On Your Mark, Get Set, Gain! Pregnancy Weight Gain in Runners

Salty

Salty

Salty has written 339 posts on Salty Running.

Mommy, lawyer, runner, writer. Competitive runner working on coming back after baby #3. Legal career on hiatus while staying home with the kids (ages 5, 4 and 1.5). Salty Running boss.

A Positive pregnancy test based on a First Res...

Let the incredible weight gain begin! Image via Wikipedia)

I know. I know. We’ve been talking about race weight and calories and body image a lot these past couple of weeks. Another weight post. I hear you. But this issue is a little different. This one’s all about what happens to that fit body you’ve worked so hard for when you have a bun in the oven.

It might go something like this. You come back from your morning run and something doesn’t feel right. On top of that, you’re late. No, not to a date! The other kind of late. So you head to bathroom and pee on the stick. You wait while staring at the stick, which is trembling along with your hand. Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing … WHAT?! Pink line! And that’s the beginning of the end. Your training will see you again in about nine months to a year and many many many pounds heavier. 

Occasionally I have Dr. Oz on in the background while I clean the kitchen. (Don’t judge!) He often talks about losing weight and he also includes the audience a lot, which I like. In the months I’ve watched this show I’ve noticed that so many women identify pregnancy as the time the weight came on and the point at which they became fat, never to look back.

Dr. Öz at ServiceNation 2008

“I would seriously recommend you step away from the Nutella, pregnant lady!” Image via Wikipedia.

I’ve been lucky that both times I’ve been pregnant I got back to my pre-pregnancy weight within months even after gaining well over the recommended amount of weight both times. I can chalk that up to being a runner, because if I wasn’t I’m pretty sure I’d end up in the Dr. Oz audience mystified why I was so much fatter than I used to be. I’m a big gainer in pregnancy. I gained almost 50 lbs both time (running throughout both), which is well over the recommendations of the American Pregnancy Association.  The APA recommends women in the normal weight range for their heights (according to BMI) gain between 25 and 35 lbs. Women underweight at the time of conception are permitted to gain an extra 5 lbs.

Here I am 3 weeks after my daughter’s birth (with my awesome mother and grandmother). 30-plus pounds heavy (for me) and posted for all the world to see because I love you that much!

When I’ve researched pregnancy weight gain the information doesn’t seem particularly relevant to an athlete. This for instance seems worried that a mother who gains “too much” weight during pregnancy is risking obesity and its complications and recommends everything we pregnant athletes likely already do to avoid the problem: exercise and eat well. I believe the weight advice for pregnant athletes should be different from that for non-athletes for a couple of reasons: 1) athletes are likely to curtail their exercise volume during pregnancy and 2) athletes tend to be leaner than non-athletes of the same weight at the start of pregnancy.

This is pretty close to my leanest and meanest. A little over a year after my daughter’s birth.

Let’s do the math:  Athletes like us runners might still gain well over the recommended weight during pregnancy despite continuing to exercise during pregnancy.  Say you ran 60 miles a week prior to getting pregnant. Say you burn 100 kcal per mile. That means you burn bout 6,000 calories just from running. Now say you run 30 miles a week during your pregnancy. That means you’re burning 3,000 kcal per week from running. You also get 300 kcal per day just for being pregnant, well the last 5-6 months of pregnancy anyway. That means while pregnant you’re burning 3,000 – 5,100 per week versus the 6,000 calories you burned pre-pregnancy. If you’re eating the same as or more than you were before you got pregnant you’re going to gain some weight.

Listen, I had enough of this calorie math stuff last week!

If you gained or are gaining more than the recommended weight while pregnant, you’re in good company. Well, there’s me of course (what? I count!) Ok, a possibly better example, Kara Goucher cut back and ran just 80 miles per week while pregnant and still gained 38 lbs. And remember it’s her job to be fit and run fast and she has networks of coaches, dietitians, doctors, etc. who are there to monitor her and help her do everything she can to stay fit during pregnancy. I imagine those doctors and other professionals do two things for women like her that help tremendously: 1) they tell her how much her body and her baby can take (Kara likely never wondered if those 200 meter repeats or Alter-G workouts might hurt her baby like many of us do after the occasional harder effort); and 2) make it possible for her to run a lot more than us average folks–Alter-G anyone? If she gained 38 lbs, 3 lbs over the recommendations of the American Pregnancy Association, with that kind of help and while running 80 miles a week (which was cutting back for her) it’s no wonder that many of us amateurs working without those kinds of resources gain considerably more.

