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.

This crazy life we live and how it’s affecting our health

Life can just be crazy sometimes. Okay let’s be real- it’s crazy ALL the time. We live in a world of unrealistic standards and expectations, and the demands we place on our bodies to meet them is exhausting us. The pressure is on to get the next pay raise or promotion, raise our kids to be the smartest and most talented, keep the house clean, drive our big kids to a million different activities, fill our little kid’s down time with never-ending Pinterest-inspired activities (because simple playing just isn’t good enough anymore) and finally… try get a good night’s sleep. And of course sleep is nearly impossible when all the things that need to be done are swirling around in our brains and just can’t be shut off. No wonder we’re tired! Sometimes I feel as if life is on fast forward and I just want to hit the pause button. But there’s no time for that! Right?!

It’s easy to get caught up in the craziness that life brings, but a lot of the time we just don’t have a choice. The laundry needs to get done. We need to meet deadlines at work. The grass needs to be mowed. If you have big kids you may have to help with homework, drive them to practices and get them off to school in the morning. With all the stuff that builds up during the day, I think the word “relax” has left our vocabulary. A lot of the time I will find myself thinking- okay, just need to get x, y and z done. Then I can relax! Haha nice try. There is always something to do.

Stress just sucks. It’s draining, it’s bad for our health and it just makes us crazy. Stress can set the stage for inflammation which is a precursor for most chronic health conditions (such as heart disease and diabetes). From a nutrition standpoint, it can affect the way we digest our foods, worsen irritable bowel syndrome and can deplete our bodies of nutrients (see post on leaky gut syndrome). From a mind-body health perspective, it can worsen our moods and reduce the production of serotonin and dopamine (feel- good chemicals our body makes).

Managing stress is just as important as putting healthy foods in your body. Health is multi-dimensional and nutrition is just one aspect. You can eat a perfect diet but if your body is chronically stressed you are still going to have low energy levels, digestion issues and a multitude of other health issues if it isn’t addressed correctly.

Don't we all need a little more of this in our lives?!
Don’t we all need a little more of this in our lives?!

Here are some ways that I would recommend to more effectively manage stress:

  1. Say No.

You don’t have to live to please everyone. You also don’t have to commit to everything. Is your activities calendar looking a little crazy? Are you finding yourself missing out on things you enjoy or losing quality time with family and friends because you have too many commitments? If you’re a parent, this goes for your kids too. It’s great for kids to be involved in extracurriculars, but if you have four kids and they are each involved in 3 different sports plus music class and drama class, plus they have homework to get done every night…you get the idea. Do everyone a favor and put a limit to the craziness.

2. Realize that we live in a world of impossible standards and move on.

 I think the social media world has put so many new pressures and expectations on moms (and everyone else for that matter) that are nearly impossible to meet. This generation of moms is just downright mean! No matter what we do for our kids, we are doing something wrong and someone will call us out on it. Of course when it comes to safety that’s a completely different issue, but kids will survive if their baby food isn’t homemade and I’m sure their cancer risk will be just as high from walking outside and breathing the “fresh” air as it would from using a certain brand of sunscreen or bath soap. Let’s just all agree that we love our kids and that our love for them isn’t compromised just because we have a different opinion on bedtimes and the brand of milk we buy them.

3. Exercise.

Exercise produces endorphins which are chemicals in the brain that make you feel energized and happy. Exercise helps you sleep better which in turn gives you a more alert mind and enhances cognitive function. Enough said.

4. Put away the processed foods and reach for the good stuff.

Eating sugar-laden junk food may be easy to reach for when we are stressed out, but it actually makes the situation worse. Processed food promotes inflammation which creates more stress on our bodies. Don’t restrict calories either because that can increase cortisol levels (which are already high during stressful times) which can promote weight gain and fat storage. Fill your diet with healthy fats like avocado, fish oils, nuts and seeds along with nutrient dense fruits, veggies and lean proteins. You’ll have more energy and your body will be in healthier state to manage stress.

5. Sleep!!!

Not getting enough sleep can affect your mood, decisions about food (being sleep-deprived will make you more likely to grab something sugary), hormone balance, metabolism and activity levels. It can make you more irritable and make your stress levels even worse.

6. Get a good support system.

Sometimes you just need to vent. Or you just need a mediator to help you reason. Having a safe support system, whether this be friends, family or colleagues is crucial. They can provide a listening ear to help you sort through your feelings and may even help you make a tough decision or provide encouragement.

7. Allow for some flexibility.

Life never goes as planned. For us type-A planners, that’s a tough lesson to learn. I usually get through this by praying and understanding that no matter what, God is in control. You may do the same, or just create a more positive outlook around change. Look for the pros in every situation, not just the cons.

8. Get some ME time.

There is no shame in doing something for yourself every now and then. It doesn’t matter what you do, whether you’re a career person or spend your time at home raising kids, you need personal relaxation time. I used to feel guilty when our families would come into town and offer to take care of Carli so I could get things done. Even…gasp!…leave the house by myself!! Now I’m all for it. Accept help graciously and shamelessly where and when you need it and get some time to pamper yourself. You deserve it.

9. Deep breathing.

Deep breathing increases oxygen supply to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system to promote a state of calmness. Engaging in deep breathing techniques can help to relieve tension and can make you feel more relaxed. Find out how to correctly do breathing exercises here.

10. Manage your time- it’s okay to schedule in some relaxing time!

When we live in a world this busy, sometimes to keep our sanity everything has to be scheduled. Try to schedule in relaxing time for yourself. Try to find a time during the day when the whole family can be together to talk about the events of the day and just unwind. Dinner is usually a good time for this. This is important. Remember, if your schedule doesn’t allow for any sort of down time throughout the week you may want to consider cutting back on commitments.

Now take a deep breath…and have a nice relaxing rest of the summer!