November 7, 2023

#8: Why Protein is Every Mom's Best Friend

You’re probably aware that protein helps build muscle, but that doesn’t mean it’s just for body builders and athletes! In today’s episode, we bust some common myths about protein, dive into more than 10 roles protein has in the body, and most importantly, why protein is crucial for a mom’s health. We also discuss simple swaps you can make to boost your protein intake each day without any extra work in the kitchen. Click here to visit the shownotes and access all my free resources and recipes related to protein!

About this episode

What you'll learn

  1. Is eating high-protein just a trendy diet or is it actually something you should consider?
  2. Ten important roles of protein in the body
  3. Why protein is especially important for moms (more than other people)
  4. Common symptoms of protein deficiency
  5. How to calculate your daily protein needs, especially if you're pregnant or breastfeeding
  6. How to know if you should count calories or macros to track your protein intake
  7. 13 easy swaps to boost your daily protein intake


Learn more about eating 120g+ protein a day HERE

Download your FREE high protein 2 week meal plan HERE

Choose from “50 High Protein Chicken Recipes” HERE

Find all Brooke’s delicious recipes HERE

Learn about Brooke’s recommendations for protein powders HERE

Shop my favorite protein powder HERE (use the code “thewellnourishedmama” for 10% off your order!)

Shop my favorite protein bars HERE (use the code “mama10” for 10% off your order!)


Is eating high-protein just a trendy diet?

If you’ve been on social media at all for the past year, I’m sure you’ve seen at least one influencer post a high protein dessert or a pancake recipe made with cottage cheese or a new way to eat chicken or something of the sort. 

In other words, I’m sure you’ve noticed a trend of “high protein recipes” circulating the internet.

So that begs the question: is eating high-protein the new trend? Or is it the new norm?

As a nutritionist, I can confidently say that eating high-protein is NOT a trend. I just think people are starting to realize that protein is one of the most important nutrients in our diet and it’s not just for bodybuilders or Olympic athletes.

People are starting to realize that one of the best ways to optimize their health sustainably is to prioritize their protein intake each day.

And mama, let me tell you, if anyone needs the benefits of protein, it’s you. Whether you’re trying to conceive, pregnant, postpartum, or just raising a family, I’d argue that you need protein more than anyone else does. 

So, in today’s episode, we’re going to dive into why protein is so important for you, especially as a mama, how much protein you need in each phase of motherhood, and some really easy ways to get more protein in your diet without any extra work.

Why protein is so important for moms

First off, let’s talk about WHAT protein does for your body. Then we can understand why moms need protein!

Besides helping you build muscle, protein is required for:

  • Boosting your metabolism
  • Increasing satiety after meals
  • Balancing blood sugar levels
  • Creating, synthesizing, and regulating hormones
  • Regulating gene expression
  • Producing antibodies to strengthen your immune system
  • Providing structure for your tissues, bones, and organs
  • Promoting healthy skin, nails, and hair
  • Maintaining a healthy milk supply
  • Growing a placenta and fetus to full-term

That’s A LOT of things, mama. 

If you want to show up for your family with all the energy, love, and support possible without sacrificing your health in the process, eating enough protein each day is one of the best ways to do that. It literally impacts everything in your body and how well your body works as a whole.

In fact, when you don’t get enough protein, you’ll experience symptoms like:

  • Fatigue/weakness
  • Sugar cravings
  • Brittle hair/nails
  • Frequent illness
  • Low milk supply
  • Unstable mood (due to blood sugar imbalances, hormonal imbalances, and brain fog)

Now, if you’re listening to all of this and thinking to yourself, “I wonder if I’m getting enough protein each day,” I’m going to assume you’re not because 98% of women I talk to aren’t getting enough protein. Whether it’s knowingly or unknowingly, intentional or unintentional, very rarely do I meet a woman who is getting enough protein in her diet.

But how do you know how much protein you need and if you’re getting enough? Let’s break it down.

How much protein do you need?

There’s lots of mixed opinions about calculating daily protein requirements, even amongst the professionals, so I’m going to preface this by saying that I’m sharing my professional opinion based on research, results from clients, and personal experience.

To keep things really simple, I like to calculate protein needs based on a percentage of your daily calorie needs. This not only makes sure the ratio between the other macronutrients is balanced, but that we’re taking into account your age, height, weight, and activity levels. 

Some trainers will calculate based on body weight, but your weight doesn’t indicate other metrics like muscle mass vs body fat percentage or lifestyle habits. So that’s why I don’t like doing it this way. (It’s also a bit more complicated math so that’s another thing.)

Another reason I prefer doing a percentage is because it makes calculating protein needs much easier during pregnancy and postpartum, especially if you’re nursing postpartum. Really the only guidelines you get from dietitians and nutritionists during these phases of motherhood is how much your calorie needs increase, so that makes math really easy!

Now, I will also say that no matter what your daily caloric needs are, I do have a very strong opinion that you should at least eat 100g of protein a day no matter what. And that’s the bare minimum! Anything less than that and you’re selling yourself short, sorry mama.

If you want some hard and fast numbers based on your calories, I have an entire table charted in my blog post about eating 120g of protein a day that you can reference. You can also just find an online calorie calculator, get your daily calories, find 25-30% of that number, then divide by 4. (Again, if that sounds too complicated, I did all the math for you in my blog post, so you can just head there from the shownotes!)

