Protein and Amino Acid Requirements during Pregnancy1–3

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Abstract

Protein forms an essential component of a healthy diet in humans to support both growth and maintenance. During pregnancy, an exceptional stage of life defined by rapid growth and development, adequate dietary protein is crucial to ensure a healthy outcome. Protein deposition in maternal and fetal tissues increases throughout pregnancy, with most occurring during the third trimester. Dietary protein intake recommendations are based on factorial estimates because the traditional method of determining protein requirements, nitrogen balance, is invasive and undesirable during pregnancy. The current Estimated Average Requirement and RDA recommendations of 0.88 and 1.1 g · kg-1 · d-1, respectively, are for all stages of pregnancy. The single recommendation does not take into account the changing needs during different stages of pregnancy. Recently, with the use of the minimally invasive indicator amino acid oxidation method, we defined the requirements to be, on average, 1.2 and 1.52 g · kg-1 · d-1 during early (˜16 wk) and late (˜36 wk) stages of pregnancy, respectively. Although the requirements are substantially higher than current recommendations, our values are ˜14–18% of total energy and fit within the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range. Using swine as an animal model we showed that the requirements for several indispensable amino acids increase dramatically during late gestation compared with early gestation. Additional studies should be conducted during pregnancy to confirm the newly determined protein requirements and to determine the indispensable amino acid requirements during pregnancy in humans.

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