A healthy Kara Goucher shortly after the birth of her son, Colt. Image via Competitor.com

On top of exercising less, we often start out far leaner than our nonathlete counterparts of the same weight. The weight gain recommendations are based on BMI which is a ratio of our weights to our heights. My BMI at my thinnest is well within the “healthy” range, while my body fat % is very low. But because my BMI does not indicate I was underweight at conception I don’t get the bonus lbs someone with a below normal BMI would get. Does that make sense? Many athletes report gaining a lot of weight during the first trimester when most nonathletes gain less than 5 lbs. I gained 20 lbs in 20 weeks the first time. My midwife advised me that I was gaining too much. I cried. I sobbed. I had a complex for weeks. I couldn’t look at the scale after that or I’d lose it.

The second time I gained 27 lbs in 20 weeks. My midwife was fine with it that time because I had a healthy pregnancy before and gained a lot and I lost it all in 6 months. She said that I’m just a big gainer and as long as there are no complications (like gestational diabetes) and I have no trouble getting back to prepregnancy weight to not give it a second thought. Ha! Easier said than done. I am now 20 weeks and despite running 45-50 miles per week for the past few weeks I’m still up 16 lbs. I’m not gaining at quite the rate I did the other two times, but I’m still on a trajectory that should see me gaining beyond the recommended amount for my BMI. But I eat well and I’m exercising. And I’m trying not to worry about it this time knowing that for me and many female athletes that’s just how it goes.

2 years after daughter’s birth and 18 weeks pregnant with our third!

How much weight did you gain while pregnant? If you gained more than the recommended amount how did your doctor and you handle it? How long did it take you to get back into your old jeans?

 

Check out my other posts on running and pregnancy:

What to Expect from Running When You’re Expecting: 1st Trimester

What to Expect from Running When You’re Expecting: 2nd Trimester

What to Expect from Running When You’re Expecting: 3rd Trimester

Racing While Pregnant

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30 Responses to “On Your Mark, Get Set, Gain! Pregnancy Weight Gain in Runners”

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  1. Michelle says:

    With my three pregnancies I was lucky to gain the recommended amount each time. I was also lucky enough to be able to work out during each of those pregnancies, even with my twins. I just went into each pregnancy with the same healthy habits I had before. With my twins I only gained thirty pounds, but I was so sick in the beginning that I lost 8 pounds. I also had them at 36 weeks.

  2. Mint says:

    I was never sick during my pregnancies and gained about 40 pounds each time. I never worried about it too much though at the time. I knew lots of friends that gained 60 or more and dropped them all quickly post-partum, so I always assumed it would work out fine. The funny thing was that way back then (10-12 years ago), doctors and well-meaning friends recommended against running, saying that raising your heart rate too much would harm the baby. I remember getting admonished for doing some landscaping in the heat! So I just walked daily during my pregnancies. It would be very different no doubt if I were having my kids now.

  3. Jen B. says:

    I gained the recommended amount – I think 28 pounds. I gained it really quickly, like 10 pounds in first 6 weeks! Another 10 a few weeks later, but then it just really slowed down. I think our bodies just know what they want/need. I was sure I would gain 70lbs based on my first trimester! Of course, my doctor didn’t care because she thought I was too thin to begin with (MUST FIND DOCTOR WHO UNDERSTANDS RUNNERS). It took me a long time to get back into my regular jeans only because I assumed I wouldn’t fit. I was still wearing pregnancy jeans until my mom said, “Jen you are swimming in those jeans. They just look bad. Go back to your old jeans.” She was right. The old ones fit!

    • Salty Salty says:

      You tall people seem to not have this problem as much as us shorties. Darn you tall people! Haha. I’m sure that had a lot to do with your amazingly quick turn-around and super-fantastic post-baby marathon just 8ish months post-partum. It takes me that long just to get back down to normal weight and then I gotta get in running shape on top of that! Hopefully I can gain just 40 or less lbs this time and it won’t be quite so bad. If not, oh well. Got my entire life to get back in shape :) Love the jeans story! I’m the opposite trying them on once a week for months until they finally fit. What a triumphant feeling!

  4. Ginger Ginger says:

    This post in no way applies to me and yet I found it very informative! I think you should study your hypothesis!

  5. Tara says:

    Well at 29 weeks I am up 20-25 lbs depending on if I weigh in at the doctors or at my normal time of day in the fitness center! Of course the doctor’s is always higher. Unfortunately my running has been pretty much nonexistant the last month or so and I can feel all 20 of those lbs going straight to my thighs, which is were I lost the majority of my weight from marathon training. I’m interested to see what the next 11 weeks bring!

  6. Jessica says:

    I love this article! I was freaking out because I am only 6 weeks and I gained 12 lbs already! I gained 12 lbs on top of running about 55 miles last week (I didn’t know I was pregnant last week!) We have been trying for a while so I wouldn’t care if I gained 100 lbs and I had to work it off (but obviously I would prefer to gain 1/4 of that). I was quite worried since everything I have found online says 1-2 lbs in the 1st 6 wks so I wasn’t sure what was happening! Hopefully I will continue to run (not as hard as I was) and the weight gain will slow down!

  7. Kelly says:

    Thank you!!! I’m just like you, an athlete who cut back on her running, but has gained 21lbs in 19 weeks, I about panicked (sp??) when I saw the scale this morning! While I still think I’m going to have a chat w/ my doctor, I’m seeing this is probably okay and NORMAL for an athlete.

    …Now I can sleep tonite.

    Thanks again!

    • Salty Salty says:

      Congrats, Kelly! You’re in good company and it’s ok. Just eat right and keep on exercising as much as you can and are comfortable doing and trust your body to do what it needs to do. Good luck!!!

  8. Jessica says:

    I’m so glad I came across this article. I was running 50-60 miles a week when I found out I was pregnant. Despite running and eating healthy I actually gained about 10 lbs about 2 weeks before I got pregnant and then gained another 10 in first 6 weeks. I’m 5’4 and weighed 130 lbs which is my ideal race weight. I was doing a lot of interval and speed workouts trying to get ready for Wharf-To-Wharf and still gained the weight then. By the time I took a pregnancy test I already weighed 147 lbs even after running a hard 60 miles the week before. The upside is I went up to 150-153 lbs and have stayed there weeks 5-10 so at least I’m not still gaining at that rate, but I was flipping out since everything online says I should be gaining 1 lb per week in the first trimester. I was 152 at my first Dr. appointment and he said I should expect to gain 20-30 lbs more, but he was basing that off of my 152 lb weight… I’m glad to see it isn’t just me. I’m running 20-30 miles per week right now, but it is harder since I usually run in the morning and now I feel sick in the mornings and it is hot in the afternoon.

    • Salty Salty says:

      I hear you, Jessica! It’s so hard to pry yourself out of bed to run early when pregnant and the heat is killer. Hopefully the fall will fix half of that problem for you :) I gained similarly to you during all my pregnancies. I gained more during the first half of my second pregnancy than the second! As I told Kelly all we can do is eat well, exercise and trust that our bodies will make a nice healthy baby. Good luck and congrats!!!!

  9. Melissa says:

    SO glad I found this!! I have been freaking out every time I weigh in at the doctor’s office. I’ve been gaining so much faster than my non-running friends. This put my heart at ease. Although, I’ve definitely backed off some, I’m still getting in fairly good runs/workouts throughout the week. It wasn’t making sense to me. . . until now. :)

  10. Anna says:

    I am 22 weeks, gained 40-45 lbs. I do 3 hours cardio and 2.5 hours weights per week. Eat vegan. I haven’t been able to run since 16 weeks. My goal is to be my pre pregnancy size and run a 10k by 4 months after birth.

    • Salty Salty says:

      Wow! I think the 10k is a great goal 4 months out, but don’t pressure yourself too much with the weight. Especially if you plan to nurse, it’s really important to not restrict your calories and loose the weight too fast. I am 11 weeks post-partum and still have 15-20 lbs. to loose despite being back up to 40+ miles per week. It’s not always easy and sometimes I get pretty down about still having to wear maternity clothes and feeling “so fat” but it really is very very temporary even if it takes longer than we want for all the weight to come off. Whether it takes 4 months, 9 months or a year, does it really matter in the long run? I would say it’s not worth making yourself miserable to get it off aggressively quickly when it will just come off easily a few months later just by living your life. At least that’s what I tell myself :) Best of luck with your pregnancy!!!

  11. Kelly says:

    I just found this post on Google and it really helped put me at ease. I’m pregnant with #1, a runner, and am finding the gaining of weight difficult to deal with, mentally. I’ve been running here and there and terrified to go on the scale and see the number. I’m only 16 weeks at this point and I’m looking to find the right path to help get me through the end as I still have a ways left to go. I like your perspective on pregnancy weight gain! Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Jamie says:

      This is such a great post! I’ve gained 13 lbs at 20 weeks and was above my normal weight when I got pregnant. I had medical issues that prevented me from running until week 12, I started again and then had more problems at week 18 and will probably have to quit for the rest of the pregnancy. It’s killing me!!

      • Salty Salty says:

        Congrats, Jamie! It’s really hard to gain so much and it’s hard when the weight is still lingering 5.5 months out, not that I’m going through that right now or anything (*sigh*) But you and I are in good company and it’s all well worth it and best of all, temporary! Hang in there and keep us posted on how your pregnancy and your postpartum comeback go!!!

