(This post probably contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission at no cost to you through links shared on this website to help keep the information I provide free to you)
During my first pregnancy, I went from eating eggs every single morning to not being able to stand the smell of them.
I needed protein, especially with my workout routines.
But struggled to meet the recommended amount because of strong food aversions and nausea.
So I started adding nutrient-rich protein shakes to my diet to help bridge the gap.
I was skeptical at first because I was unsure if they were safe to consume during pregnancy, but protein shakes really helped me meet protein needs without having to choke down eggs (or any other protein source) every morning!
If food aversions and nausea are making it difficult for you to get enough protein during pregnancy, then protein shakes might be a great option for you.
However, before taking my advice, you might want to run that by your obstetrician, just to be sure that she agrees with my assessment, in view of your individual situation.
Before we talk about safe protein powder during pregnancy, let’s first talk about protein requirements.
Disclosure: Although I am a certified prenatal/postnatal exercise specialist and personal trainer, I am not YOUR trainer. The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute of the information and advice you receive from a healthcare professional.
Do Protein Requirements Increase During Pregnancy?
The recommended amount of protein during pregnancy does increase to meet the demands of your growing baby and your body.
Protein provides the building blocks to help form your baby’s organs, tissues and cells while also helping to fuel your body to give you the energy you need to get through your day.
It even plays a role in your blood supply, helping more blood to be sent to your growing baby.
Studies show that pregnant women should consume between 1.2 and 1.52 kg grams of protein per pound of body weight during pregnancy.
The average daily intake should be around 79-108 grams of protein depending on your body weight.
The amount of protein your body requires will change during your pregnancy because your weight is changing.
Does the Type of Protein Matter?
Protein source does seem to matter but I wouldn’t become obsessive about it.
While animal protein provides excellent protein, several studies suggest that diets high in meat aren’t ideal either.
And if you are a vegan or vegetarian, protein shakes can help you meet your protein requirement during pregnancy.
An important advantage of eating a wide range of proteins, including meat, poultry, fish, and plant-based sources, is that you will receive a greater variety of nutrients.
Red meat can help prevent anemia because it is high in iron and vitamin B12.
Fish can help with baby’s brain development because it is high in DHA.
And plant protein sources like legumes are rich in folate, which aids neural development as well.
What Is Protein Powder?
Protein powder is a protein that has been concentrated, isolated, and packaged in powder form.
The protein can come from various sources, including milk, egg, soy, beef or any other protein-containing food.
Protein powders are often used to supplement the diet of an individual who might not be able to get enough protein from her diet, such as during pregnancy.
Protein powder should not be taken as a sole source of protein because it does not contain all other nutrients required by the human body like carbohydrates and fats.
However, if you struggle to meet the recommended protein intake during pregnancy, it may be an option for you.
What Are the Benefits of Protein During Pregnancy?
One of the most obvious benefits of protein powder is that it helps provide a quick and convenient source of protein for pregnant moms who may not be able to get enough through their diet alone.
And you can up the nutritional value by adding fruits, vegetables and even nut butters.
But protein also has some other benefits, including:
- It helps you feel full for longer periods of time.
- Contributes to blood sugar stability.
- Protein powder can help you maintain your muscle mass during.
- Pregnancy which is especially important if your exercise.
- Protein can help increase the immune system.
- Protein shakes can help pregnant moms who struggle with morning sickness or food aversions meet their caloric and nutritional needs.
- Collagen protein can help improve joint health, nail and hair growth and even help prevent or reduce stretch marks.
What Are the Risks of Protein During Pregnancy?
One disadvantage of protein powder is that it does not contain all the necessary nutrients of a healthy diet.
Protein supplements are not a healthy substitute for protein-rich meals since they lack vitamins and minerals found in food sources.
They can also contain things like trace amounts of mercury and lead, so be sure to buy an organic protein powder.
You’ll also want to be sure to talk to your doctor before taking any protein supplements during pregnancy.
Is Protein Powder Safe For Pregnancy?
In general, protein powders are safe during pregnancy.
Adding a scoop of a “clean”, simple protein shouldn’t be harmful to you or the baby.
However, it is always a good idea to discuss any supplementation during pregnancy with your healthcare provider.
You will want to choose a brand with a very simple ingredient list without a lot of additives that you cannot even pronounce.
As a general rule of thumb, if you look at the nutrition label and cannot pronounce several of the ingredients, I would suggest opting for a different brand.
