Athletes and Pregnancy: Optimizing Your Nutrition

Athletes and Pregnancy: Optimizing Your Nutrition

If you’re used to leading an active lifestyle, you may wonder what adjustments need to be made when growing a baby. After all, pregnancy comes with a number of physical and mental adjustments that will require making some adjustments to your normal exercise routine. And it’s important not to compare how pregnancy affects your active lifestyle versus how it affects someone else. We’re all different!

How do pregnant athletes stay active and well-fueled for two? Understanding how nutrient needs change for athletes and pregnancy can help you continue moving your body safely during this season. 

Nutrient Needs for Pregnancy

Pregnancy puts a lot of extra demands on the body. It requires more calories and nutrients to support healthy development and energy stores, especially when you’re physically active. If you’ve been used to an athletic lifestyle, that’s great! Just be sure to incorporate the extra fuel your body, and growing baby, require to keep moving as much as you’d like to.

Here are a few recommendations for supporting physical activity and healthy pregnancy:

Increase Calories

A pregnant woman requires more fuel, especially one that’s also used to being regularly physically active. Without enough fuel, it’s difficult to gain weight, provide energy for your baby, and feel like moving your body as much. 

So how many extra calories do pregnant athletes need? Aim for an additional 300 calories per day to support energy and healthy weight gain, especially as you progress into your third trimester. This could be as simple as adding one snack to your day, such as a smoothie, yogurt bowl, or apple slices with almond butter and a small handful of dark chocolate chips.

Boost Protein

As an athlete, you’re probably already in tune with your protein intake, but these needs increase during pregnancy. The International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends between 1.4-2.0 grams of protein per kg body weight for athletes depending on activity type, which can translate to pregnant athletes. 

For a 140-pound woman, this is 89-127 grams. Sources of protein include lentils, beans, fish, eggs, tofu, lean meats, cheese, nuts, and poultry. If you’re finding it difficult to consume adequate protein from animal sources due to food aversions, aim to include a variety of different plant-based protein sources to get a good mix of amino acids.

Focus on Healthy Fats

Include plenty of omega-3 fats from low-mercury fish like salmon, walnuts, flaxseed, chia seeds, and supplementation as needed. Foods rich in healthy fats can help promote healthy weight gain and also help you meet your energy goals, especially if you’re going through periods of low appetite or nausea.

DHA is also essential for a baby’s brain development. In fact, DHA begins to accumulate quickly and be stored in a baby’s brain from the third trimester of pregnancy through the second year of their life.

Choose High-Fiber Carbohydrates

Many women crave refined carbs during pregnancy. While honoring your cravings for these foods, it’s also important to prioritize complex carbs that provide fiber. Many pregnant women struggle with constipation throughout pregnancy; getting adequate amounts of fiber daily can help combat these issues. 

Examples of carbohydrates rich in fiber include fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, such as whole wheat, brown rice, quinoa, oats, barley, and millet. 

Prioritize Vitamins and Minerals

Your micronutrient needs increase even more than your macronutrient needs in pregnancy. A great way to help meet your daily vitamin and mineral needs during pregnancy is to take a prenatal vitamin to complement your diet. You can start a prenatal vitamin before conception if you’re planning to become pregnant soon, and can continue this after pregnancy if you’re planning to breastfeed.

Some of the specific micronutrient needs that increase include folate or folic acid, which helps prevent brain and spinal cord defects, and calcium, which helps strengthen bones and teeth and supports a healthy circulatory and nervous system. 

Vitamin D works alongside calcium to promote healthy bones as well as immune function, and getting enough iron is important to ensure healthy red blood cells that get enough oxygen to your baby. Extra folate, calcium, and iron can be found in foods like leafy greens, beans, soy, and fortified cereals. 

Tips for Nausea

Nausea is one of the most commonly reported symptoms of pregnancy, especially during the first trimester. While it’s often referred to as morning sickness, you can experience nausea anytime during pregnancy and at any time of the day. Feelings of nausea can discourage you from eating, but it’s important to find ways to prioritize nutrition.

Consider these tips when managing nausea during pregnancy: 

  • Eat more often. Smaller, more frequent meals can be easier on the stomach. Try breaking up your usual foods into snack-sized portions that are more manageable. Keep small snacks accessible in your bag and at the bedside for when the urge to eat strikes.

  • Make smoothies and shakes. This is especially helpful if you’re having a difficult time smelling cooked foods, or if you experience more nausea or lack of appetite after exercise. You can blend together a variety of ingredients, like frozen or fresh fruit, milk or non-dairy milk, yogurt or cottage cheese, flaxseed, hemp or chia seeds, and oats.

  • Avoid food triggers. Pregnancy can do a number on your appetite, including which foods sound tasty and which ones make your stomach churn. As you discover what foods — including what smells of foods — have the latter effect, avoid them. Keep in mind that your food triggers can change at different times of your pregnancy. 

  • Emphasize protein. Protein can help curb nausea during pregnancy. Try incorporating protein at every meal and incorporate a variety of protein sources, like the ones outlined above.

  • Suck on sour flavors. Lemon or ginger-flavored candies can help reduce nausea for many women. If you don’t like these, you can try sour wedges of fresh lemon or lime, or even a glass of tart cherry juice. 

Staying Active While Pregnant

Having an active pregnancy offers both physical and mental benefits. Exercise during pregnancy can help support regular bowel movements, reduce swelling and bloating, and alleviate back pain. 

It can improve sleep, energy, and mood, as well as support muscle tone, strength, and healthy weight gain. Furthermore, an active pregnancy may reduce your risk of developing gestational diabetes or other complications. 

If you’ve been used to leading an active lifestyle before pregnancy, you’re already aware of how much movement can benefit your mental health. Staying active in ways you enjoy during pregnancy can help reduce feelings of anxiety, improve your mood, and alleviate discomfort.

  • Listen to your body. If you just can’t get moving one day, honor your need to rest or do some light stretching instead. Stop exercising and speak to your doctor if you experience symptoms like chest pain, dizziness, headaches, or vaginal bleeding. Be sure to pay attention any time something doesn’t feel quite right.

  • Find a community. Sometimes the idea of exercising while pregnant feels less than appealing. It may help to have others around to stay motivated, like someone to go on jogs with or a local fitness class.

  • Don’t overdo it. If you were active before pregnancy, it’s generally okay to carry on as long as it feels good. However, speak with your doctor if you have any concerns and modify certain activities as needed.

Nutrition is key for pregnancy, leading an active lifestyle, and especially when you put the two together. Fuel your body well so you can continue to be active during pregnancy. For more guidance on athletes and pregnancy, get on our waitlist for nutrition coaching today.

Angie Asche

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