As an expectant mother or father you may be wondering "is protein powder safe during pregnancy?" Can supplementation with protein aid the development of your baby?
Yes, protein powder is a safe, easy, and convenient way to reach your necessary protein intake during pregnancy. The only caveat is that you should avoid protein powders with added sugar, heavy metals, and artificial sweeteners and flavorings.
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Is protein powder safe during pregnancy?
You might have heard that once you get pregnant, you are now eating for two!
While that is not true - with a global scientific review finding that around half the women gain too much weight during pregnancy (1) - the amount of protein you eat is vital for the development of your baby.
Proteins are the building blocks of the body, so there is no wonder that adequate protein intake will affect everything from your baby's birth weight to even how healthy they are as an adult.
However, as a pregnant woman, getting enough protein may be difficult.
You may experience pregnancy related nausea, lack of energy to cook, or even lack of an appetite.
And this is where protein powder comes into play during pregnancy, helping you get your necessary protein intake even when odds are stacked against you. And as long as you get a natural protein supplement without additives and heavy metals, you don't have to worry about any unwanted side effects.
In a previous post we've done the work for you, choosing the best protein powders for pregnancy.
But if you want to learn more about the risks, benefits, and how to choose the most suitable protein supplement for your particular situation, keep reading.
What are the risks of using protein powder during pregnancy?
Generally speaking, protein powders are safe for pregnancy. However, there are two main risks associated with drinking protein shakes during this period:
The first risk is pretty easy to avoid.
Keep track of how much protein you are ingesting throughout the day, and make sure you don't go over the recommended amount. That may mean you don't even need protein powder. We talked more about this in our article on how many protein shakes you need per day.
As for the second risk, it used to be an issue.
But nowadays, there are companies like The Clean Label Project, a non-profit organization with the mission to bring transparency to consumer product labeling. This group tests products and brings the results to the public.
So if you want to get a protein supplement and make sure it doesn't have any toxic ingredients…
It may be a good idea to check with the clean label project, or get one from our list of protein powders suitable for pregnancy.
What are the benefits of protein powder for pregnant women?
The most obvious benefit of supplementing protein during pregnancy is how convenient it is. If for some reason you are unable to get enough protein from your diet alone, drinking a protein shake can help you and the development of your baby.
Some other benefits include but are not limited to:
That being said, you can experience most of these benefits with adequate protein consumption, whether it is coming from a protein powder or a balanced diet.
How to choose a protein powder safe for pregnancy
It is crucial for your pregnancy to choose a protein powder that doesn't contain certain additives and preservatives. Here is a list of what you should be looking for:
No heavy metals
Under normal circumstances, ingesting heavy metals is safe for humans. However, it can lead to some serious outcomes during pregnancy. For instance, you can read about the effects of mercury on pregnant women here.
To err on the side of caution, get protein powders labeled as foods instead of supplements.
As opposed to supplements, food items are regulated by the FDA, making them safer for expectant mothers and the baby.
No artificial sweeteners or flavors
First and foremost, you should avoid saccharin (Sweet'N Low or Sugar Twin) during pregnancy. It is unclear how safe this sweetener is; however, it was found that saccharin can cross the placenta and stay in your baby's tissue.
Aside from saccharin, you should also avoid:
And look for protein powder sweetened with any of the following:
No added sugar
Aside from that, it is a well known fact that sugar can negatively affect your health.
Therefore, for general health reasons, as well as the safety and wellbeing of you and your baby, we recommend you to avoid protein powders high in sugar. Ideally you should aim for a protein powder with less than 3-4 grams of sugar per serving. As an alternative, choose supplements sweetened with one of the sweeteners mentioned above.
If you want to get the best results, you can try unflavored protein powder.
And to make it delicious, head over to our article on how to make protein powder taste good and we will sort you out with it.
Soy has gotten some bad rap in recent years. Unfortunately, in the context of pregnancy, we are not giving it a break. There are some compounds in soy called phytoestrogens which mimic your body's own estrogen.
Consuming soy in high amounts can lead to hormonal imbalances.
Not only is that not desirable during pregnancy but it can also harm the development of your baby. So before getting your protein powder, check the allergen list and if you see soy, consider getting another product.
Good amount of protein per serving
If your protein powder is high in calories but fairly low in protein (less than roughly 23 grams per serving) it must mean that it is packed with carbohydrates and/or fats.
Choose a protein powder that is high in protein and low in calories.
Alternatives to protein powder
So, is protein powder safe for pregnant women? Certainly. Is it a necessity? No.
The whole idea behind protein supplements is to help you supplement an already solid nutrition or be a crutch when, for some reason ,you have difficulties meeting your nutritional needs.
With that being said, alternatives to protein powder are all foods high in protein, such as:
We would only consider supplementation if you are unable to meet your protein requirements through a healthy diet.
Is protein powder safe during pregnancy? Yes, however you don't need it.
The greatest benefit it offers is convenience in times when you can't eat, cook, or for some other reason can't meet your protein needs. However, if your appetite is strong and you have the time to cook your own meals, a protein supplement may be superfluous.
If you do decide to get one, avoid the ones containing heavy metals, artificial ingredients, added sugar, and soy. Also, opt for a product that has high protein and low calories per serving.
Over to you.