What To Look For In a Protein Powder
If you and your healthcare provider determine that supplementing with protein shakes is safe for you and your pregnancy, here are a few things to consider when choosing the best protein powder for pregnancy.
Considerations When Choosing Protein Powders for Pregnancy
When deciding on the best protein powders, here are a few things to look for:
- Artificial sweeteners or added sugar-
Many protein powders are sweetened with a variety of sweeteners including both natural and artificial.
A diet high in sugar during pregnancy can lead to unhealthy weight gain, gestational diabetes and fetal macrosomia (larger than average babies).
It is best to choose a protein powder that is lower in sugar and artificial sweeteners.
Adding a banana or other fruit to your protein shake will give it plenty of sweetness and extra nutrition as well!
While I would never suggest eliminating sugar from your diet completely, it is much wiser to get it from sources other than your protein powder.
- Thickening Agents
To provide protein powders with more flavor and texture, they often contain things like artificial flavoring, coloring, and thickeners.
Common thickeners could be labeled as:
- guar gum
- xanthan gum
While these are not harmful to you or your baby, they could cause gut issues such as bloating and diarrhea (not fun during pregnancy!)
Fillers are often added to protein powders to provide more bulk and save money for the manufacture.
These could be labeled as things such as:
- coconut flour
- food dyes
Carrageen is a seaweed that is used as a thickener and stabilizer to help protein powders mix better.
While it is a natural substance, it has been shown to increase inflammation in the body and trigger ulcerations and bleeding.
It has also been linked to some cancers.
- Soy Protein
I suggest using soy protein powders should be used with caution because they are often genetically modified and exposed to pesticides.
Soy protein (also called soy protein isolate) contains something called phytoestrogens which mimic the body’s own estrogen.
Some studies show that high intake of phytoestrogens may disrupt the body’s hormonal balance.
Not something you want during pregnancy!
- Vegetable Oils and Added Fats
Some protein powders have added vegetable oils and fats to help improve texture and richness.
The fats and oils used are often processed, hydrogenated sources that contain trans fats.
What are The Different Types of Protein Powders Available?
There are a variety of different protein powders on the market to choose from, but not all protein powder is created equal.
Here are a few different types of protein powders available today:
This protein powder is derived from dairy and found in many protein shakes.
Whey protein offers a complete protein profile and is considered safe unless you have a dairy allergy/sensitivity.
It has been shown to promote lean muscle mass, increase metabolism and stabilize blood sugar levels.
The one drawback with whey protein is that it may contain traces of heavy metals such as mercury and lead which can be dangerous to you and your baby during pregnancy.
To avoid these potential health risks, look for organic or grass-fed whey protein.
Vegan or plant based protein powders
Vegan protein is made from plant and grain sources making it a great option for both you and your baby.
One drawback of vegan or plant basked protein is that they often lack one or more essential amino acids, but it’s good to use if you’re trying to limit animal products.
However, pea protein is a plant-based protein powder that contains all 9 essential amino acids that your body does not create on its own except for methionine which can be consumed from foods such as eggs, poultry or beef.
Rice protein is another vegan protein powder you can choose from . It is also easily digestible protein, but it is low in lysine.
A plant based protein powder may be a great option for you if you have any food sensitivities.
Collagen protein powder is a protein that is derived from animal protein sources such as bone and cartilage.
It is one of my favorite protein powders for pregnancy because it has been scientifically shown to help support joint health, skin, hair, nail and gut health.
This is especially helpful during pregnancy when hormonal changes cause joints to become soft.
And if you are worried about stretch marks, collagen can help improve the elasticity of your skin.
Because collagen protein is not a complete protein source, it’s best to add it to a protein shake or another protein source.
Protein Powders for Pregnancy
You may find products labeled as “prenatal protein powder” at your local grocery or nutrition store.
However, specific protein powders for pregnancy may not be the best option while you’re expecting.
The protein in prenatal protein powders is usually only slightly better than an average protein powder but is often more expensive.
I’m not saying that protein powders marketed for pregnant women are bad for you.
But they aren’t necessarily any better (and may also contain certain additives) than protein powders that aren’t marketed for pregnant women.
How to Pick the Best Protein Powders During Pregnancy
Now that you know the benefits, risks and different types of products available, here are a few tips to help you get the most bang for your buck when choosing the best protein powder for you and your pregnancy.
How to choose the best protein powder for your pregnancy:
- Does it provide 15 to 30 grams of protein per serving?
- Check the label and look for a product that contains the least amount of ingredients possible. And if you cannot pronounce multiple ingredients, opt for a different product.
