooks, who acknowledges this can be difficult. "If you're having trouble taking adequate amounts of protein from food, include protein shakes to make up the difference. For example, you could have a shake between meals as a snack," she says.
Upping protein can be a good idea when you find out you're pregnant. Van Hooks says newer research supports that protein needs are higher in the first trimester than initially thought.
"It's often when many find it difficult to eat adequately because of common concerns like nausea or a reduced overall appetite," she acknowledges. Shakes and powders can help bridge the healthy pregnancy gap during this period.
Dr Shivani Patel, an associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UT Southwestern Medical Center, says that additional conditions might include food aversions, malnourishment or dietary restrictions due to underlying medical conditions. She says there's no hard and fast rule as to when to start drinking protein shakes but that the onset of any of these conditions can spur a conversation with your provider about how and when to get more protein.
Van Hook says that protein is an essential building block of cells and necessary for building new cells. "Eating adequate protein during pregnancy supports healthy fetal weight gain and healthy blood pressure levels and can help stabilize blood sugar levels throughout the day," she says. An added benefit is that many experience improved nausea and food cravings with adequate protein intake.
Van Hooks advises avoiding powders and premade shakes with additives like herbs and caffeine or supplements like vitamins and minerals. "Excess intake of certain vitamins can be harmful during pregnancy," she says. Dr. Patel suggests cross-referencing it with a prenatal vitamin you might already be taking.
Additionally, look for protein powders and protein supplement shakes that are low in added sugar, especially if you have pre-existing or gestational diabetes. Check labels for healthy amino acids.
If you're DIY-ing your shakes at home, incorporating as many nutrients as possible can be a good idea. Using your shake as a meal replacement is possible, especially if you have trouble keeping food down. "Blending leafy greens or fruit into a protein shake will add fiber," says Van Hook.
She also suggests adding ingredients like avocado, chia seeds, flax seeds, and nut butter to add fiber and healthy fat. The more fiber, the better, as a fiber-packed protein shake can do double duty by helping with constipation, a common pregnancy complaint.
Protein shakes and powders can be filled with additives that can add up calorically. Remember that while extra nutrients, fat and fiber can be helpful, pregnant women only need an additional 100 to 300 calories per day during pregnancy, according to Dr. Patel.
This popular protein powder whips into shakes and smoothies almost instantly—and it's ultra-affordable. It has nearly 90,000 positive reviews on Amazon and a 4.5-average star rating. The creamy texture impresses us, as well as the non-GMO ingredients list.
It's ideal for vegans, gluten-free dietary restrictions and serves up 21 grams of organic plant-based protein in each serving. It's also dairy-free thanks to pea protein which makes it easy for any pregnant woman to meet her protein requirements.
We also love this protein shake base to homemade granola for a protein-packed punch that rivals some of the best lactation cookies.
Keep up with your baby's development, get the latest parenting content and receive special offers from our partners