The Biggest Nutrition Mistake Pregnant Runners Make

If your doctor cleared you to run during your pregnancy and you're well enough to hit the roads several times a week or even every day, you're lucky. But be wary of making a common nutrition mistake—not eating enough to support their activity levels and their growing babies.

"You have to gain an appropriate amount of weight—everything you're adding to support the baby is important. You have to not be scared of [gaining weight]; it's part of the whole process," says Michelle Ulrich, registered dietician who counsels pregnant athletes. "It's not the time to look to exercise to lose weight."

If you were a competitive age-grouper or a fun run junkie who logged miles to maintain a healthy weight before getting pregnant, watching your torso morph into a beach ball and your hips bulge can be an eye-popping experience to say the least. If you suffer from nausea and vomiting during the first trimester and are still able to run, you might even lose a little weight. But as you regain energy during the second trimester and start to feel more like your old self, you might step up your running routine. As your activity levels increase, it's also important to increase your caloric intake.

More: Pregnancy Nutrition Tips for Female Athletes

"If you're exercising during your pregnancy, especially during the second and third trimesters, you need more calories than pregnant women who aren't active," says Ulrich. "Typically pregnant women need to add 300 calories during the second trimester and 300 to 500 in the third. If you're adding exercise on top of that, then you need to make sure you're adding a couple more hundred calories."

The easiest way to make sure you're eating enough? Add snacks. If you run for 45 to 60 minutes most days, it's ideal to add two snacks a day when you're in the second and third trimesters.

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What to Eat

Choose the most nutrient-dense foods and drinks possible. You need extra folic acid, calcium and iron in addition to plenty of antioxidants, fiber and healthy fats.

"Opt for quality foods that don't come in packages like pretzels and potato chips," urges Ulrich. "You want to make sure you're getting enough carbs but you need some protein too. Choose a balance of carbs and protein for snacks."

Ideal snacks:
  • Fruit with yogurt
  • Toast with peanut butter
  • Hard-boiled eggs with toast
  • Hummus with carrots and whole-wheat crackers
  • Apple with nut butter
  • Cereal fortified with folic acid and iron plus milk

More: 25 Healthy Snacks for Runners

Of course, make sure you're drinking lots of water and milk, and eating nutritious meals that contain lots of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and good-for-you fats every day. Take a doctor-approved prenatal vitamin that contains DHA and folic acid.

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The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends the following food choices for pregnant athletes:
  • Calcium sources: pasteurized dairy products, dark leafy greens, tofu, legumes, nuts, seeds, calcium-fortified orange juice
  • Iron sources: lean meat, poultry, fish, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole and enriched grains
  • Folate sources: legumes, fruits, vegetables, fortified grain products
  • Low-mercury fish: sole, tilapia, salmon, haddock, whitefish, catfish, flounder

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Nutrition Troubleshooting for the Pregnant Runner

Even the most seemingly benign aromas, such as bleach, eggs or ground meat, can send an expecting mom charging for the toilet. In addition to the wild hormonal fluctuations and bodily changes that occur during pregnancy, what triggers the gag reflex can change from trimester to trimester or even day to day. It can be challenging to get the proper nutrition during this time of heightened sensitivity.

More: 5 Things People Never Tell You About Pregnancy

"Food choices are a personal preference, but eat the foods that you think you can handle. Eating only bread is better than nothing. Try adding a glass of milk and a bit of peanut butter to see if you can stomach it," says Ulrich.

Here are some tricks Ulrich recommends for quelling nausea:

1. Keep saltines or graham crackers on your nightstand. Eat 2 to 3 crackers before you get out of bed in the morning.

2. If you're a morning runner, try to put a little something in your stomach before heading out. Eat a piece of toast with peanut butter. If you can't tolerate that much, try 1 to 2 rice cakes or crackers.

3. Add ginger to your diet. Drink ginger tea and cook with ginger. Sipping ginger ale or snacking on crystallized ginger can help, although these options do contain added sugar so just be wary of portion sizes.

More: 6 Cooking Tips and Food Remedies for Nausea

4. Suck on popsicles—something cold with a little flavor can help. Try to buy pops made with 100 percent juice or those that combine coconut water with fruit and vegetables.

More: Tropical Banana Pops Recipe

5. Slurp soup. The salty broth hydrates and can also settle an upset stomach.

6. An empty stomach is nausea's best friend. Try 6 to 8 small meals, where you're eating every two hours throughout the day. For example, have half a sandwich at 11 a.m., the other half at 1 p.m., an apple at 3 p.m.

More: Nausea-Fighting Foods for Athletes

"If you're not able to keep much down, I'd advise against doing extra exercise—maybe do a walk but don't do an intense workout to further dehydrate yourself," says Ulrich. "In this case, a sports drink might be appropriate for the added electrolytes. It's a fine balance, though, so meet with your doctor and a dietician to make sure it's appropriate to exercise."

As your pregnancy progresses and your belly grows, you may experience heart burn and even constipation.

"It's common for pregnant women to get acid reflux and constipation. Your growing baby is taking up space and your organs are smushed up," says Ulrich. "Make sure you get enough fiber and drink enough water, and exercise will help with constipation—staying active is going to keep your GI tract working better."

More: 8 Foods to Relieve Constipation in Athletes

Proper hydration not only keeps the digestive system running smoothly, but it also supports the growing fetus. "You have all of this extra blood and things going on that require more water, so you need to drink more to support those needs," says Ulrich.

Sipping water throughout the day is the best way to stay hydrated; Ulrich ranks water as the number one way to hydrate, followed by milk, then a smoothie or 100-percent vegetable or fruit juice. It might also be prudent to conduct sweat tests throughout your pregnancy to ensure that you're drinking enough fluids. Everyone sweats differently and your hydration needs can vary according to the weather or your exertion levels, so weigh yourself before and right after runs several times during different trimesters to learn how much water weight you lose when you work out.

More: What You Need to Know About Runner Hydration

In general, stick to the sports nutrition guidelines that you followed before pregnancy (and presented above) for what to eat and drink before and after runs. During this special time, it's even more important to pay attention to the intensity and duration of your running—when in doubt, back off and walk. If you follow Ulrich's advice for eating several small meals throughout the day, you shouldn't need to focus on a special post-run meal or pre-run smoothie because you'll be getting the nutrition and calories you and your growing baby need.

More: Is It Safe to Run a Marathon While Pregnant?

But, if you're not gaining the weight you should and your doctor is concerned, add more nutrient-dense foods to your diet. Eat more nuts and nut butters, avocadoes and other foods that are naturally high in fat like olives. If you drink skim milk, try 2-percent milk and switch from nonfat yogurt to low-fat yogurt.

Ironically, it can be a challenge to add calories the further along you are because, with the growing baby vying for space, you get full on less food. Instead of loading up on high-calorie, high-sugar foods like candy and ice cream, add an extra teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil to your salad or stir some almond butter into your oatmeal.

More: How to Restore Your Core and Pelvic Floor Postpartum

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