Running with my bump

I’ve been a runner for several years, mostly training for and competing in distance events (my favorites being 15ks and half marathons). When I became pregnant with my first daughter, I knew I wanted to continue running, but wasn’t sure of any risks or benefits that would be associated with it. I had friends who ran up to their 40th week of pregnancy, and I was hoping that could be a goal of mine as well.

There are quite a few myths out there about exercising while pregnant. I’ve heard many (older) fitness instructors say pregnant women should not get their heart rate above 140 (not true). I’ve also heard that abdominal exercise should be avoided and that running can be too jarring for the baby (both also not true). The American College of Sports Medicine recommends exercising while pregnant because there are so many proven benefits. Of course, it’s important to be safe. The safe level of exercise depends on the fitness level of the mama.

Running with both my girls- 33 weeks pregnant

Right before I became pregnant with Carli I ran my fastest marathon to that date. I had been training hard all fall, and already had a 15k and half-marathon under my belt (both were PRs for me at the time). I’m a prime example that strenuous training does NOT make you infertile, and I found out I was pregnant with her 3 weeks after the marathon. My body was already in great shape from all the training I had done that fall, so I was able to continue running at about the same speed and distances. Instead of keeping a watchful eye on my heart rate monitor, I exercised at the intensity I felt comfortable at. Some days that was a 7:30 min/mile pace. Other days it was closer to a 9 min/mile pace. Some days I had to stop and take walking breaks, other days I could run 8 miles continuously. The bigger my belly grew, the slower my pace and distances became. Once I hit about 25 weeks I started using a belly support band during runs. This not only kept my belly more comfortable but it also lifted some of the strain off my back.

By the time I was 35 weeks pregnant with Carli I was still running 4-5 days per week, with 5-6 miles being the longest distance I could cover. My last week of pregnancy I was able to run 3-4 miles maximum, and ended up running 3 miles the day I went into labor with her.

A 5k I ran when I was 26 weeks pregnant with Carli

 

A 5k I ran recently- 31 weeks pregnant with my second baby girl

As a runner, one of the best benefits to maintain my running while pregnant was the effects it had on my fitness level post-partum. Even though I was training at much shorter distances and speeds, my body had to learn to be more efficient at transporting oxygen to my working muscles and the baby. Studies have shown that a person’s VO2 max can actually increase when exercising while pregnant, and this definitely proved to be true once I was able to start running again post-partum. I ran my fastest 5k when she was only 3 months old (I didn’t start running again until she was about 7 weeks old). I ran a personal best half-marathon when she was nine months old and beat my marathon time by 5 minutes when she was 19 months old. The crazy thing was, I wasn’t training as hard as I was before I got pregnant- I didn’t have the time to! I really think that my fitness level just improved over the course of my pregnancy, and I was able to maintain that once I started running again.

My first half marathon post partum

With this pregnancy, I’ve been incorporating more strength training. I’m horrible about resistance exercises, in fact, I HATE them. I can run all day long but I hate picking up a dumbbell. Because I wasn’t weight lifting much before I got pregnant, I don’t push myself in this area. There are a few total body conditioning type classes at my gym, which focuses mainly on light weights and a lot of repetition. One class I absolutely love and plan on sticking with it until the baby comes. I’m not overly straining myself, but I’m also building muscle in areas other than just my legs which feels nice.

Something else I’m doing that I didn’t with my first pregnancy is more abdominal exercises. I’m not trying to have a six-pack form immediately after she’s born, but mainly to build strength in my core which can be beneficial for labor and recovery. If there is core work in a fitness class I’m attending, I do have to modify it at times. Doing a full sit up (from laying to sitting position) can put too much strain on the ab muscles and cause them to tear.

After a 4 mile run- nine months pregnant with Carli

Here’s some encouraging evidence about exercising while pregnant from the IOC, based on a systemic review of studies:

  • There is little risk of abnormal response in the baby’s heart rate when exercising at <90% of maximal heart rates in the second and third trimesters.
  • Baby’s birthweight is less likely to be excessively high, but also not a greater risk for being at a low birth weight
  • Exercise does not increase the risk of preterm birth.
  • Exercise during pregnancy does not increase the risk of induction of labour, epidural anesthesia, episiotomy or perineal tears, forceps or vacuum deliveries.
  • There is some evidence that the first stage of labor (before full dilatation) is shorter in exercising women.
  • Exercise throughout pregnancy may reduce the need for caesarean section.
  • Exercising while pregnant can decrease risk of developing gestational diabetes or preeclampsia
  • Exercise can reduce maternal weight gain
  • Exercise enhances psychological well-being (something that has been crucial for me this pregnancy- those hormones have been extra crazy this time around!)

