Benefits of Protein in Pregnancy

Our bodies require an adequate amount of protein to fulfill basic functions like muscle growth, wound healing, and cell signaling — protein is essential when you’re expecting. Protein in pregnancy is crucial, for you and your baby. Eating enough protein during pregnancy supports your baby’s development and is required for normal cell growth and function. You need good sources of protein in pregnancy, such as lean meat, lentils, seafood, and eggs to meet your daily protein intake.

Let’s discuss in detail protein and the benefits of protein in pregnancy.

What is Protein?

Proteins are an essential macronutrient of the body. They are vital in our body structures, like skin and hair, and are crucial in other substances and processes in our body like enzymes, cytokines, and antibodies – just to name a few.

Proteins are made up of 20 amino acids, and each one is either essential, optional, or conditional. Amino acids are used to break down foods, grow and repair body tissue and perform other body functions. They can also be used as a source of energy for our bodies. The value of a protein can be measured by how many essential amino acids it contains.

  • Non-Essential Amino Acids: These amino acids are optional for our body to produce and they don’t have to be included in our diet
  • Essential Amino Acids: Amino acids that are essential are those that our body cannot produce on its own and must therefore be in our diet. 
  • Conditional Amino Acids: Conditions such as disease and stress are thought to necessitate conditional amino acids, so by having a certain disease you may need a certain amino acid to help, making it conditional and necessary for you. 

Why Do We Need Protein-rich Foods?

Mother and baby health can be defined by the nutritional status and lifestyle of the women during the preconception, pregnancy, and postpartum stages. Adequate protein in pregnancy at each stage is essential. Protein is essential in the preconception stage to provide the strength and health for your body to carry a baby, during pregnancy protein is needed for the obvious growth and development of your baby and to maintain your health, and then in the postpartum journey it is essential for recovery and intake is essential if you’re breastfeeding; you’ll need protein to keep your body in good shape to sustain your milk supply during lactation.

We need protein in food for

  • Building blocks for bones, muscles, cartilage, and skin
  • Repair and build cells
  • Help supply our body with a compound that helps to carry oxygen around our body 
  • To make new enzymes that our body needs, new cells and body chemicals
  • Amino acids can also be used as a source of energy for our bodies
  • Hormone regulation – especially during growth time (hello pregnancy)
protein in pregnancy

Why Do We Need Protein in Pregnancy?

Protein in pregnancy simply provides the building blocks for your baby’s cells and development. This macronutrient aids in the maintenance of muscle and body tissue, and it is also essential for a baby’s growth — particularly during the second and third trimesters. Protein helps grow breast and uterine tissue during pregnancy and aids in the development of the baby’s tissue and the brain and helps your baby develop skin, hair fingernails, and muscles.

Consuming between 60-100g of protein during the third trimester is recommended depending on activity and weight. There is quite a bit of literature currently showing that we may need to research our protein in pregnancy more and maybe our needs are higher than what we have been historically recommending – so it is essential to be at least eating the recommended amount of protein.

Protein-rich Foods in Pregnancy- How Much Do We Need?

You must include foods that contain protein in pregnancy to fulfil the daily requirements. During preconception, women require around 12 to 20% protein of their daily calories, which accounts for almost 40 – 60 grams of protein a day. 

During pregnancy, women require almost 20 to 25% protein of their daily calories, and it accounts for almost 63 – 100g grams of protein a day. Healthy lactating women should consume almost 1.5 grams of protein per kg per day of the body weight.

Highest Protein Foods in Pregnancy

Protein in pregnancy is easy to add to your meals. You can add a variety of healthy sources of protein to your meal. Here are some of the highest protein sources to add to your meal. 

Animal protein sources are beef, chicken, tuna, poultry, pork, and fish, and dairy foods are high in protein. Animal products generally have all of the essential amino acids and are often labeled as “complete proteins”.

On the other hand, primary plant sources of protein include nuts and seeds, vegetables like peas, spinach, potatoes, whole grains, and legumes, amaranth, and soy products often only contain one essential amino acid (except soy, amaranth, and quinoa which contains all essential amino acids) and are often labeled as incomplete proteins.