        PS Small world! I got a degree from the school in your email addy :)

  12. Anna says:

    Thank you for this post! I didn’t realize how important my body image was to me until now, and I’ve been freaking out a bit… (i found your post by googling “freaking out about pregnancy weight gain”, lol.) Only 15 weeks pregnant with my first and have already gained 10 lbs :P Not to mention the bloaty belly that makes me look 6 mos along! I was so nauseous and exhausted for a few weeks I wasn’t doing any running at all. just getting back into it now but whereas before I was loving a 25k trail run it’s now a victory if i can walk/jog 5km, ugh! Anyways thanks for the reassuring post and I’m already daydreaming about pushing a new running partner in the baby jogger:)

    • Salty Salty says:

      I gained 27 pounds in the first 20 weeks of my second pregnancy so I know that freaking out feeling well :) I was in the best shape of my life within a year of her birth, so it’s just temporary. I hope you enjoy a healthy happy pregnancy despite a little more weight than you’d like!

  13. Jamie says:

    I found your posts/blog by chance and what an inspiration and relief! You look amazing!

    What would your advice be to fellow pregnant runners who have a lower mileage per week (15miles/wk) but want to increase it? I use to be an avid runner, but took up cycling due to a hip injury last spring.

    I find the thing keeping my mileage low isn’t lack of experience or cardiovascular endurance – it’s the heat, morning sickness and wanting to pee 24/7.

    • Salty Salty says:

      I’m not sure I would increase mileage while pregnant. I generally would limit the volume of exercise to at most what I was doing when I got pregnant or around that time. I think you could safely swap some of your cycling time for running if you want, but I wouldn’t do more exercise overall than you were before you got pregnant. I would also listen to your body. If you’re not feeling it, don’t push it. There’s a reason for it, I think. You can push it later. Just do what comes naturally and that makes you feel good now. Definitely know that plenty of women runners have cut back or not run through most of their pregnancy and came back fitter and faster than ever! Congrats on the pregnancy and enjoy it! Keep us posted on how it goes!

  14. Anne says:

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts on weight gain during pregnancy. I am a runner who used to average about 40 miles per week pre-pregnancy. I am pregnant with my first child and I seem to have the opposite problem that you experienced. I just had my 32 wk checkup and have only gained 2.5 lbs so far. The baby is just the right size, but my doctor says I need to start eating a bit more. I have been continuing to average about 25-30 miles per week running. I have been eating more, but just not gaining much. Has anyone else had this problem? I hope it is not something to worry about. I don’t want to stop running and it is difficult for me to eat more than I already do.

  15. Hayley says:

    I run 8 miles a day most days alternating between 2 spinning classes per day. Still manage to gain alot in pregnancy (did the 1st time too) lost it all in a month without a diet. My theory is Athletic people are very low body fat or lower and to grow a baby your body doesn’t like it. I don’t eat unhealthy in fact quite the opposite. Too healthy at times. I don’t weigh myself anymore. Too upsetting. I am all bump and can still get my bottoms on just can’t do them up. I am 6 months and do not feel tired from it. I am just slower. I crave more fruit than anything. Regardless of weight I know I am training my body and eating healthy. I have spent too long being down about it! These weight charts are just a guide not a rule.

  16. Jennie E. says:

    Great post! I’m currently 21 weeks pregnant and have pretty much stopped my running routine as it’s way to hot in FL in the summer and honestly…just…uncomfortable. I do take the dog walking for 1 or 2 miles every day, and try to do the elliptical at the gym. I plan on returning to my 30-40 mpw as soon as I can/am able to. I think runners start off a lot smaller than non runners, and are usually under where their body naturally is weight wise…therefore you gain more in the beginning.

  17. Jen says:

    Thank you for this post. I’m an avid runner and I’ve cut back to 20-25 miles a week, down from like 30-40 miles a week. I’m 15 weeks and have gained like 10 lbs already. I started to freak out when I saw the number on the scale, because I’ve been eating pretty healthy and of course running. I just really don’t want to put on too much weight, but what you said in the post makes sense. I started to track my food intake, and I’m hitting about 2K calories a day with lots of protein, so I think I’m ok. I’ll take the gain with a grain of salt and keep on running!

  18. Claudia says:

    Hi! I was curious to know if any of you had a c-section and how long after a c-section could you start running. Expecting baby #3, with 2 previous c-sections, 19 weeks. Beginner runner, just started 2 weeks before pregnancy (unplanned, of course) and I have kept running since am feeling great (15 miles per week)

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