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Should pregnant women avoid protein supplements?

Posted by Bulk Nutrients in Pregnancy / Breast Feeding

Estimated reading time: 10mins

Should Pregnant Women Avoid Protein Supplements?

cIf you’re reading this because you’re pregnant (or your partner is), congratulations! Or if you’re simply interested in finding out a bit more about a woman’s nutritional needs during pregnancy, you’ve come to the right place. Today we’re taking a deep dive into a bit of a controversial topic, is protein powder safe for pregnant women to consume? But first, we’ll give some background on nutrition during pregnancy.

Pregnancy changes the nutritional requirements of women

During pregnancy, a woman’s nutritional requirements increase to support the growing foetus inside. Eating a wide variety of foods including protein, good fats and a large amount of fruit and vegetables is the best way to ensure the nutritional needs are met and promoted in the unborn baby. But what about protein? How important is protein for a pregnant woman?

The amount of protein consumed during the pregnancy is vital for the growing foetus and inadequate supplementation can affect factors such as the baby’s birth weight and health. Inadequate protein supply can also affect the health of the baby later in life. It is also important to note that excess protein intake can also have an effect on the growing foetus, and therefore an adequate supply of protein is needed for a healthy baby.

If you’re currently thinking ‘Ok I need protein, but not too much. How much is that?’ Let us dive deeper into this.

‘A healthy intake of protein during pregnancy supports the growing foetus and assists their rapidly multiplying cells to function normally.

The importance of protein during pregnancy

Proteins are the essential building blocks of life and play a major role in many bodily functions and are especially useful for building and repairing tissues. In addition to providing the body with the structural framework, proteins also act to maintain Ph and fluid balance as well as maintaining the upkeep of the immune system to transport and store nutrients.

Protein is, therefore, crucial to maintaining optimal health and wellbeing. During pregnancy the protein consumed will help the growth of the baby and contribute to important areas of development such as growth and repair of new and damaged tissues, making antibodies for the immune system, and transportation of oxygen through the blood. The need for protein increases during pregnancy to support the foetus and the various changes occurring within the body at this time.

Adequate protein intake is vital during pregnancy to ensure the healthy development of the baby.
Adequate protein intake is vital during pregnancy to ensure the healthy development of the baby.

Should I consume protein powders while pregnant?

Protein powders are an easy way to meet the protein needs of a mother and growing foetus, however, adding any type of supplementation to the diet whilst pregnant should be first consulted by health professionals.

Once the go-ahead is given, you can then take steps in looking at a protein supplement that meets your requirements.

So what are the best protein powders for pregnancy?

Whilst protein can come in many different forms; some protein powders can be deemed safer for mothers and recommended to reach their increased need of this macronutrient during pregnancy.

Fermented vegan proteins can be great for an expecting mother as the protein comes from natural sources and are easily digested and readily bioavailable for expecting mothers. Vegan proteins are also dairy and gluten-free.

During the first trimester of pregnancy, nausea is often experienced and many mothers have reported it easier to digest protein powders instead of meat/fish products to meet their protein requirements. It is important to avoid proteins that contain adaptogenic herbs and are high in caffeine as this can limit foetal growth and cause low birth weight. If you experience pregnancy-related nausea or loss of appetite, certain protein powders may temporarily act to overcome this.

Why opt for vegan protein during pregnancy?

For pregnant women, a plant-based protein is often preferred as they’re easy to digest and contain natural, non-allergen ingredients.

A great option is Bulk Nutrients Earth Protein as it uses 100% natural ingredients, which can be extremely beneficial for those who suffer from dairy and lactose issues. This vegan protein powder is non-GMO, soy-free and contains plant proteins with 100% natural flavours and sweeteners. It’s also free from ingredients that usually cause allergic reactions as it utilises organic brown rice protein and yellow pea proteins.

How much protein do you need during pregnancy?

Pregnant women need to consume at least 70 to 100 grams of protein a day depending on their body weight and stage of pregnancy. To put this into perspective, a serving of Bulk Nutrients Earth Protein contains 23.5 grams of protein per serve. So one serving a day of this veggie protein could be all you need to reach your daily protein goal.

If you struggle to increase protein content in your diet, there are plenty of ways you can include protein at every meal.

