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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: