Training during pregnancy can make you and your baby healthier
We often see female triathletes stop all activity the moment they know they're pregnant, and we're aware of the stigma associated with pregnancy and heavy training. Sadly, there's a lot of outdated information on pregnancy and being active.
The truth is that you can continue “training” by tweaking your pre-pregnancy plan. In this article, you will learn:
- How to train during pregnancy;
- Five key training tips for pregnant triathletes; and
- How to manage nutrition while pregnant.
How to train during pregnancy
Staying active as you progress through your trimesters is extremely important for most of us female triathletes. The key is to know what works best for you. Avoid falling into a training plan designed for someone less or more active than your norm. Many female triathletes stay active during pregnancy with minimal or no risk – here’s how you can do it.
Is it safe to stay active during pregnancy?
Both medical research and personal athletic experience point to benefits for staying active during pregnancy. This not only helps with mental health and identity – continuing to be yourself by doing the sport you enjoy – but offers additional benefits.
Physical activity reduces the risk of gestational diabetes(1), preeclampsia(2), and cesarean delivery. Research shows that women overall report better levels of physical and psychological health if they continue with their training plan supervised by their doctor and coach (where applicable).
We see many women trained by coaches like Jenna Seefried talk about shifting their mindsets and priorities once they become pregnant and, of course, after their baby is born. At the same time, there's a need to have “something for yourself” and that includes keeping active. In addition to the positive effects of training on mom, there are numerous scientifically-proven benefits to the baby’s health. Researchers at East Carolina University report that infants whose mothers exercised during pregnancy have stronger hearts(3) and better neuromotor skills(4)than those whose mothers were sedentary.
If you're already accustomed to high-intensity exercise before pregnancy, doctors reassure that it's safe to continue during pregnancy, although the best way to ensure a good balance is by checking with your doctor and coach.
5 key tips for training safely as a pregnant triathlete
The best thing you can do while pregnant is create your support team. This can include your doctor, partner, and coach if you have one. You absolutely cannot go through the whole process on your own, and having them as a sounding board will help you immensely. Look for a doctor who has experience working with female athletes if you can – they will understand your athletic history and tailor their advice to your situation.
Consider doing regular blood tests to check that vital indicators and hormone levels are stable throughout each trimester.
Also, listen to your coach. Some athletes tend to push themselves too hard or worry about weight gain, muscle loss, etc. However, a coach can temper these tendencies by stepping back and looking at the big picture.
When you train during pregnancy, you also have to be aware of unexpected changes in your body. For example, your body produces a hormone called Relaxin in preparation for childbirth.
The whole muscular system loosens up a bit, and you will need to really focus on technique and form when you’re running, biking, and particularly with strength training. As for general safety and concerns around accidents, after 10 weeks, it’s a good idea to start training indoors if possible.
Jenna ran and biked inside after 10 weeks to reduce risks and make sure she didn’t crash. Swimming, however, is relatively risk-free and a great way to unwind and feel lighter and more mobile as the pregnancy progresses. You might feel “like a human submarine with the baby on board” (Jenna), but it’s a great feeling.
Pregnancy training and nutritional myths
Working with athletes from all types of backgrounds has revealed several interesting myths.
Initially, it was thought that keeping below a heart rate cap was crucial while pregnant, and to exceed it was harmful for your baby. But the truth is that heart rate ranges are incredibly individual.
The generic ranges available in published advice are drawn from a massive data set that makes it inaccurate for athletes. The best thing you can do is work with your doctor and/or coach to find your specific range for a safe heart rate.
Another popular idea is about keeping your body temperature within certain levels. Actually, this is accurate. During the first trimester, you can absolutely keep moving, staying active, but make sure your temperature doesn’t go too high, or it could harm the baby.
A myth about breastfeeding and eating right is that, as an athlete, you should breastfeed to burn more calories. Don’t fall into the trap of using breastfeeding as a weight-loss tool, warns Dr. Priya Bhave.
Taking care of your nutrition - prenatal through to breastfeeding
Food and diet are significant sources of questions for pregnant triathletes. It’s essential to recognize and adapt to what your body and your baby need in the prenatal period, immediately afterward, and into the breastfeeding phase of the baby’s life.
Watch your food intake during pregnancy
Your fuel consumption is going to increase massively once you’re pregnant and staying active. Many people ask how many calories a female triathlete should consume as if it’s a set magic number. The answer is that you should be mindful of your body’s needs and of how much you’re exercising.
If you’re quite sedentary, perhaps you don’t need to increase your nutrition too much. But, if you’re active, you need a lot more calories on board.
Don’t get fixated on the scales, either. Many triathletes are preoccupied with weight gain and how they'll lose the weight post-delivery and then return to training. The best strategy is to ignore the scales as best you can. We're all aware there’s going to be a significant initial weight gain.
Knowing that you’re going to gain weight and accepting that is another key element for effective training. You’ll be able to eat better and fuel yourself and the baby while keeping fit if you don’t worry about the scales.
Safely training while pregnant
Pregnant triathletes don’t need to stop training. In fact, continuing to stay active during your pregnancy benefits both you and your baby, as many studies show. However, you do need to be flexible and adjust your routine to your new circumstances.
A strong support system and constantly adapting to your body's changing needs are the two pillars of safe and effective triathlon training during pregnancy. This ensures that you and your baby stay safe and healthy, while anticipating the changes to your body keeps you balanced.
When in doubt, always check with your doctor or coach, rather than listening to myths about what pregnant triathletes should or shouldn’t do.
Ultimately, staying active while you’re expecting can lead to you becoming a stronger, more balanced, and better-performing athlete as a mom.
- Prepare for life as a mom with essential tips to getting faster after having kids (link).
- Listen to Jenna Seefried talk about her journey into triathlon.
- Get more tips on how to exercise as a parent from Jackie Hering.
About the contributors
Jenna-Caer Seefried went from no background in sport and 50 pounds overweight to an AG World Champion, Ironman AG winner and Kona Qualifier, thanks to triathlon. As a working mom she works with athletes to find how triathlon training fits into their lives. It's not the hours of training that count so much as what you do with those hours. Connect with Jenna on Instagram, her website, and learn more about her coaching services here.
Dr. Priya Bhave is a Reproductive Medicine specialist based in Bhopal, India. She has expertise in reproductive medicine, minimally invasive reproductive surgery, and gynecology. Connect with Dr. Bhave on YouTube and her website.