The Importance of Protein While Pregnant
If you’re looking for ways to ensure a healthy pregnancy outcome, paying attention to your nutrition needs is one of the best things you can do to support the health of both you and your baby. Your diet during pregnancy, especially protein intake, can have a huge impact on not only your baby’s development, but also your own health throughout pregnancy.
Why is nutrition so important during pregnancy?
During pregnancy, the fetus develops from a small cluster of cells into a fully developed human being. During this rapid period of growth, your baby relies on you for most of its nutrition. The foods you eat during these nine months are crucial for giving your developing baby what it needs to form all the new cells, tissues, and organs to survive. As new tissues are created to form the developing fetus, adequate protein intake is particularly essential during pregnancy to ensure full-term delivery of a healthy baby.
So, why protein?
While we often hear of protein in the context of trying to build muscle, protein actually does a lot more than that in our body. Did you know that every cell in our body is made of protein?
We need protein in order to:
- Grow and repair tissue
- Produce antibodies for our immune system to fight infections
- Produce hormones and enzymes to regulate basic functions like sleeping, metabolism, and mood
- Move oxygen through our blood. Hemoglobin, which transports oxygen to tissues throughout the body, is made of protein!
- And much more!
As you can see, protein is critical for almost everything our body does to keep us alive. This means that during pregnancy, getting in enough protein from your diet is absolutely essential to give your growing baby what it needs to build new tissues and cells, develop its immune system to fight infection, and kickstart all its vital body systems. Studies have shown that consuming adequate energy and protein during pregnancy improves fetal growth and birthweight and reduces the risk of preterm birth, while low protein while pregnant can lead to reduced fetal growth and even embryonic loss.
How much protein do you need to be eating while pregnant?
If you are pregnant, you might have heard the saying that you should be ‘eating for two’. While not entirely true, nutrient requirements such as energy and protein do increase during pregnancy in order to support your baby’s growth while still maintaining your own health as a mother. Recent studies recommend that during early stages of pregnancy, protein needs are 1.2 g/ kg body weight/ day. This requirement increases to 1.52 g/ kg body weight/ day during later stages of pregnancy. This means that for a woman weighing 150 lbs (68 kg), protein requirements would be 81.6 g/day in the early stages of pregnancy, and increase to 103.4 g/day later in pregnancy.
If this protein target seems overwhelming, try breaking up this number by the number of meals you eat. For instance, if you eat 3 meals a day and are aiming to hit 90 g of protein, thinking of eating 30 g/protein with each meal can make the goal seem less overwhelming.
In addition, if you’re having trouble getting in enough protein due to pregnancy-related nausea or a lack of appetite, using protein supplementation, CorePerform a high-quality protein powder , may help to meet your needs. As always, though, make sure to talk to your doctor before implementing changes to your diet during pregnancy.
Elango, R., & Ball, R. O. (2016). Protein and amino acid requirements during pregnancy. Advances in Nutrition, 7(4). https://doi.org/10.3945/an.115.011817
Herring, C. M., Bazer, F. W., Johnson, G. A., & Wu, G. (2018). Impacts of maternal dietary protein intake on fetal survival, growth, and development. Experimental Biology and Medicine, 243(6), 525–533. https://doi.org/10.1177/1535370218758275
Ota, E., Hori, H., Mori, R., Tobe-Gai, R., & Farrar, D. (2015). Antenatal dietary education and supplementation to increase energy and protein intake. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.cd000032.pub3