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, this principle still applies. As your calories increase, so does the total grams of protein per day. For reference, in case you were wondering, I’m 5’4”, 115lb when I’m not pregnant, and I lift weights 4 days a week. My daily protein needs vary from 140g to 200g, 140g being when I’m just regular Brooke and 200g being when I’m exclusively breastfeeding and lifting weights 4 days a week on top of that. 

So can you see why I assume you’re not eating enough protein?

Now, one question I get a lot is “do I have to count calories or macros to get enough protein every day” and my answer is it depends. If you’re really aware of the nutritional breakdown of your food, you are conscious of your portion sizes, and you prioritize protein every time you eat, you’ll probably be ok. 

If that’s not the case, it might be helpful to track macros for 3-4 months to get a feel for what’s in your food and how your food choices add up at the end of the day. Once you find yourself guessing pretty accurately or not feeling the need to pull out your phone to log food, you don’t need to track anymore!

This is actually what I did to learn this principle. I counted macros for about 4 months a couple years ago and after getting really comfortable with it, I didn’t need to count anymore. I just knew. So now I can just intuitively eat enough protein.

On top of that, my body has gotten so used to getting enough protein every day that I literally crave it if I’m not getting enough for whatever reason. It’s crazy!

So all this to say, it might sound overwhelming at first, but if you’re really serious about improving and optimizing your health, it’s worth the work up front because it sets you up for success for the rest of your life. I’m living proof of that!

Simple swaps to get more protein

If you’re not interested in counting calories or macros, or you just feel like you can’t add something that detailed to your day, don’t worry. I’m going to share some simple swaps with you to help you naturally boost your protein intake without really adding any extra work or mental load to your plate.

These are swaps that I use every single day and ones that I recommend to my clients when they’re first starting out. I’ve had a lot of women assume that they have to double their animal meat in their diet and get overwhelmed, and you totally do NOT have to do that.

Other women also assume that eating higher protein means you have to eat chicken every single day. Like chicken and broccoli and rice. And you totally could! But 1) that’s boring and 2) there are so many other ways to get more protein in.

One other myth about eating higher protein is that you can’t have dessert or sweets. That is absolutely not true! (And I’ll be sharing some amazing recipes later that fulfill that sweet tooth while giving you some protein so listen to the end for that!)

So, with those myths busted, let’s look at 13 simple swaps for boosting protein intake:

  1. Regular pasta → chickpea pasta
  2. Flour tortillas → high fiber tortillas or almond flour tortillas
  3. White bread → multigrain bread or whole wheat bread
  4. Whole fat feta cheese → fat free feta cheese
  5. Ricotta cheese → whipped cottage cheese
  6. Parmesan cheese → nutritional yeast
  7. Regular yogurt → Greek yogurt
  8. Granola bars → protein bars
  9. Chocolate milk → chocolate protein shake
  10. 2-3 whole eggs → 1 egg + 2 egg whites
  11. Water (in oatmeal or smoothies) → liquid egg whites
  12. Rice (in burritos) → black beans or quinoa
  13. Chicken broth/water → bone broth

Mind blowing, right? And did you notice that NONE of those swaps talked about eating more chicken or steak or fish? Now imagine keeping the amount of animal meat you eat the same but doing some or all of these swaps; you just boosted your protein intake by at least 25%, if not close to 50%!

Now, as for recipes, I have some great resources for you (and don’t worry, these will all be linked in the shownotes). First is my blog post titled “50 high protein chicken recipes” - aka 50 amazing ways to eat chicken that won’t get boring, bland, or repetitive! I’m talking recipes like Chicken Broccoli Alfredo, BLT Chicken Burgers, Baked Chicken Taquitos with the most amazing avocado crema you’ll ever eat, Raspberry Almond Arugula Salad with Lemon Pepper Chicken, and so many more. Seriously you’ll never get bored of chicken!

I also have recipes like my protein waffles that are made with cottage cheese (don’t knock ‘em til you try them!), roasted carrots with whipped feta and pistachios, and even a chocolate PB protein banana bread.

Oh, and you can’t possibly forget about my mint chip protein milkshake!

Basically I’ve got so many recipes to help you get enough protein in your diet each day. And if you know me, you know I’m all about the triple threat of easy + delicious + nutritious, and my content is geared towards busy moms, and I’m a busy mom, so if I can do it you can too!

Now, because I know I’m going to get questions, let’s really quickly chat about protein supplements. My simple answer is that they are supplements - meaning you use them to fill in the gaps and take advantage of the convenience of them, but not use them to replace meals or choose them in place of whole foods.

Since I’m pregnant and about to be breastfeeding for the next year, my protein requirements are even higher than normal, so it’s nearly impossible for me to get enough protein in without a supplement each day. But each meal I’m focusing on getting protein from a variety of whole foods and I only use protein shakes or protein bars for quick snacks or when I’m too busy to sit down and make a hearty snack.

If you want to learn more about my recommendations for protein powders, I have an entire blog post about it and I’ll link that in the shownotes. This blog post was originally written for breastfeeding moms, but my recommendations stand for any mom, so it’s applicable to you!