Adequate protein intake is critical during pregnancy and lactation as your baby rapidly grows and develops. Protein is abundant in plant foods so you don’t have to look too far to ensure that you are getting enough during these periods of increased need.
What is protein and why do I need it?
Protein is one of three macronutrients that is necessary for building and repairing tissue as well as regulating proper body function. Protein provides a source of energy with 4 calories per gram. It is made up of amino acids that must be synthesized to create the large protein molecules.
We need an increased amount of macro- and micro-nutrients during pregnancy, and protein is no exception. It is an essential building block for fetal growth as well as proper growth in breasts and uterus and the support of your increased blood supply.
How much protein do I need during pregnancy?
For women, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) from the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) is to consume 0.8 grams per kilogram (or about 0.4 gram per pound) of body weight each day . NAM also states that protein should not exceed 35% of total energy intake to decrease the risk of chronic disease .
During pregnancy, the RDA goes up to 1.1 grams per kilogram, which is equivalent to 0.5 grams per pound. That’s about 18 additional grams of protein during pregnancy for a woman who starts out at 130 pounds.
Recent research points to an even higher RDA of protein during pregnancy, but further studies and analysis are needed before the official recommendations would change .
It is unlikely that you are (1) tracking your daily protein intake during pregnancy, or (2) increasing the amount of protein gradually as your weight increases. And that’s ok, there’s no need to stress about this! The general takeaway is that protein needs increase in parallel with calorie needs. As you eat more, you will naturally take in more protein. The body is so beautiful in this way.
Do I need extra protein while I’m nursing?
Interestingly, protein concentration in human milk is not influenced by dietary intake. However, it is generally recommended to consume 1.3 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight (0.59 grams per pound) to support lactation and maintain muscle mass . That’s right, you need a higher protein intake during lactation than you do during pregnancy!
Chart for Protein Needs
Use this chart to get the recommended daily amount of protein, whether you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
|General Protein |
Where do you get your protein?
If you haven’t been asked this question as a vegan, consider yourself lucky. People are constantly wondering, asking, and quizzing vegans – where do you get your protein?
Some great options for protein include soy products, beans, lentils, quinoa, nuts, and seeds. Protein shakes are also an option, with pea protein having one of the highest concentrations among plant sources.
Can I get really enough protein from a vegan diet?
While protein is abundant in a varied plant-based diet, it may still seem to be a challenge to get the increased amounts needed. But in reality, it’s not a concern. Let’s take a look at what a full day may look like for protein intake.
- Breakfast: 1 cup (dry) oatmeal with ¾ cup soy milk, 1 tbsp hemp seeds, 1 oz chia seeds, 1 banana, 1 tbsp of peanut butter ⇒ 26 grams protein
- Snack: 1 scoop protein powder in a smoothie ⇒ 20 grams protein
- Lunch: 1 cup cooked quinoa stir-fried with ½ cup of cubed firm tofu, chopped onion, and mushrooms ⇒ 23 grams protein
- Snack: 1 cup fresh blueberries with ½ cup almond yogurt ⇒ 2 grams protein
- Dinner: 2 cups lentil soup with spinach and carrots ⇒ 23 grams protein
The daily total comes out to be 94 grams of protein. Of course, this is just one example, but it illustrates that a plant-based diet can provide a sufficient amount of protein. You can see a list of other foods high in protein content here.
1. The recommended daily intake of protein for women is:
- During pregnancy: 0.50 grams of protein per pound of weight (1.1 grams per kilogram)
- During lactation: 0.59 grams of protein per pound of weight (1.3 grams per kilogram)
2. See the chart above to get a general idea of how many grams of protein you need based on your weight.
3. A well-planned and balanced vegan diet can easily meet the increased needs of protein for all stages of life!