Post-Pregnancy Eating for Running
Are you considering getting pregnant or maybe you are pregnant or ready to return to running post-pregnancy? Whatever your situation this topic will give you lots of information and nutrition tips to ensure you return to your running post-pregnancy in a healthy and nutritionally balanced way.
Even if you have passed the childbearing years you probably have younger women in your family, social, and/or running circles, so you could pass on the information you glean to support THEM in their return to running post-pregnancy…so read on and listen in!!
What does the research say about post-pregnancy running?
It has to be said that the data is limited and it would appear that the data collated has come from research on elite athletes rather than amateur athletes and physically active individuals. BUT there is some interesting information come from the current research including:
It is well known that pregnancy impacts the musculoskeletal system so, like the data says, it is important to return to training SLOWLY and build up to help prevent injury.
How could this be done?
Current recommendations suggest following a programme described as a continuum comprising of three elements:
Return to participation – this is more like rehabilitation training and carried out at a much lower level than before pregnancy
Return to Sport – the athlete can return to their defined sport but at a performance level below that of pre-pregnancy
Return to Performance – the athlete GRADUALLY returns to her defined sport at a level equal to or above her pre-pregnancy level.
Thinking about endurance sport, there are a couple of additional points to consider when returning to training. These are:
What impact does Pregnancy have on the musculoskeletal system?
There are many different complaints and potential disorders that a mother could experience post-partum (post-pregnancy) linked to the musculoskeletal system, but also linked to other body systems too. The most common ones include:
Pelvic floor dysfunction and/or pain – clearly if there is pain and it is long lasting this would need to be evaluated and addressed before commencing exercise. BUT for any form of exercise a strong pelvic floor is required so, as long as there is no ongoing pain, strength training of the pelvic floor could begin straight after birth.
Lower back pain – according to one small study the incidence of lower back pain following birth is similar in athletes and non-athletes, however the lumbopelvic region of the back in athletes undergoes significant loading and stress (in most sports) if competing at a high level, so these individuals may be at increased risk of lower back pain following birth.
Weight Gain - post-pregnancy weight loss can be a real struggle for some women…even active women. Clearly there is going to be some weight gain during pregnancy, which is medically known as Gestational Weight Gain (GWG).There is a recommended gestational weight gain, however that will be very individual as it will depend on pre-pregnancy weight, height, foetus size, carrying twins/triplets etc.
BUT…it is thought that:
This post-pregnancy weight gain could potentially put the mother at increased risk of developing chronic health conditions including diabetes and cardiovascular disease, so ideally she would want to try and lose the weight, however in a gradual and healthy way.
BUT, it is important to remember that many new mothers face some unique challenges that might get in the way of them managing their weight during this post-pregnancy period including:
Another potential musculoskeletal injury that athletes may be susceptible to as they return to training post-pregnancy is Stress Fracture. One study reported 12% of participants (four elite female athletes) experienced 5 stress fractures within the first 6 weeks post-pregnancy. These stress fractures occurred in the sacral area, the toe and the tibia. This same study observed that none of the non-elite athletes experienced any overuse injuries over the first 9 months post-pregnancy.
Some other facts worth pointing out about the athletes who developed the stress fractures includes:
So, this study suggests that the likelihood of stress fracture occurring for most amateur/casual runners is slim, however it would be important to be cautious regarding how quickly you return to running and the amount of training performed whilst breastfeeding to minimise the risk of a stress or other injury/illness.
Key Nutrients to Consider Post-Pregnancy:
There are many that a new mother would need to consider, however the two being discussed here are Iron and Calcium
As we know iron is important for a runner in:
What about Iron status post-pregnancy?
During pregnancy the recommended daily intake of iron increases from 14.8mg/d (for non-pregnant women) to 27mg/d but interestingly some study papers have noted that the average daily intake is as low as 7.7mg/d. Health and nutrition status pre and during pregnancy will determine how a mother recovers post-pregnancy, so in order to return to running as swiftly as possible it is important to ensure that iron levels are optimal during pregnancy.
A FOOD FIRST approach to iron intake throughout pregnancy and postpartum and beyond would be recommended, however for some individuals a supplement may be necessary. It is highly recommended that you work with a professional when considering supplementation as high dose iron intake, if upper limits are exceeded, could be detrimental to both mother and foetus/child e.g. child neurodevelopment
Equally iron deficiency could potentially be detrimental to the foetus and/or mother-to-be. For example, if the mother-to-be is anaemic it could increase the risk of:
Thinking about the detrimental effects of iron deficiency for the mother-to- be, symptoms experienced may include:
…and of course all this leading to poor running performance
The recommended daily intake for pregnant and breastfeeding women is the same as that for non-pregnant women, which is 700mg.
The body maintains a constant blood level of calcium via a homeostatic control mechanism. This Calcium homeostatic response during pregnancy includes:
The bulk of foetal skeletal growth takes place from mid pregnancy onward, with maximum calcium needs occurring during the third trimester. As a result optimising calcium intake to prevent any detrimental effects to mother or baby would be crucial during this stage of pregnancy.
Additionally low calcium status is linked to an increased risk of pre-eclampsia and overall child health outcomes following birth.
The overarching message here is; it is very important to consider nutrient status PRE-pregnancy and DURING pregnancy to help limit or prevent any detrimental health concerns POST pregnancy for mother and baby.
Putting the nutritional advice into practice
Key actions to consider whether you are thinking about becoming pregnant, are pregnant, or have recently given birth:
1) Engage with a professional to ensure you are receiving appropriate advice for YOUR personal circumstances and running goals.
2) Remember food comes first
3) Iron Rich Foods to include:
Haem iron – most readily absorbed:
But red meat is principle source
Non-haem iron - Not easily absorbed as firstly requires converting to its soluble form
So, unless you are vegetarian or vegan it may be appropriate to introduce a portion of red meat 1-2 x weekly into your meal plan as it is the best source of iron BUT avoid liver as it contains high levels of vitamin A, which may be harmful to an unborn baby. Also, choose natural meats opposed to processed meats and consume organic wherever possible and ensure it is well cooked.
4) Calcium Rich Foods to include:
Just a word of caution when consuming dairy products in pregnancy and during breast feeding; ensure the choices you make are pasteurised because unpasteurised dairy products may contain listeria, known to cause an infection called listeriosis which, has been linked to a potential increased risk of miscarriage and stillbirth - although the risk is thought to be low.
TOP TIPS for post-pregnancy weight loss:
1) It is important to remember there is very limited research into the subject of post-pregnancy nutrition and running - more quality research needs to be completed
2) Most research to-date has been carried out on elite athletes rather than amateurs but the key outcomes from the research include:
3) There are many challenges women face post-pregnancy that may limit the weight loss they can achieve including:
4) There are many nutritional factors to consider for your running post-pregnancy but two key ones are Iron and Calcium.
5) Iron intake needs to increase from 14.8mg/d up to 27mg/d whereas calcium intake remains constant at 700mg/d, however its absorption via the digestive tract increases to maintain homeostasis,
6) Remember food comes first so increase your daily intake of these key nutrients during pregnancy and immediately post pregnancy
7) To limit weight gain post pregnancy, remember:
8) Remember we are all individual with individual needs, so if you are having difficulty losing weight or getting back into your running post-pregnancy speak to a Professional
The suggestions we make during this episode are for guidance and
advice only, and are not a substitute for medical advice or treatment.
If you have any concerns regarding your health, please contact
your healthcare professional for advice as soon as possible.
Aileen Smith and Karen Campbell met at as nutrition students (Institute for Optimum Nutrition, London) and became lifelong friends and nutritional buddies! Both have a love of running and a passion for nutrition, delicious food and healthy living.
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