So yes, exercise (in elite athletes, even strenuous exercise) is safe during pregnancy. I have gotten some disapproving looks or looks of shock from some when I’m out running with my big ol’ belly. I know it probably seems weird to some people. But as long as I’m listening to my body, I know both me and my baby are safe.

 

A few of my favorite things

I have a few essentials when it comes to stocking my kitchen. My grocery list varies week to week based on what I plan to cook, and I always buy a lot of fresh produce. Here are some things that I’ve grown to love over the years, that almost always make it into my grocery cart.

Love Crunch granola

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There is absolutely nothing healthy about this granola. Okay wait- it’s non-GMO- so that counts for something. I also like that I can read and understand all the ingredients it’s made of so I know exactly what is going into my body. This granola is loaded with dark chocolate chunks, peanuts and peanut butter. It’s sweetened with honey and a little bit of cane sugar. I love to add just a little bit of this to plain yogurt for a sweet snack- for me it’s kind of like a better alternative to a Reese’s peanut butter cup. This granola also comes in a Hawaiian flavor (dried pineapple, coconut and white chocolate) which does not disappoint.

La Croix

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I am a recovering diet coke addict. I love and appreciate the taste of plain water but sometimes I just need something carbonated. It was a tough switch to make at first but as long as my La Croix is ice-cold I love it. Mango and passion fruit are my favorites right now.

The Good Bean

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I always have at least 3-4 bags of these laying around. They come in so many flavors- bbq, lemongrass coconut, sea salt, cinnamon and Bombay spice just to name a few. I am obsessed with these dried chickpeas. I use them for everything- I eat them out of the bag as a snack, I add them to salads and the sweeter flavors I may add to yogurt. People always ask me where to buy these. You can find them in the health food section at most grocery stores. The weird thing is so far I’ve found the largest variety at Rite Aid- so whenever I’m getting a prescription filled I stock up. I’ve also found a lot of flavors at Sprouts and The Fresh Market.

 

Coffee and Tea

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Pumpkin spice season is here people. There is nothing that gets me more excited than pumpkin coffee. I love drinking Chai tea in the cooler months too. All I do is add a splash of coconut milk or almond milk to these hot beverages and they’re good to go.

Chips and Guac

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These chips were a find from Kroger and I love them. They are made with beans (more fiber and protein) yet still taste amazing. The lime flavor goes great with guacamole. I’m a sucker for homemade guacamole but if I’m in a hurry this stuff is second best. The best part- there are veggies in the guacamole! If you don’t like veggies but love guacamole, this may be a good way to sneak them in.

Crackers and hummus

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This is always a go-to snack for me, but sometimes I can make a lunch out of it if I add cheese slices or my dried chickpeas and some sort of fruit. I’m boring and usually just get the plain hummus- I really like Kroger’s simple truth brand. The crackers I buy are usually Blue Diamond Nut-Thins. They are made with just a few ingredients, namely almonds, brown rice and flaxseeds. They are gluten free and a good source of ALA omega-3 fatty acids.

Skinny Sticks

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I don’t eat them for my waistline, I eat them because they’re crunchy (can you tell I really like crunchy foods??) and they taste good. I keep a bag of these in the car to keep Carli occupied when we’re driving home from errands or the gym. I’ll do anything to keep her awake and avoid the dreaded late morning car nap- which is always a recipe for a miserable afternoon.

Halo Ice-cream

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A good friend of mine posted this picture on social media and I thought that there is no way this ice-cream can actually taste good. I’ve been burned badly by low-calorie ice-cream in the past (sorry Artic Freeze) and my motto has always been to just enjoy the real stuff in small quantities. But let’s be real, eating ice-cream in small quantities is hard. Really hard. I decided to try this stuff and was blown away with how good it actually was. And bonus- made with lots of all-natural organic ingredients! Blue Bell is still my favorite, but this comes in at a close second.