- Chose a product that does not contain artificial flavorings, additives or fillers.
- Chose an unsweetened protein powder if possible. If it is sweetened, look for natural sweeteners like monk fruit.
- Look for a product that has gone through third-party testing ensure it meets the quality and safety require.
What Is the Best Pregnancy Safe Protein Powder?
The protein powder that is best for your nutritional needs is going to depend on your body weight, dietary restrictions and what type of protein you need.
For example, if you have a milk protein allergy or lactose intolerance then a plant-based protein might be a better alternative.
These are the protein powders I have used and loved during all four of my pregnancies and postpartum.
Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides
It has made a significant difference in my joint health, hair growth, and skin elasticity.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and is found in connective tissue, bones, skin and organs.
For this reason, it can help to prevent stretch marks by improving skin elasticity and reducing inflammation.
KOS Protein Powder
This protein powder supplement by KOS Organic is one of my favorites because it is a plant-based product that has all of the ingredients you might want and none of the ingredients you don’t want.
This protein shake contains 20-grams of protein per serving, 170 calories, and it is gluten-free and dairy-free.
It also does not contain added hormones, dairy, soy, artificial sweeteners or colors.
The protein in this product comes from organic pea protein, organic flaxseed, organic quinoa, pumpkin seed protein, chia seed protein and organic coconut milk.
It is made in Southern California with USDA certified organic ingredients to make sure you are getting the best supplement available during your pregnancy.
Ora Organic So Lean So Clean Protein Powder
I currently alternate between Ora Organic and KOS simply because I LOVE both and it just gives me variety.
The Ora Organic nutrition label is very impressive with simple ingredients that are easy to pronounce.
It’s gmo free, soy free and does not contain dairy, wheat, gluten, eggs, peanuts, artificial colors or sweeteners, pesticides or synthetic herbicides.
Do I Really Need Protein Powder In My Diet?
We know protein is a major nutritional requirement for pregnant women.
However, protein sources can be limited during pregnancy because of food aversions, nausea and morning sickness.
For these reasons, protein powder is often used by pregnant women who are unable to get enough protein from food sources.
Incorporating protein shakes into your daily diet can be a quick and efficient way to get protein and other nutrients when you struggle to meet nutritional requirements.
However, protein shakes should not replace a healthy meal or snack during pregnancy.
It’s important to combine protein powder with whole foods and a prenatal vitamin for a healthy pregnancy.
Bottom Line-To Protein Powder or to Not Protein Powder
Here is my take on protein powder.
A protein shake can be a quick and efficient way to get protein when you struggle to meet your nutritional needs during pregnancy.
However, protein powder should not be used as a replacement for a healthy meal.
In addition, protein consumption is only one factor that can impact your pregnancy and developing baby so it’s important to monitor both calorie intake and protein consumption while pregnant!
Assuming that neither your total protein intake nor your total calorie intake is excessive, I wouldn’t be concerned about using protein powder during pregnancy to help meet your protein needs.
Elango R, Ball RO. Protein and Amino Acid Requirements during Pregnancy. Adv Nutr. 2016;7(4):839S-44S. Published 2016 Jul 15. doi:10.3945/an.115.011817
Board nixes use of carrageenan in organic food production. (2016). Food Safety News. https://www.foodsafetynews.com/2016/11/board-nixes-use-of-carrageenan-in-organic-food-production/
The Natural Ingredient You Should Ban From Your Diet. (2013). Prevention. https://www.prevention.com/food-nutrition/healthy-eating/a20459777/carrageenan-the-natural-ingredient-you-should-ban-from-your-diet/
Jargin SV. Soy and phytoestrogens: possible side effects. Ger Med Sci. 2014;12:Doc18. Published 2014 Dec 15. doi:10.3205/000203
Daly J, Tomlin J, Read NW. The effect of feeding xanthan gum on colonic function in man: correlation with in vitro determinants of bacterial breakdown. Br J Nutr. 1993 May;69(3):897-902. doi: 10.1079/bjn19930089. PMID: 8329363.
Processed Foods and Health. (n.d.). Harvard T.H. Chan School Of Public Health. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/processed-foods/
Brooke is a certified Prenatal and Postnatal Exercise Specialist with a Bachelors of Science degree in Kinesiology-Exercise Science. She is also a mom of 3 girls with more than 15 years of experience in health and fitness. Brooke’s goal at Struggles of a Fit Mom is to help motivate, educate and inspire other busy mamas who struggle with finding time, energy and motivation to take care of themselves in the chaos of motherhood.