There’s a lot of emphasis placed on getting enough protein in your diet, especially during pregnancy when you are supporting your baby’s growth.
But are protein shakes necessary, or even safe?
When marketed as a food, as opposed to a nutritional supplement, the core ingredients in protein shakes are all safe during pregnancy. If you’re trying a new protein shake, double-check the label to make sure there are no added botanicals or caffeine, which are occasionally added ingredients.
While many protein shakes are safe during pregnancy, choosing the best one for you can be confusing.
I’ll walk you through a breakdown of the nutrition considerations as well as guidance on popular brands.
Are Protein Shakes Safe to Drink During Pregnancy?
What started with nutrition supplements used in healthcare and hospital settings has blossomed into a large consumer industry with a near-endless array of brands in the mix.
Protein shakes are marketed as everything from meal-replacement weight loss drinks to a way to get your essential nutrients and gain weight when needed.
While the variety of protein shakes seems endless, many of them contain very similar ingredients.
Vitamins and minerals, protein, carbohydrate, fat, a little fiber, and flavorings to help make them tasty are the basis of nearly every shake on the market.
Some brands may include “extra” ingredients like botanicals or caffeine, but the core protein shake ingredients are common dietary staples and all perfectly safe, even during pregnancy.
However, the ingredients may not give you the full story.
Protein shakes manufacturers can label their shakes as either a supplement or a food. Because the FDA doesn’t regulate nutrition supplements, it’s best to choose a shake that’s classified as a food.
An easy way to tell whether or not a shake is food or supplement is checking the label. “Food” protein shakes will have a Nutrition Facts panel, while “supplement” shakes will have a Supplement Facts panel (source: Consumer Reports).
Another consideration is the nutrition content of protein shakes.
A hang-up many folks have with protein shakes is their sugar content. Protein shakes are most often sweetened with either a sugar, a non-nutritive sweetener, or a combination of the two.
Protein shakes sweetened with sugars (including corn syrup, brown rice syrup, etc.) give you a bigger bang for your buck.
They are designed to be a balanced drink, providing your body with energy from carbohydrates, plus vitamins and minerals, and protein.
Because they contain carbohydrates, these shakes include all of the main dietary components and are closer to a complete meal or snack.
Note: Solid foods make the best meals when you’re pregnant. Protein shakes shouldn’t be relied on to meet all of your nutritional needs day in and day out, but they’re convenient if you’re in a pinch.
Contrary to popular belief, a recent study of American diets found that most Americans exceed the minimum of their daily protein goals (source: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition).
So while protein needs are greater during pregnancy, most women are able to meet this through food alone.
Outside of a prenatal vitamin most women don’t need any other nutritional supplements, including protein shakes, to have a healthy pregnancy.
A few exceptions to this is if you are:
- Underweight (and pregnant)
- Unable to meet your nutritional needs through food alone, or
- Having nausea that interferes with your ability to eat.
If any of these sound like you or someone you know, be sure to discuss your concerns with your medical provider.
Just because they’re not necessary for most women doesn’t make protein shakes unhealthy, however.
If you’ve selected a reputable and trustworthy brand, protein shakes are perfectly safe. They’re also convenient and easy on the stomach if you’re experiencing morning sickness.
What’s the Best Protein Shake Brand if I’m Pregnant?
When it comes to shopping for protein shakes, there’s a lot to consider. As I mentioned above, some brands include “extra” ingredients like caffeine which are safest in moderation.
Since many of these brands offer a wide and constantly evolving array of products, be sure to check the product’s label before trying a new drink. Here’s a breakdown of what’s in the most popular brands:
Premier Protein shakes are lower in energy but very high in protein, giving you 30 grams per carton! They offer fun flavors, including salted caramel and coffee.
If you’re a caffeine drinker, be aware that the coffee flavor boasts as much caffeine as a cup of coffee and should be included in your daily total of no more than 200mg caffeine per day during pregnancy.
Nutritionally, Pure Protein drinks are very similar to Premier Protein. Like Premier drinks, Pure Protein is low in carbohydrates with 30 grams of protein.
If you’re eating enough food during the day but lacking in protein, Pure Protein drinks could help you meet your protein needs.
Evolve protein shakes are one of the vegan options on the market with 20 grams of protein from pea protein. In addition to being dairy-free they are also free of soy and gluten, making them suitable for women with allergies.
Beyond the classic chocolate, vanilla, and mocha flavors, Evolve offers protein-veggie blends to help you get in your daily veggie servings plus added DHA.
Orgain offers both traditional whey shakes and vegan shakes. Both styles are organic and contain a fruit and vegetable blend.
