October 24th, 2020

Training Matters: Playing through pregnancy

By None on October 19, 2018.

When sport nutrition comes up in conversation we automatically think about professional athletes or university, college or high school athletes. But there are a lot of different kinds of athletes and they will have very different nutrient concerns to consider.

One of these types of athletes that may not first come to mind are athletes who are pregnant. We are seeing more women competing in pregnancy including tennis player Serena Williams and beach volleyball player Kerry Walsh.

Women who regularly exercise and compete prior to pregnancy often can continue to do so during pregnancy. However, this may depend on the type of sport and activity that the athlete is involved with. Contact sports that can place fetus and athlete at risk of injury may be discontinued during pregnancy. The physiological demands of the sport also need to be considered whether safe during pregnancy. Athletes who choose to continue training or compete in sport during pregnancy should speak with their health care provider.

There are some specific sport nutrition recommendations for pregnant athletes to consider.

Hydration is important in pregnancy as thermoregulation improves with pregnancy allowing a woman to sweat at a lower body temperature which can lead to them sweating more heavily. Fluid intake is also important as the pregnant athlete’s body is making amniotic fluid for the baby. Drinking fluids before, during and after activity and regularly choosing fluids throughout the day is a must. Pregnant athletes should aim for 10 cups of fluid to meet their daily needs plus additional fluid to replace sweat losses.

During pregnancy energy needs increase by 350 calories per day in the second trimester and another 100 (for a total of 450 more per day than normal) in the third trimester. Often, pregnant women can add a snack to make up the additional calories but pregnant athletes also need to make sure they are eating enough to replenish the energy they burned exercising. Having regular meals and snacks and eating every two to four hours will be important.

To help make up the extra calories pregnant athletes should include a snack with carbohydrates and protein before and after exercise. For example, a whole grain granola bar, glass of milk and piece of fruit or a peanut butter sandwich, banana and a glass of milk.

There are also important vitamins and minerals that are needed during pregnancy, including calcium, vitamin D, iron and folate. Calcium and vitamin D help keep pregnant woman’s bones strong and also helps build strong bones in the baby. Calcium also helps muscle and nerves to work properly. Drinking at least two cups of milk or fortified soy beverage is recommended each day. Most Canadians do not get enough vitamin D therefore pregnant women should choose a daily prenatal vitamin mineral supplement that contains vitamin D. Including milk at meals or choosing chocolate milk as a recovery drink are easy ways for pregnant athletes to meet their daily intake.

Iron needs are very high during pregnancy as the body makes an extra two kilograms of blood to support growth of baby. Pregnant women need higher amounts of iron to make this extra blood. A pregnant athlete may be at higher risk for having low iron stores especially if they were involved with high intensity endurance training programs causing high iron turnover prior to pregnancy. If a pregnant athlete is concerned about iron stores they should discuss with their health care provider early in their pregnancy. The iron in foods such as meat, poultry and fish are better absorbed than iron from other foods. Choosing foods high in iron along with eating food containing vitamin C can help the body absorb more iron. For example, eating vegetables with meat or having an orange with a bowl of cereal and milk. All pregnant women should also take a prenatal multivitamin that contains iron daily.

Choosing foods high in folate such as whole grain breads, leafy green vegetables, beans, lentils, citrus fruits, juices and cereals along with taking a daily prenatal multivitamin with folic acid is important to help prevent neural tube defects.

Pregnant athletes can ensure the are meeting their increased nutrient needs during pregnancy by eating a variety of foods and regular meals to meet increased energy needs, drink adequate fluids to keep hydrated and take a daily multivitamin that contains folic acid, iron, and vitamin D.

Kimberlee Brooks, RD, MSc, is a sport dietitian with the Alberta Sport Development Centre and can be reached at kbrooks@mhc.ab.ca.

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