Pregnancy, labor and delivery are athletic events onto themselves. So, congratulations, new moms! You’re already some of the toughest, strongest athletes out there.
But that also means that, once your little one arrives, your body is in an intense process of recovery. Your hormone levels are changing, your pelvic floor muscles are repairing and your ligaments are regaining tension. (Did you know during pregnancy, your body produces a hormone called relaxin to literally relax your ligaments in the pelvis?)
And that's even without factoring in the recovery process of giving birth via Cesarean section, which is the case for 32 percent of all U.S. deliveries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meanwhile, if you're breastfeeding, your body is donating a lot of energy and nutrients to keeping your baby nourished and growing.
"Your nutrition needs increase with both running miles as well as postpartum recovery and lactation," says new mom Pam Nisevich Bede, RD, MS, a dietitian and a manager of Medical Affairs in Abbott's nutrition business.
So, as you recover from your most monumental adventure and set your sights on a new one – be it a regular jogging habit, 5k or even a marathon – plan carefully to meet both baby's and mom's nutrition needs. Relying on both experience and expertise, Nisevich Bede recommends increasing your training slowly while diligently fueling and refueling to meet both energy and nutrient needs (think varied diet complete with macronutrients and rich in vitamins and minerals). This way, you'll make it through the metabolic cost of feeding your little one and fueling your miles to a strong finish. Nisevich Bede speaks from experience; the 22-time marathon runner completed her sixth Boston marathon in 2018 just 14 weeks after giving birth to her third child.
"I may not have won, but I ran the whole way and I finished," Nisevich Bede jokes. And, actually, her postpartum race wasn’t even her slowest marathon time. How’d she manage that? Well, even though a marathon at 14 weeks postpartum might sound like a huge undertaking, she logged consistent miles while pregnant and took it very slow and steady for her individual body and running history. During pregnancy she was careful to keep her doctor up to date on her training and together they developed a strategy that kept her active and baby growing healthfully. Nisevich Bede reminds all moms that it’s critical to develop a personalized exercise plan with your doctor and have check ins before, during, and after pregnancy.
"After having my first two children, I returned to serious running too quickly and had stress fractures and tendonitis," she says. So, this time, despite the fact that she had been running an average of 40 miles per week before pregnancy – and even logged 1,400 miles throughout her pregnancy – she started back one mile at a time. A few weeks following pregnancy, she simply started walking around her block. Then, six weeks following delivery, she got the go-ahead from her doctor and did her first one-mile jog. That first week back on the pavement, she ran a total of five miles.
"I met with a trainer who was certified in post-pregnancy exercise and worked on incorporating strength training into my routine," she says, stressing that you don’t have to make your return to running alone. Enlist the expertise of professionals,and ask for people in your support system to help you out. Maybe you need someone to watch your tot so you can get in a jog, cook yourself a healthy post-run meal or just take a much-needed nap.
"As mothers, it’s easy for us to think that prioritizing ourselves is selfish, but when you prioritize yourself, and you’re the healthiest and happiest you can be, you’re also the best mother you can be," she says.
So, to help you on your own individual journey in both motherhood and running, below, Nisevich Bede shares four tips to keep your body nourished and healthy when making your return to running.
1. Boost Your Protein Intake
Endurance exercise increases your need for muscle-recovering protein, while breastfeeding donates a lot of that protein to your baby, Nisevich Bede explains. That means you need to increase your protein intake that much more when you’re exercising as a new mom – and especially a lactating one.
She recommends any exercising moms aim to eat approximately 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day. So, if you weigh 150 pounds, that’s 150 grams of daily protein. Meanwhile, 2018 research published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends spreading out your protein intake into four protein-packed meals. Doing so will help make sure that your muscles are in repair mode all day long.
2. Keep Taking Vitamins
You probably took plenty of prenatal vitamins, and it's important to stick with the supplement habit as an active new mom, Nisevich Bede says. In breastfeeding moms, the body requires extra iron, omega 3s, calcium and vitamin D – nutrients that are already in high demand in athletes. For optimal bone health and to help guard against possible deficiency, don’t skip your daily dose of supplements because it can be difficult for busy moms to take in all of the nutrients their body's need to repair and recover from both childbirth and exercise. And work to consume a nutrient-dense diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy. If you find yourself battling extreme fatigue, consult your doctor because it can also be worth getting your iron levels checked with a simple blood test.
3. Don't Cut Calories
Simply recovering from pregnancy and delivery requires calories. But add in breastfeeding, and you can easily be burning an extra 450 to 500 calories per day, according to the National Institutes of Health. And then, of course, walking, jogging and running will all burn calories as well.
The point is: Now is not the time to restrict your caloric intake, Nisevich Bede says. Even if you want to lose weight. "Be patient with yourself and focus on giving your body what it needs to function optimally," she says. Your return to your pre-pregnancy body will arrive in due time.
4. Purposeful Hydration
The average woman gains about 24 pounds of body mass during pregnancy, and a large portion of this gain is water retention. Soon after childbirth, much of this water weight is shed, much of it through breastmilk. Every mom is different, but research suggests that the average loss of fluid due to lactation is about 24oz a day and experts recommend an intake of close to 130oz/day for milk production and to make up for these losses. Combine fluid lost from breastfeeding with those lost during sweat sessions and it’s no wonder you’re thirsty! Aim to stay hydrated by sipping on calorie-free and caffeine-free fluids throughout the day and use the color of your urine as an accurate measure of your hydration. Urine running a light straw-color is optimal. Any darker, and it’s time to drink up. Clear urine typically indicates you can cut back on the fluids. Remember to add in electrolytes – such as sodium, chloride, and potassium – to replace those lost via sweat and through lactation.
5. Keep a Food Log
To gauge how much fuel you need, turn your attention from calories to how your body feels. "Listen to your body," Nisevich Bede says. "If you’re ravenous or physically exhausted (sleepless nights aside) all of the time, you likely aren’t getting everything you need."
She says that tracking how you feel – right along with info on what you’re eating – can help you fine tune your nutrition to help you feel your best. Each day, track your meals as well as how you feel before and after each one. Pay attention to any patterns and try to make sure that every meal contains nutrient dense choices and natural color. By consuming a variety of foods, you better ensure you’re getting all of the nutrients you need to care for your little one, pound the pavement and love it all.
Take these tips on the road. Download this infographic here.