Like Evolve, Orgain shakes are safe for women with gluten and soy allergies. Orgain shakes are nutritionally balanced, with ~30 grams of carbohydrates and 16 grams of protein each.
Vega is another vegan protein shake option. Unlike other vegan shakes, Vega includes pea, hemp, and pumpkin proteins.
The shakes also contain vegetable powders and are sweetened with a combination of Stevia and sugar. Nutritionally, Vega protein shakes offer the same 20 grams of protein while being lower in energy, much like Evolve.
While it does boast 20 grams of protein and >200% of your daily vitamin B12, Arbonne also includes ginseng which is listed by the FDA as possibly unsafe during pregnancy (source: American Pregnancy Association).
Because of the ginseng, it’s best to skip this one while pregnant. This shake is also marketed as a supplement, not a food, and so it is not regulated by the FDA.
Atkins has a wide range of protein shakes ranging from 15-30 grams of protein. Shakes in their “Coffee” and “Energy” lines are caffeinated, so be sure to read the label carefully and account for the caffeine in your daily total.
Boost is one of the most popular brands, and one I order for my patients in the hospital when they don’t eat enough at mealtimes.
Boost comes in several varieties including high protein, low-sugar, very-high calorie, kids, and even a pudding. If you’re lactose intolerant, some of their products are also lactose-free.
Like Arbonne, Herbalife sells protein shake powder, not ready-to-drink shakes. Soy-protein based, the basic Herbalife shake provides 15 grams of protein with minimal carbohydrate and fat.
If you’ve missed a meal, this shake likely wouldn’t keep you full for very long. Though it is soy-based, the shake does still contain milk so it’s not suitable for vegans or dairy allergies.
Ensure is another brand that I use often for my hospitalized patients. They offer one of the largest ranges of protein shakes, with everywhere from 8-30 grams per bottle.
Ensure Enlive and Ensure Plus boast the most calories, and are a good choice if you’re unable to eat your regular meals.
Can I Have Flavored or Non Dairy Protein Shakes in Pregnancy?
Many protein shakes are flavored to help them taste better. Added vitamins and minerals often leave an off taste, and so some chocolate or vanilla flavor goes a long way in helping them be an enjoyable way to up your protein intake.
Non-dairy protein shakes are also becoming more popular. Traditionally, protein shakes use whey or casein protein, which are both dairy.
Non-dairy protein shakes have found quite innovative protein sources, using everything from soy and pea proteins to hemp, quinoa, and pumpkin.
Wondering which type of protein best fits your needs? Get the scoop at our dedicated protein powder article.
No matter what plant (or animal) the protein comes from or what flavor you choose, protein shakes that are marketed as foods will contain only safe, food-grade ingredients that are usually fine to have if you’re pregnant.
Can Protein Shakes Help with Pregnancy Nausea?
Persistent morning sickness or pregnancy-related nausea can get downright frustrating, even more so if you’re not able to keep food down and worrying about getting your growing baby the nutrients they need.
Not eating for long periods of time (say, because of nausea) can cause a buildup of stomach acid and lead to a vicious cycle of even more nausea (source: HealthLine).
While protein shakes won’t prevent or stop nausea in its tracks, they can help to buffer the stomach a bit.
Not to mention that protein shakes are easy to sip on and may be better tolerated than solid food if you’re continuing to experience nausea.
For a guide to nausea-fighting foods check out our list of 12 foods to beat nausea.
Are Homemade Protein Shakes Good for Pregnant Women?
If you drink them regularly, ready-to-drink or bottled protein shakes can get quite expensive. Making your own at home is quick and easy, not to mention much more customizable.
Protein powder and your preferred milk are the only ingredients you need. Check out our article on protein powders to help select the best one for you during pregnancy.
Another benefit of homemade protein shakes is that you can add extra ingredients.
Want to add more fruit to your diet? Try blending your protein with milk and frozen fruit.
Feeling extra hungry? Add a tablespoon or two of nut butter to satisfy you.
One consideration is food safety. Homemade protein shakes can be mixed in a blender, shaker bottle, jar, or even in a cup with a milk frother.
No matter how you choose to blend your shake, be sure to thoroughly wash all of the parts to keep bacteria at bay.
Overall, whether you’re working through morning sickness or need to gain a little extra weight to support your growing baby, protein shakes are a convenient way to close the gap in your pregnancy nutrition.
Choosing a shake that’s classified by the FDA as a food will ensure all of the ingredients are safe, even during pregnancy.
Some shakes do contain botanicals and caffeine, so check the label carefully to ensure you get the shake that suits your needs best.