How Nutrition and Exercise Impact Your Pregnancy
By Shawn Marie Watson, Lifepath Wellness with Colby Jenkins Pn1, RMT
When pregnant, your body does some really amazing things! From the time of conception to the moment you deliver your child, your body requires proper nutrition along with regular exercise in order to keep working at this new phenomenal rate. If it is your first pregnancy or your fifth, there is a lot of information that expectant mothers face when it comes to achieving optimal health during their pregnancy. One of the best places to start is to evaluate your current diet and exercise regime, and make the necessary changes early on in your pregnancy.
How Much Should I be Eating?
A common question among expecting mothers is exactly how much they should be eating during their pregnancy. Research suggests that adding an extra 300 to 500 calories a day is sufficient for maintaining a healthy pregnancy. In order to determine your base calories for the day, you need to calculate your basal metabolic rate (BMR). There are many BMR calculators available online that are easy to use. A simple search for “BMR calculator” should take you to a number of helpful resources. Follow the instructions carefully to calculate your current BMR.
Once you have calculated your BMR, you will need to consider your activity level before adding in too many extra calories or too few calories for the day. If you are exercising, you want to lean more toward adding an extra 500 calories per day, because you are burning additional calories with your exercise. If you are sedentary for most of the day, an extra 300 calories would be a sufficient caloric surplus for your activity level.
While adding in 300 to 500 extra calories per day might sound like a lot, it is very easy to go overboard. Excess pregnancy weight gain can result from exceeding the recommended caloric surplus, resulting in a host of problems with your pregnancy such as gestational diabetes, complications during delivery, and making the pregnancy more uncomfortable.
How to Get in the Right Calories Every Day
One of the key actions that takes place in your body during your pregnancy is called Anabolism. According to The American Heritage® Dictionary of Student Science, Second Edition anabolism is “the phase of metabolism in which complex molecules, such as the proteins and fats that make up body tissue, are formed from simpler ones.” When a body builder is in an anabolic state, he or she is gaining muscle mass. When you are pregnant, anabolism translates to essentially building your babies tissue. Proper nutrition is a key component when your body is in a state of anabolism and is vital for the healthy development of your baby.
Increasing the amount of macronutrients you eat (protein, carbs, and fats) as well as taking in more micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) from food sources is where you should start when thinking about adding in extra calories. A bran muffin might seem like an easy way to add in extra calories however; it is better to think long-term throughout the day, where you might need some extra calories to satisfy yourself when you are feeling hungry between meals. Are you hungry earlier in the day or do you find late night hunger-pains calling out for more food? If you split your extra calories into smaller portions, you can supplement the times where you feel like reaching for a snack or overeating during a meal. Select foods that are satiating such as proteins and healthy fats in order to satisfy your hunger while decreasing a spike in your insulin, which causes you to feel hungry again shortly after your snack. For instance, if you were to have something higher in carbohydrates, like the aforementioned bran muffin, you might notice that you are hungry again in an hour or two. Selecting a balance of proteins, healthy fats, and carbohydrates for every meal and snack will provide you with a well-rounded meal that is healthy and satisfying.
But I Want to Eat EVERYTHING!
During pregnancy, many women experience food cravings. While there is no scientific explanation as to why pregnant women experience food cravings, many experts believe that a food craving is your body’s way of letting you know that you are lacking something. Salty cravings may indicate that your body is asking for more potassium and sodium. A craving for a hamburger may suggest your body is seeking more protein. What is important to consider is how you satisfy your food cravings. If you want to devour a bag of salty potato chips, try replacing that with natural popcorn tossed with olive oil and sea salt. A craving for a chocolate bar can be substituted with strawberries or pineapple dipped in dark chocolate. If you eat something that is considered junk food, do not beat yourself up – just carry on with the day making better choices as you go.
If you experience unusual cravings for things such as soap, dirt, paint chips, or coffee grounds; you may have a condition called Pica. Pica is more common during pregnancy but can occur anytime and it is not gender specific. While there is limited research that pinpoints a cause for Pica, some research suggests that it can be triggered due to an iron deficiency. Contact your physician immediately if you develop intense cravings for non-food items such as those listed above.
I Don’t Want to Eat at All
Nausea and morning sickness are both very common throughout your pregnancy. Most women experience nausea in the early stages of pregnancy however; there are some women that go through their entire pregnancy feeling ill. When you are nauseated, the thought of food and eating altogether are the last thing on your mind. Women that experience nausea throughout the day can fall under their recommended caloric needs rather quickly. It is important to pay attention to the times of day where you do have an appetite and add in extra servings of protein, fats, and carbohydrates to these meals. Include healthy snacks between meals such as nuts and seeds, fruit and vegetables, and Greek yogurt to boost your calories while remaining healthy at the same time. Smoothies made with natural whey protein, that does not contain artificial sweeteners are an excellent way to ensure you are consuming enough satisfying protein when nausea takes over.
Exercising during your pregnancy offers many benefits. Being active helps prepare your body for labour, keeps your muscles and joints healthy, and makes you feel great thanks to the release of ‘feel good’ hormones called endorphins. It is important to check with your physician before starting or continuing an exercise regime to rule out any contraindications that could cause problems during your pregnancy. If you are given the go-ahead, consider the following when planning your activities:
- Drink Plenty of Water: Before, during, and after exercising to stay hydrated
- Warm-up First: Before you begin, start with some light cardio and stretching to prevent injury and to gradually increase your heart rate.
- Avoid Laying Flat on your Back: Women should not lay flat on their backs after the first trimester, to avoid extra pressure on the vena cava. Pressure on this major vein can reduce the flow of blood to your heart, your brain, and your uterus which can cause dizziness, shortness of breath, and nausea.
- Take your Time: When getting up from floor exercises, take your time and stand up slowly using something stationary to assist you. If you stand up too quickly, you may feel dizzy and can increase the risk of falling.
- Don’t Over Do It: If you are new to exercise, start out slow with easy, low-impact exercises such as swimming and light walking. If you are comfortable with your exercise regime, listen to your body and cut back when you feel strained or overly exhausted when your workout is complete. Your comfort level with certain exercises might be different for others so always listen to what your instincts are when participating in various exercises. Always avoid contact sports during your entire pregnancy and speak to your physician if you have questions about whether or not a particular exercise is right for you.
- Avoid Overheating: When you are pregnant, the increase in blood flow and your higher metabolism naturally cause you to feel warmer. During the first trimester, when your baby’s major organs are developing, it is very important to keep your core temperature from raising above 38.8 degrees C for more than 10 consecutive minutes because this could potentially harm your unborn child. Pay attention to signs of overheating which include excessive sweating, feeling unusually warm, nausea, shortness of breath, and dizziness. Stop exercising immediately and remove extra layers. If you are outdoors, move inside to a cooler place or try a cool shower. Call your physician if you have concerns.
Ask an Expert
There are many wonderful things taking place during your pregnancy and women can sometimes feel overwhelmed with all of the information coming their way. When it comes to nutrition and exercise, seeking out the help from a nutritional coach can take the guesswork out of meal planning and exercise altogether.
Colby Jenkins, Nutrition Coach at Lifepath Wellness, welcomes you to schedule a consultation to learn more about how nutritional coaching can help you during your pregnancy.
Contact us at 403-235-6208 to reserve your appointment with Colby. Always speak with your physician before starting a new diet and exercise plan, in order to make sure the health of you and your baby is protected.