Exercise During Pregnancy: Adapting Training & Diet

We’re delighted to welcome self-confessed fitness fanatic, Laura, back to the Content Team. Having just returned from maternity leave, she reveals how she kept fit and healthy during pregnancy – and how she dealt with juggling fitness with baby feeds…

exercise-during-pregnancy-adapting-training-diet_pregnant_saladI’m thrilled to be back on the Content Team at Fitness Superstore. Back from maternity leave and a self-confessed fitness fanatic, I thought I’d share how I kept fit and healthy during pregnancy.

I’ve always had a pretty strict attitude towards my health and fitness – training five times a week without fail, opting for the natural yogurt over the chocolate sundae 95% of the time, and getting my two litres of water every day. So, when I became pregnant at 29, I was determined to continue eating healthily and keep fit, whilst ensuring I adapted my diet and training regime appropriately.

Just because I was pregnant didn’t mean I suddenly had to sit down, put my feet up and eat cake. Contrary to what my mother in law would say (and did say, constantly), I didn’t need to be scared to vacuum the house or lift something heavier than a kettle. Pregnant? OK, bring on the dumbbells! As medics advise, staying fit during pregnancy is a good thing – it makes for a smoother and easier pregnancy and labour, and keeps both you and your unborn baby happy and healthy.

What was my training regime pre-pregnancy?

I had a pretty solid workout programme, exercising religiously five times a week. This included three workouts at the gym, a tough Body Blitz class and training from home one day.

  • Monday (1 hour 30 minutes): 30 minute outdoor run plus a 1 hour Body Blitz class, which is my favourite class ever. I started doing Body Blitz in 2008 and it was the first time I was introduced to strength training and using weights. Before that, it was all about cardio, but the instructor Faye taught me the effectiveness of using a combination of weights and my own bodyweight to tone and sculpt. This class blitzed the whole body including squats and lunges with a weighted barbell, plus a range of exercises with dumbbells, resistance bands and kettlebells to work the back, arms (triceps and biceps), glutes, legs and abdominals.
  • Tuesday (1 hour 15 minutes): Gym workout – 30 minute interval treadmill run and 45 minutes of strength training (including 25 minutes of abs).
  • Wednesday: Rest day
  • Thursday (1 hour 15 minutes): Gym workout – 45 minute studio cycling (or spinning) class and 30 minutes of strength training (including 25 minutes of abs).
  • Friday: Rest day
  • Saturday (1 hour 30 minutes): Home workout – my variation of Body Blitz with a few more exercises to get the heart rate up, including burpees, mountain climbers and high knees.
  • Sunday (1hr 15mins): Gym workout – 30-minute treadmill run and 45 minutes of weights and ab training.

How did I adapt my routine for pregnancy?

With there being three trimesters of pregnancy, my workout regime definitely changed for each stage. I continued to train five times a week (though this did drop down to more like four in the last few weeks), but it wasn’t the same as the above.

Trimester 1 (weeks 1-12)

This is that tricky time when you don’t look any different but, for many women, you feel pretty rubbish by the second half of this stage as morning sickness (or “from 2pm onwards sickness” if you’re anything like me) and fatigue take hold. Luckily, I found exercise helped take my mind off feeling ill, so I continued to train as before, except I decided to stop spinning and changed my treadmill run to 20 minutes and did more of a constant jog, rather than intervals. I was even able to carry on doing ab training, however I did cut this down. Doctors advise you to stop sit-ups and other ab exercises from week 12. This is mainly because this can lower blood pressure and restrict blood flow to your baby, but also because the rectus abdominis muscles get weaker in pregnancy and sit-ups could cause a hernia and delay postnatal repair. Oh, and the bump does start to get in the way eventually!

exercise-during-pregnancy-adapting-training-diet_situpsTrimester 2 (weeks 13-28)

This is when I stopped doing my regular ab exercises and switched to focussing on my core and pelvic floor muscles. I did cat and cow yoga stretches religiously, alongside my pelvic floor exercises. I still swear by these. They’re not just for post-labour, but for before too. I am sure these had a big part to play in my smooth labour, as well as recovery. At this stage, I decided to stop using the treadmill completely. Although doctors say you can continue to run if you’ve always done it, I just didn’t feel right doing it and wanted to reduce impact entirely. I switched to using the elliptical cross trainer and toned down the intensity to ensure my heart rate wasn’t too high, as this can endanger both you and your baby. At this time, I also dropped the weight on my dumbbells to 2kg per arm (previously 3kg or 4kg depending on the exercise) and adapted what I did in the Body Blitz class and at home on the advice of Faye (i.e. no abs, lower weights, squats using just my own bodyweight and no barbells).

Trimester 3 (weeks 29-40)

For much of this trimester, I continued on as trimester 2. However, as my bump got bigger and more strain was put on my legs and abdominal/pelvic muscles, I did decrease the resistance level further on the elliptical cross trainer. Pregnancy puts a great deal of pressure on the joints and it simply isn’t worth risking an injury. My advice would be to listen to your body and do not push yourself. It simply isn’t worth the risk. Yes, I wanted to stay fit during pregnancy, but I knew I could do as many HIIT workouts and stomach crunches as I liked once the baby was here safely.

What about my diet?

I’m well known amongst my friends and family for being a bit of a health nut. And any one of my colleagues would agree that my desk is always laden with fruit and other healthy snacks. During pregnancy, I did my research and made sure I was eating the right things and the right proportions. I’d be first to admit that, although a healthy eater, I probably wasn’t eating quite enough from all the necessary food groups before I became pregnant. I also tended to eat my three meals a day and left quite long periods between eating. Once pregnant, I changed to eating “little and often” and added healthy snacks, such as natural yogurt with blueberries.

Here are a few tips…

“Eating for two” is a myth: As long as you were eating enough calories before you  got pregnant (approximately 2000 kcals), there is no reason to eat more when pregnant. Just make sure you’re making the right choices to hit that 2000 kcal mark. Munching on chocolate bars instead of wholegrains for example, wouldn’t be the best idea. It’s not until you hit trimester three that your body needs an extra 200 calories a day.

Get the very best nutrition in your diet: You don’t need to be too regimental about this, especially if you take the recommended vitamin supplements, but make sure your diet contains plenty of the following, and less of the ready meals and processed stuff: Dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt); Protein (lean fish and meat, eggs, pulses); Fruit and veg (I aimed for 5-7 portions a day); Starchy foods (wholegrains, potatoes, quinoa, pasta)

Easing the nausea: I found that wholegrain toast – rich in vitamin B6 and known to ease sickness – really helped, as well as natural yogurt with ginger. Other B6-rich foods that may help could be bananas, peanut butter and wholegrain cereal.

Don’t choose the nutritionally useless options: It’s really easy to opt for the most convenient snack when pregnant. Plus, you might think that this is the one chance in your life that you can get away with eating three glazed doughnuts followed by a chocolate milkshake without guilt. BUT, not only will it make it harder to get back in shape after pregnancy if you gain too much weight, but more importantly, you won’t be providing the best nutritionally fuelled food to your baby. Of course, have some treats, but personally I’d limit them.

Fantastically healthy 200 kcal snacks for trimester three: I used to eat a small bowl of muesli with a dollop of natural Greek yogurt and an apple, or porridge with blueberries (I have a natural sweet tooth). Other great options could be a couple of slices of wholegrain bread with a tablespoon of cottage cheese, a small bowl of bran cereal with semi-skimmed milk, a hard-boiled egg or avocado on wholemeal toast or a handful of dried fruit, nuts and seeds.

My typical pregnancy food diary

If you exercised regularly pre-pregnancy, continuing with this is encouraged during pregnancy. However, making any drastic changes to your exercise or diet during pregnancy is not advisable. Please ensure you speak to your doctor before making any changes during pregnancy.

Watch this space for my next post, which details how I got back in shape post pregnancy!

Post by Laura Betts, Blog Contributer at Fitness Superstore

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