Protein-rich Foods for Vegetarians 

protein rich foods for vegetarians

If you are a person who eats a vegetarian diet you need to choose a variety of protein sources from a mix of plant foods (ie have a varied diet) to make sure you get a mix of amino acids. You can add a variety of protein-rich foods for vegetarians to fulfill your daily intake of proteins. Pea and hemp protein are comparable grams of protein to a whey or casein protein-based powder for example. 

It is recommended to add a variety of plant sources when possible or use different supplements and fortified foods to maximise the benefits. You can add various vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, asparagus, artichokes, potatoes, and sweet potatoes that contain almost four to five grams of protein in a cup, these are easy to add to any meal.

You can add a variety of fruits to your healthy snacks, such as guava which contains 4 grams of protein, and avocado containing 4.5 grams of protein. It is possible to have adequate protein in pregnancy, even a vegetarian pregnancy.

Protein Deficiency in Pregnancy

Protein in pregnancy is important and protein deficiency can lead to embryonic losses, intra-uterine growth restriction, and reduced postnatal growth due to the lack of specific amino acids important for cell metabolism and function. If you feel weakness, muscle fatigue, or rapid weight loss, these may be the signs of protein deficiency, and you need to consult your doctor immediately. 

Increasing Protein Dense Foods 

Protein in pregnancy plays an important role in the baby’s growth throughout the pregnancy. Here is the list of food that contains a high amount of proteins; you can add a variety of them to different meals of the day. 

  • Eggs:
  •  One medium-sized boiled egg contains around 6 grams of protein.
  • Poultry:
  • One boneless grilled chicken contains 26 grams of protein. 
  • Fish: 
  • Dairy Products:
  • One cup of skim milk contains around 8 grams of protein. You can also add a variety of cheese to your breakfast, and adding one cup of cottage cheese contains 28 grams of protein.
  • Lentils:
  • One cup of lentils contains 18 grams of protein. The addition of lentils to snacks during lunch can aid in having an adequate amount of proteins. 
  • Lean Beef:
  • The 93% lean ground beef has 22 grams of protein per 3-ounce serving. In addition to providing your body with high-quality protein, beef also fuels it with essential elements like iron and zinc, which are important for immunity (which shuttles oxygen through your body).
  • Salmon:
  • A 3-ounce serving of salmon has 19 grams of protein. It is known commonly due to its healthy fat content that supports and improves heart health. This food has a high amount of protein too.

You can increase the intake of proteins by starting your day with protein intake. 

  • Tip: take a protein-rich breakfast – replace cereals with eggs or have cereal and legumes such as baked beans on toast
  • and add almonds and cheese to your snack items.
  • Choose leaner, slightly larger cuts of meat for your dinner. 
  • Adding a portion of high-protein food to every meal is recommended.

Is it Safe to Drink Protein Shakes during Pregnancy?

Protein shakes are considered a good source of protein to fulfill the daily requirement of proteins. But it is not recommended to have protein shakes during pregnancy as they can contain a large amount of caffeine and added sugar. Some protein shakes contain added minerals and vitamins that may already be present in your prenatal vitamin, so you’ll get more than you need.

The FDA does not approve protein shakes during pregnancy. It’s challenging to know exactly what’s in that protein powder, and even the ingredients listed on the label might not be completely safe during pregnancy. The best way is to add a variety of protein-rich foods to your diet.

Protein plays a vital role in the structure and function of the body. Please do not stress though – the basic principles of healthy eating remain the same during pregnancy: eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats, and remember that protein requirement increases throughout the pregnancy, especially during the third trimester.


Kramer, Michael S., and Ritsuko Kakuma. “Energy and protein intake in pregnancy.” Cochrane Database of systematic reviews 4 (2003).

Seegers, Walter H. “The effect of protein deficiency on the course of pregnancy.” American Journal of Physiology-Legacy Content 119.3 (1937): 474-479.

US Department of Agriculture

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