Modifying and scaling during pregnancy was humbling, but it was nothing compared to postpartum training. After giving birth, doctors recommend (strongly) six weeks of rest and recovery which means walking and MAYBE light weights. I’m not an elite athlete but I’m definitely competitive. Six weeks of walking? Please…
A ton of things happen in the body during the first six weeks postpartum. One of these things is that the abdominal muscles start to knit back together, layman’s terms. As the uterus grows, the abdominal wall is no longer a wall. It becomes separate bricks, and separate bricks are not as strong as a wall. In most cases it takes longer than six weeks for a woman’s abdominals to come back together and even if they do, they aren’t nearly as strong.
To rebuild the abdominal wall, it is recommended that low impact exercises are done. No sit ups, a few planks, but certainly well-supported, full abdominal movements. It isn’t just the washboard stomach that weakens during pregnancy but also the muscles of the sides and the back. The entire corset fo the truck needs to be strengthened before weight is added to movement. Instead of snatches, cleans, and presses with a barbell, the first 6 weeks, (if you decide to jump back in early), are spent doing seated presses with dumbbells to rebuild the core stability necessary to send weight overhead.
Any jumping and any weighted squats are out. Obviously during labor the pelvic floor is, well, stressed. With so much happening to that region, giving it time to heal is paramount. Air squats are acceptable as only body weight is being moved. Any added weight would cause unnecessary and potentially unmanageable strain on the pelvic floor muscles. The same can be said for jumping movements, such as box jumps or double unders. The sudden jarring of the body in the landing of a jump could hinder the healing of the pelvic floor muscles. Kegels are highly recommended to rebuild and strengthen the pelvic muscles. So you don’t pee when you jump rope.
Starting lighter and slower also serves to rebuild cardiovascular endurance. During pregnancy, the amount of blood in the body increases by 50%, which means the heart works harder. Postpartum, the body needs to adjust to the new amount of blood and heart rate. Giving it time is necessary. During pregnancy, a woman is usually advised to keep her heart rate below a certain BPM to ensure enough oxygen is getting to the baby. This restriction in itself causes a loss of cardio endurance. So walking instead of running, and even rowing if it’s done carefully.
As much as I hate to say it, taking it easy for the first six weeks postpartum is necessary for long term gains and performance. Getting hurt now would only make the recovery period longer. So be smart, be safe, and dial it back for six weeks. Then if it feels good, give the gym hell.
A pivotal part of any fitness regimen is nutrition. You won’t get the results you want if you work out but still survive on cheeseburgers and pizza. Unfortunately, sticking to a fitness-focused diet is difficult at best when pregnant.
Before pregnancy I was counting my macros on My Fitness Pal. My goals, like many people, were to gain muscle and shed fat. My snacks were hard-boiled eggs. Most of my meals consisted of chicken, rice, and broccoli. That did not stick through pregnancy.
Like it or not, pregnancy can cause food cravings, (which most people have heard about), or food aversions. From what I understand, food cravings during pregnancy are nearly impossible to ignore. If a woman suddenly wants Chinese food at three in the morning, it better happen or there will be hell to pay. Cravings are usually justified with the phrase, “You’re eating for two!” A lot of over-eating or unhealthy eating is forgiven during pregnancy because of this phrase. However, in order to provide enough energy for a growing fetus, a woman only needs to eat an additional 300 calories per day. Most food cravings, like the deep-fried pickles and Doritos, have much more than 300 calories. And they’re low quality calories, too.
I cannot provide any advice or tips on how to conquer pregnancy cravings to stay on the nutritional track. I was lucky enough to not have cravings but, instead, I had food aversions.
Aversions come with their own set of difficulties. Just when my diet of chicken and veggies had become established, they began to make me gag. I couldn’t smell chicken or turkey without getting nauseous. Vegetables were impossible to swallow. The healthy staples were gone. The lean meat left to me was shrimp which is limited during pregnancy. Fruits were still good. But the foods that made me the least nauseous were carbs. Full disclosure, I upped my pasta game during pregnancy.
No matter what a woman has, cravings or aversions, it is almost impossible to follow a fitness diet while pregnant. And by “fitness diet” I mean clean eating, counting/following macros, and even weighing out quantities for the most accurate nutritional measurement. A healthy diet, absolutely, but a 100% fitness diet is for superhuman women. What is important to remember is that you are in control of what you eat, (pregnant or not). Although I ate more carbs, I cut back on the sugary coffee and other sources of caffeine. I drank gallons more water and snacked more on healthy trail mix than other vending machine fare.
Some women can make a fitness diet work through pregnancy, gain the minimum amount of weight, and come out the other side without looking like they were pregnant at all. Bot those aren’t the average women. Women with cravings, do the best to control them or find healthy substitutes for what you’re craving. For women with aversions, eat what nutritionally rich food you can without being miserable. But most importantly, eat to suit what your body needs. Sometimes it won’t be the most healthy thing, like my pasta.
What helped me was to think about how I would want my child to eat once they could make their own food choices, then eat to reflect that behavior. Try to set a good nutrition example early, even when the baby is in utero. But, trust me, whatever stage of pregnancy you’re in, that kid will always like cheesecake.
When you think about meal prepping does it seem like some daunting, time consuming task that you HAVE to do? It definitely used to be that way for me. I felt like I needed to prep something different for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every single day. That, as you can imagine, led to a lot of money wasted on ingredients and a lot of extra food that sometimes went to waste. I now have a pretty tight budget when it comes to groceries because it can be so easy to go overboard. Developing a simple meal prep routine has really helped me stay on budget each month, eat healthy, and save time during the work week.
Here are my top tips for keeping meal prep simple:
- Make a plan for the entire week. Figure out your schedule with work, workouts, and extra curriculars and see where you can most benefit from meals that are already prepped. Hitting up the 6:40 PM class consistently? Definitely meal prep your dinners, so that by the time you get home all you need to do is reheat your food.
- Batch cook! Prep things like protein and starches in bulk. Add a bunch of chicken to a sheet pan or crock pot and cook enough servings for the entire week. Same with your starches– sweet potatoes, rice, spaghetti squash, etc. These generally take longer to cook and reheat fairly well, so make them ahead of the week to save time.
- Use convenience appliances like a crock pot or instant pot. During your weekend prep you can create entire meals to store in the freezer, then during the week add the meal to your crock pot and let it cook all day. Easy for family dinner nights! Pinterest has A TON of freezer meal ideas.
- Plan for meals that you know you will be eating out. Make meals out special! Spend your time and money wisely and choose places that serve quality food. Rather than grabbing fast food on your lunch break or on your way home from the gym (gasp).
- Choose a method that work for you. Do enjoy cooking dinner for yourself or your family each night? Great! When you do your weekend prepping make a plan for the week ahead and get all the ingredients you need. You can prepare ingredients like washing and chopping vegetables and thawing out protein. Everything will be ready to go each night when you make dinner. Do you know for a fact that you will not cook during the week? Then follow step 1!
I hope this helps! Establishing a healthy meal prep, or nutrition in general for that matter, routine takes some trial and error. You cannot know what will work best for you until you try out different things. You can only benefit from being organized!