Why You Need More Protein If You're Trying To Make A Baby (And How To Get It)
I talk about protein all the time.
If there were a ‘greatest hits’ list of the conversations I have with patients, the top three would probably be:
- I think we need to send your body stronger safety signals
- Let’s dig a little deeper
- I think you need more protein.
Why You Need More Protein If You're Trying To Make A Baby
Proteins are literally the building blocks of human life. Every single cell in your body was created from, and contains, protein, and you simply cannot make new cells without it.
When you’re trying to conceive, we need to send the body a certain set of messages. We want our bodies to know that it is safe to conceive - that the environment is safe, that there is adequate nutrition available, that you’re capable of resting when necessary, and that there aren’t excessive maternal stressors. We do this through how we communicate with our bodies, mainly:
- through the food we eat
- how we exercise
- how high our stress levels are and how well we manage it
- how well we rest and how much sleep we get
- and how we connect with our community
(what we call the “five free therapies” at Acubalance).
And when it comes to food, I’m certainly a broken record about protein.
There are a lot of new cells being created during pregnancy
Think about the fact that an embryo goes from being two teeny tiny cells to a multi-billion celled organism in ten short months. This makes protein an absolute necessity to supply your growing baby (and your growing body) with the building blocks it needs to produce an optimal outcome = healthy mum and healthy babe.
Protein requirements in pregnancy are due for an update
One of my favourite prenatal nutrition researchers, Lily Nichols, dives deep in this topic on her blog post found here. She discusses how the newest research we have on protein requirements in pregnancy are blowing previous estimates out of the water. The Coles Notes is: you need more protein than we ever thought to build a baby.
What happens if you don’t consume enough protein to keep up with the demand?
Well, for one thing, we see links between amino acid deficiencies and adverse pregnancy outcomes. For example, a taurine deficiency in pregnancy may have impacts on glucose metabolism and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes when your future child grows up. Taurine deficiency has also been linked with intrauterine growth restriction. Your body does its best work to get your growing babe everything it needs to thrive. But that also requires that you’re adequately fuelling the process through your food.
There are times in our lives when we don’t require tons and tons of protein - in fact, there are certain conditions under which a lower protein intake is ideal. Too much protein isn’t always fantastic.
But when it comes to sending your body the signal that it is safe to reproduce - adequate protein is absolutely necessary.
So how much protein is enough to make a baby?
The latest research on protein requirements in pregnancy state the following:
- The estimated average requirement (EAR) should be set at 1.22g/kg in early pregnancy and 1.52g/kg in late pregnancy.
- This isn’t even a calculation of optimal protein intake - but it’s the best estimate of the minimum required amounts.
- When you're trying to conceive, I recommend patients aim for 1.22g/kg per day of protein, and then we adjust as pregnancy progresses.
- When you're postpartum, for the record, I usually recommend we continue to aim for the 1.52g/kg target.
So here is the calculation you can do for yourself:
Take your weight in lbs, and divide it by 2.2 - this gives you your weight in kg.
Multiply this number by 1.22 to get the number of grams you should eat in early pregnancy (and I would argue, while you’re trying to conceive), and then multiply your weight in kg by 1.52 to figure out how many grams you need in late pregnancy (and early postpartum).
If you weigh 150lbs?
- 150 / 2.2 = 68kg
- 68 x 1.22 = 83g protein per day while TTC and in early pregnancy
- 68 x 1.52 = 104g protein per day in late pregnancy
To simplify, most mamas-to-be who I work with need, at a minimum, 80g protein per day while they’re trying to conceive.
How can I get over 80g of protein per day?
This part isn’t quite as simple. If 80g of protein per day sounds like a lot, that’s because it’s probably more than you’re getting right now (unless you’re really conscious about it).
My best recommendation is to break it down by meal, and then track your protein intake over a few days to a week by using an app like MyFitnessPal (it’s free), or simple pen and paper.
80g per day translates roughly to 25-30g protein per meal, 3 times per day. If you aim for 30g per meal, you’re probably in the ballpark of what your body needs.
30g of protein looks different depending on the source. In the Acubalance Fertility Diet, we recommend consuming a combination of animal protein and vegetarian protein through a given week, as research has shown that diets too high and too low in animal-derived protein have negative effects on fertility.
If you’re a vegetarian or a vegan, you should definitely chat with your ND about how to attempt to make up for the lack of amino acids and other crucial components of animal protein in your diet.
Here are some examples of the protein content of various foods (approximately one serving of the given food is represented here):
- 1 cup lentils = 18g
- 1 cup black beans = 15g
- ¼ cup tofu = 6g
- ½ cup quinoa = 4g
- 2 tbsp chia seeds = 5g
- 2 tbsp almonds = 6g
- ¼ cup hemp hearts = 11g
- 1 cup oat milk = 4g
- 3oz (palm sized serving) chicken = 28g
- 3oz (palm sized serving) steak = 28g
- 3oz (palm sized serving) salmon = 22g
- 1 large egg = 6g
- ¾ cup Greek yogurt = 18g
- ½ cup cottage cheese = 14g
So truly, the only source of protein on its own that will get you in the ballpark of 25-30g/meal is animal protein (chicken, steak, turkey etc).
Many of the individual protein sources listed here are insufficient on their own. This is why I always recommend layering your protein sources - ie. consuming more than one source of protein in a meal.
- combine ¾ cup Greek yogurt, 2 tbsp almonds, and 2 tbsp chia seeds for 29g
- combine 2 eggs, ½ cup cottage cheese, and ½ cup quinoa for 30g (cottage cheese scrambled eggs are delicious, in case you didn’t know!)
At a meal where you consume a serving of animal protein (a serving of chicken, salmon, steak, pork, turkey, etc) you have to think less hard about reaching 30g.
When you’re doing a vegetarian meal, layering is a must - not only to reach the 30g target, but also to round out the essential amino acids (vegetarian proteins all lack one or more of the essential amino acids - combining sources helps eliminate this lack).
I really hope this information helps as you navigate how your diet can support your fertility, healthy pregnancy, and recovery postpartum.
If there is anything else you’d like to know about why you need more protein if you're trying to make a baby, or any pregnancy and fertility related questions, feel free to reach out and schedule a free 15-minute clarity call. I love chatting about diet and your fertility, how to send your body safety signals for conception, and how to create space for baby (in every sense).
Sending you all the baby dust,