If you’re expecting (congratulations!) you may be ferociously Googling, “Can I run while pregnant?” While every woman and every pregnancy is different, it’s generally advised that during a normal pregnancy it’s encouraged to keep up with your physical activity, including running - as long as it’s comfortable and you’re enjoying it.
“It’s far more problematic for both a mother and her unborn child if she is inactive during pregnancy, gains unnecessary weight and develops gestational diabetes than if she continues a smart running program,” Dr Susan Joy, co-director of the Kaiser Permanente Sports Medicine Center, told Runner’s World.
But if you haven’t run before, pregnancy isn’t the time to start (although you should definitely try lacing up post-baby!).
So if you’re a mum-to-be on the run, keep these considerations in mind when it comes to fueling your body (and your baby).
1/ Load up on greens
During early pregnancy, you may be thinking more about keeping food down rather than what should actually be on your plate. (And ultimately, it’s better to keep food down than force yourself to eat the nutrient-packed green salad that’s sending you to the bathroom.) When you can start to stomach more nutritious foods, instead of crackers and ginger ale, greens are one of the pregnancy superfoods.
Spinach and kale, for example, are high in folic acid (crucial in baby’s neural development), iron, fibre and even fluids. Smoothies and soups are other good ways to hydrate and add in all sorts of healthy fruit and veg.
2/ Increase your calories, carefully
“Eating for two” is the mantra of many a pregnant lady. But you’re not really eating for two, and that mentality can lead to excessive weight gain, increasing the risk for gestational diabetes and other health problems for mom and baby. Even if you’re running while pregnant, you don’t need to eat for two runners - your new running buddy requires very little energy and what he or she does require will really come into play in the second and third trimesters.
Pregnant women who don’t run should add an extra 340 to 450 calories per day during the last two trimesters (assuming they’re not overweight to begin with). And women who are running need even more than that, says Lindsay Langford, a triathlete and dietitian for St. Vincent Sports Performance. A good rule of thumb is to assume you burn about 100 calories per mile. Add an extra 100 calories to your daily intake for every mile. If you’re in your third trimester and ran four miles, aim for 850 extra calories.
Runners training for a half or full marathon (with their doctor’s sign-off!) should continue their mid-run fuelling and increase their daily caloric intake to make up for what they burned, plus some for your runner-in-training. A healthy pregnancy means weight gain, even while running.
3/ Optimise your fuel
A pregnant runner’s diet shouldn’t look too different from a non-pregnant runner’s diet: fill your plate with veggies, fruits, lean protein (chicken, fish, beans, legumes and nuts), complex carbs (whole grains) and healthy fats (avocados, olive oil). But after a run or race, dial back the treats. If you eat too many foods that don’t provide quality nutrition, the baby will start to pull from your reserves, depleting both mom and baby.
Lack of healthy weight gain, stress fractures, severe fatigue and anaemia are indicators that you need to revisit your fuelling plan.
4/ Pile on the protein
Pregnant women need 40 percent more protein than their non-pregnant counterparts. Endurance athletes also need more protein than the average population. Pregnant runners should aim for at least 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight, and close to 0.9 grams per pound if you’re logging your pre-baby mileage.
A good rule of thumb: try to get 30 grams of protein at most meals, which has been shown to support muscle repair and restoration, and spread the rest out with snacks.
Top your salad or sandwich with a few extra slices of roasted chicken, drink a glass of milk instead of water at a meal or have eggs or Greek yogurt for breakfast.
5/ Time your fuelling
According to Langford, one of the most important things pregnant runners can do is to eat frequently. “Blood glucose can drop quickly, especially in second and third trimester,” she says.
Langford recommends keeping carb-heavy snacks nearby that also have protein to keep you feeling full. Carry snacks. Try a handful or two of whole grain cereals or bars (try to keep sugar under 10 grams), a protein shake and fresh fruit with almond butter.
Protein is important post-workout regardless of whether you’re running for two, but it’s even more crucial to get 20 to 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes post-run.
As your body works to cool you and baby, you’ll likely start sweating earlier and faster, which means you’ll lose fluids more quickly, leading to dehydration. Langford recommends the pee test: your urine should be pale yellow, and that pregnant runners should drink half of your body weight per day (for a 150-pound runner, that’s 75 ounces).
Drink before you hit the road, during, and after - but plan a route with bathroom access. Baby thinks it’s fun to push on your full bladder.