  • Add protein to fruit or choc based smoothie
  • Cook protein into baked goods (cookies, slices and protein balls etc. browse our recipe repertoire for ideas)
  • Have a shake in your favourite flavour on the go
  • Add a protein source to your salad at lunch or a hot meal at dinner time. Eg, lean meat, legumes like chickpeas, tofu or nuts.

Planning ahead of time and being prepared will also help overcome this, it can be easy to add some protein to your smoothie or adding a protein source to your pasta dish!

Eat the rainbow! Consuming a wide variety of fruits and vegetables will ensure nutrient needs are met and promoted in the unborn baby.
Eat the rainbow! Consuming a wide variety of fruits and vegetables will ensure nutrient needs are met and promoted in the unborn baby

Are there any risks I should consider when consuming protein powders during pregnancy?

Avoid consuming toxic ingredients

Protein powders are classified as ‘dietary supplements which in hindsight could mean that not all manufacturers are trustworthy. There is no way of being 100% clear on the ingredients on the label, and it is therefore recommended to opt for reputable brands.

Bulk Nutrients are also 100% Australian owned and operated. Each product listed by the brand also contains a mandatory warning against the use of supplements whilst breastfeeding or pregnant which is officiated by FSANZ (the Australian food regulators). However, this is something you can discuss with your GP if you are looking at adding a protein powder into your diet or if you want to continue taking protein powder or another supplement if you already do.

Overconsumption of protein

Whilst consuming protein is vital in a healthy pregnancy, overconsumption can occur and has its own risks to the growing foetus. A study conducted in 2018 found that pregnant women on a high protein low carbohydrate diet had a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes. A further study conducted in Scotland showed that pregnant women who consumed large amounts of protein combined with a low carbohydrate diet had slow-growing babies; which is a large reason why the ketogenic diet is not recommended for pregnant women. The best way to thinking about nutrition during pregnancy is to ensure a correct macronutrient split is met by including adequate amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fats each day.

Consuming excess sugar

A large problem associated with adding supplements to the diet is that they can often be hiding added sugars. Excess sugar intake in the context of hypercaloric intakes can in hindsight cause large weight gain and can spike blood sugar levels which can, in turn, cause gestational diabetes.

Some protein powders can have up to 20grams of added sugar in one serving! It is recommended by the Australian Health Association that females should have to limit their sugar intake to 23 grams of sugar per day. To avoid this, simply look for a protein powder with no added sugar like the Bulk Nutrients range.

Should I look at other sources of protein during pregnancy?

Sourcing your protein from natural food sources is a better way to reach your nutritional needs. Lean meats such as chicken, turkey and low mercury fish are all safe sources to consume whilst pregnant and provide many nutritional benefits.

You can easily get one-third of your daily protein requirements from one serving of red meat or one chicken breast! It is also important to note that red meat is high in cholesterol and fats which can affect your heart health if consumed regularly.

Some seafood such as mackerel, swordfish and tilefish can contain high levels of mercury which should be avoided by pregnant women. Raw meats and undercooked seafood should also be avoided if pregnant and is recommended to consume plenty of plant-based protein sources such as legumes, lentils, whole grains and oatmeal.

A good rule of thumb is to include a protein portion (approximately the size of your hand) at every meal so you can easily meet your daily target.

Eating just one serving of red meat or a chicken breast can help you meet a third of your daily protein requirements.
Eating just one serving of red meat or a chicken breast can help you meet a third of your daily protein requirements.

The take-home message

Protein powders are a great way to meet your nutritional requirements, however, it is also important to remember to speak to your obstetrician before adding ANY kind of supplement to your diet.

Once your GP or specialist gives you the all-clear, opt for protein powders that are made from milk and are natural. If you become sensitive to dairy which is common during pregnancy opt for a protein made from plant sources such as the Bulk Nutrients Earth Protein, and Bulk Nutrients Brown Rice Protein.

References:

  1. Blumfield, M. and Collins, C. (2014). High-protein diets during pregnancy: healthful or harmful for offspring?. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 100(4), pp.993-995.
  2. Farabi, S. and Hernandez, T. (2019). Low-Carbohydrate Diets for Gestational Diabetes. Nutrients, 11(8), p.1737.

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