Protein powders and pregnancy: do they go hand in hand? We asked Nutritional Therapist Phoebe Liebling for a definitive answer. Pheobe is a highly respected, qualified Nutritional Therapist, BSc (Hons) DipNT mBANT mNNA CNHC GNC.
Biological Process of Pregnancy
Having a baby is one of the most natural things a woman can do. Saying this – it can also be one of the most stressful!
The biological process of growing a new, albeit small, human places a large burden on a woman’s body. An expectant mother’s nutritional requirements will differ to those before she became pregnant. This also continues after she has had the baby as the mother needs to replenish the stored resources she will have utilised during that gestational period. Then comes the need to support her body’s return to normal after birth, and the ability to produce nourishing milk for her baby if she chooses to breastfeed.
Protein: Human Building Blocks
The basic nutritional building block of growth for us as humans is protein. We use the amino acids that it is composed of in a seemingly never ending number of combinations to produce all of our bodily tissues and immune cells. This is in addition to the more immediate physical actions such as balancing blood sugar levels and keeping us feeling satisfied and energetic throughout the day.
To calculate how much protein you need as an individual we look at how active you are compared to your body weight. As an example, a physically active, 65kg man would need about 1.2 – 1.5g of protein per kg of his body weight per day, totalling 78 – 97.5g. There are additional factors however that may affect this such as being overweight, underweight, or recovering from illness which all require the equation to be adjusted.
Protein Requirements During Pregnancy
When pregnant I suggest a woman aims to consume at least 1.3-1.5g of protein per kg of her body weight. This is supported by a large body of clinical evidence which shows:
- quicker recovery times after birth,
- rapider return to pre-pregnancy weight,
- fewer complications during pregnancy and
- healthier birth weights of babies whose mothers consumed at least 1.2g of protein per kg when compared to those who didn’t achieve this.
Now this is very easy to say. However, it completely discounts the other complexities of a pregnant or breastfeeding mother’s life!
How to Meet Protein Requirements When Pregnant
Physical barriers such as morning sickness, heartburn, sensitivities to certain tastes or smells, in addition to tiredness, lack of time or possibly being unable to move around as easily just before birth or after a Caesarean, mean that achieving this vitally important intake can be pretty difficult for some. And this is where I absolutely love to use protein powders with my clients.
Opting for a high quality, organic product provides that necessary nutrition in an incredibly convenient and easy to consume form. A smoothie for example can be whipped up in a flash and requires little to no preparation. Smoothies can even be made in large batches and frozen in portions to dip into at a later date. They also provide an opportunity to really concentrate on getting in the other critical nutrients an expecting or new mother needs, a couple of which I quickly detail below.
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Additional Nutritional Requirements of Expectant Mothers
- Calcium: for the maintenance of the mother’s bone density, to grow the foetus’ skeleton and as a vital component of mother’s milk. A lack of calcium will not compromise the baby’s bones, or the quality of the mother’s milk. Instead, the stores from her bones will be mobilised and the quantity of milk she is able to produce will decrease.
Food sources include: organic dairy products, legumes, kale, collard greens, broccoli, figs, oily fish (e.g. sardines).
- Folate: to avoid neural tube defects in babies and ensure the accurate replication of DNA amongst other things. Previously folic acid was used but the natural form folate (Vitamin B9) is far more preferable.
Food sources include: dark green leafy vegetables, asparagus, broccoli, avocado, okra, legumes.
- Iron: an expectant mother has to increase her blood volume by approximately 50% throughout her pregnancy, for which iron is crucial. Anaemia in expectant mothers is exceptionally common and so an additional supplement may be required, however I would always suggest aiming to increase dietary sources first.
Food sources include: organic red meat, pork, poultry, dark green leafy vegetables, peas, beans.
So as you can see simply whipping up a smoothie each day will not only give an incredible boost of all those nutrients, but also get you well on your way to that daily protein requirement with pretty much no effort at all. The other important fact to mention is that the increased fibre intake will also help to avoid other common pregnancy issues such as constipation.
Fortifying Foods with Protein Powder During Pregnancy and Early Motherhood
My other favourite way to use a protein powder is as a form of food fortification. This can be done to dishes that already feature in a mother’s daily diet. Adding protein to porridge, or making something like a batch of pancakes or granola bars, will just help to gradually increase that protein intake. These are easy ways to support the progressing pregnancy, postpartum healing and milk production of the mother. For those struggling with morning sickness, sleep deprivation or lack of time these slightly drier options can also be a great way to avoid turning to more processed snack foods if someone’s appetite has become affected.
So, Should You Take Protein Powder During and After Pregnancy?
To summarise: yes, protein powders are an extremely convenient way to meet elevated protein requirements during pregnancy. Just make sure you use a high quality organic source.
Now, this is an extremely summarised version of the complexities of pregnancy and postpartum nutrition! Each mother will have an individual experience. And her pre-pregnancy state will greatly affect her requirements during gestation and afterwards. However, simply including a couple of these points will make a significant difference to both her health, and that of her baby.
High Protein Recipe Suggestions for Pregnant and Breastfeeding Mothers
AMAZING MAMA BREAKFAST BLEND
- 1 heaped cup spinach
- ½ avocado
- 3 broccoli florets
- ¼ cup rolled oats
- 1 serving Motion Nutrition Pure or Coconut Whey Protein
- 1 cup cashew milk
- To serve: 1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds, 2 unsulphured dried figs, 1 tablespoon jumbo oats
Add all smoothie ingredients to a high speed blender and purée until smooth. Serve topped with the pumpkin seeds, oats and sliced fried figs.
PREGNANCY POWER PORRIDGE
- ⅓ cup jumbo oats
- 1 cup organic milk
- 1 serving Motion Nutrition Roasted Peanut Vegan Protein
- ¼ cup grated sweet potato
- To serve: 1 tablespoon walnut pieces, 1 teaspoon chia seeds, 1 teaspoon hulled hemp seeds
Add the oats to a small pan, pour over ½ cup of boiling water, cover and leave for 5 minutes. Add the sweet potato and milk then bring to gentle simmer. Cover and turn the heat down low. Stir occasionally until the majority of the liquid has been absorbed, approximately 5 minutes. Mix in the Protein Powder.
Serve topped with the walnuts, chia and hemp seeds.