Determining your protein needs during pregnancy can often leave you guessing what it best for you and your growing baby. You focus on building your diet around wholesome, nutritionally rich foods during and even before pregnancy to give your child’s life a healthy start. But as your baby grows, so do your organs, breast tissue, and blood supply to support your baby’s needs. All this growth requires calories, a very important source of these calories being protein.
Amino acids, which make up proteins, are the building blocks for your body—and for your growing baby’s body. Getting adequate protein is important before and during pregnancy, especially during your second and third trimesters when your baby is growing the fastest. Getting this protein from the right foods, as part of a balanced, nutrient-dense diet, will ensure the healthiest pregnancy for you and your child.
Healthy Weight Gain and Calorie Increases
The weight you should gain during pregnancy depends on the weight you started at before you became pregnant. For women who were at a healthy weight pre-pregnancy, a total of 25-35 pounds should be gained during pregnancy. Weight gain should come gradually—1 to 4 pounds total during the first 3 months and 2 to 4 pounds per month in months 4 through 9.
The total calories you need depends on the number of calories you were eating to maintain your pre-pregnancy weight. Typically the first trimester does not require any increase in calories. As your baby grows, gradually increase calories. During your second trimester, increase your intake by 300 calories per day, and monitor weight gain to adjust calorie intake as needed. If you are unsure how many calories you should be eating throughout your pregnancy, consult individual guidance from a Registered Dietitian.
Experts recommend eating a minimum of 70 to 100 grams of protein per day during pregnancy. Again, this depends on your individual needs. Roughly 20% to 25% of your daily calories should come from protein. You can calculate this yourself by multiplying your daily calories by 0.20 and 0.25, then dividing this number by 4 (protein contains 4 calories per gram).
For example, if you are eating 2200 calories per day:
2200 calories x 0.20 = 440 calories from protein
440 ÷ 4 = 110 grams of protein per day
2200 calories x 0.25 = 550 calories from protein
550 ÷ 4 = 137.5 grams of protein per day
In this example, the woman should be eating between 110 and 137.5 grams of protein per day.
Just as important as getting an adequate amount of protein in your diet is choosing nutrient-rich sources of protein. Get your protein from a variety of fresh, minimally processed foods as much as possible to increase the micronutrient composition of your diet. By doing so, you will ensure the presence of vitamins, minerals and other phytonutrients important to keeping yourself and your baby healthy.
Incorporate a serving of a high protein food into each meal and snack to help meet your daily protein requirement. The best choices are listed below:
Meat and Poultry
Fish and Seafood
Beans and Peas
Nuts and Seeds
High Protein Grains
Whey Protein Powder
Vitamins and minerals of particular importance to a healthy pregnancy include Calcium, Vitamin D, Iron and Folate. These nutrients can be found in a number of protein-rich foods. For example, fatty fish such as salmon provide a rich source of Vitamin D. Yogurt, cheese and milk are an excellent source of calcium, as are almonds and canned wild salmon. An all-natural whey protein supplement such as About Time whey isolate can also help provide 25% of your daily calcium.
Folate, a B vitamin known to prevent neural tube defects that can cause serious abnormalities to the brain and spinal cord, is an essential nutrient for pregnant moms. Folic Acid supplements are normally recommended for pregnant women, but you can also find naturally occurring folate in protein foods such as beans, peas and peanuts. Red meat, fish and poultry are excellent sources of iron, as are beans.
Limit your consumption of processed foods such as hot dogs, deli meats, fried foods, fast foods and processed meat imitation products. Such foods tend to lose their nutritional value in processing – fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients are in turn replaced with excess fats (often trans- fats), sugar, refined carbohydrates and salt.
Take extra care to ensure food safety when handling raw animal products such as meat, poultry, seafood and eggs to protect yourself and your baby from harmful pathogens. Keep raw animal products separate from fresh foods by using separate cutting boards, plates and knives for each. Cook raw animal products to a safe temperature–at least 145* for beef, pork, veal and lamb and seafood; 160* for ground beef, pork, veal and lamb; and 165* for poultry. Do not eat raw or undercooked meat, seafood or poultry or unpasteurized (raw) milk or cheese products.
While you are encouraged to eat fish a couple times per week, the FDA suggests limiting your total fish intake to 12 ounces per week to avoid methyl mercury contamination and avoid eating large predator fish such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish.
Blog Contributed by – Emily McDearmon
Registered Dietitian – Commission on Dietetic Registration
Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics
Certified Personal Trainer – NASM, AMFPT
USDA Food and Nutrition Information Center: Nutrition and Pregnancy http://fnic.nal.usda.gov/lifecycle-nutrition/nutrition-during-pregnancy WIC Works Pregnancy Resources http://wicworks.nal.usda.gov/pregnancy Food Safety for Pregnant Women http://www.foodsafety.gov/poisoning/risk/pregnant/ Mayo Clinic: Pregnancy Diet http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/pregnancy-nutrition/art-20045082?pg=1 American Pregnancy Association: Pregnancy Nutrition http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/pregnancy-nutrition/ UCSF: Eating Right Before and During Pregnancy http://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/eating_right_before_and_during_pregnancy/