We’ve all heard the saying “failing to plan is planning to fail”. With nutrition, it’s no different. Knowing this, my wife and I had everything all planned out when we discovered we were pregnant. We were going to eat a bunch of slow cooked meats, eggs every morning, toss in some organ meat, and get plenty of veggies. And then, reality sunk in. Morning sickness, food aversions, cravings, loss of appetite all showed up…sometimes before breakfast was over!
Needless to say, we got pretty good at running audibles on our nutrition game. But why didn’t we just stick to what we knew what was best? Because, truthfully, what’s best isn’t so cut and dry. In this, the final part of the series, we’ll go over a few concepts to help you navigate these potential pitfalls. Remember, nutrient dense is the goal…but also, “Don’t Be Weird”.
Eating for Two…or 1.1
Despite the title of this series, and the fact that you are growing a human life within you, you don’t actually want to eat for two. Mathematically, that would mean you’d need to double your caloric intake. The reality is, your body doesn’t need much more than you’re already getting. The exact numbers when it comes to increase in caloric intake aren’t clear. Some estimates are as low as 70 extra calories (1) while others suggest adding 300 extra calories (2). Regardless of the exact number, you can see that all you really need to add to your diet is an extra snack. Definitely not double up your portions. What makes up that extra snack is what matters. When pregnant, you want to ensure that you’re taking in food that is as nutrient dense as possible. The old adage of “quality over quantity” rings true here. Your baby is relying on you for its nutrition, but don’t stress too much about this.
It All Works, Until it Doesn’t
When my wife and I were going through our pregnancy, we had every intention to eat only whole, nutrient-dense foods. Slow-cooked meats, leafy green veggies, eggs on eggs on eggs, every day…but then reality set in. For about the first 10 weeks, the smells that would normally get our mouths watering resulted in quite the opposite. So, we had to call an audible. Sometimes, this simply meant heading to Chipotle for a burrito, but other times it meant we were headed to McDonald’s because all she could stomach were some fries from the Golden Arches. Was this the most nutritionally sound choice? Probably not. But we’ve got to zoom out and look at the big picture.
Eating nutrient dense foods just to throw them up results in zero (or very little) caloric intake. So, if your body is needing more calories than normal, but you’re feeding it less, that’s a recipe for disaster over the long term. That being said, we tried to make the most nutritious decisions. We also used the aversions as a chance to check in. If salty french fries sounded good…maybe, we needed to add some salt (3) or starchy carbs (4) to the diet. If a big juicy burger wasn’t making her sick but shredded pork loin was, maybe we needed to add more of a fatty protein to the mix. Though no one knows for sure why cravings and aversions occur, we do know women have been giving birth since forever, and there is likely an evolutionary component to them. Use these as a guide to make future changes.
Do You Mind?
Using your cravings or aversions to guide you is just one component to mindfully eating. But being mindful of your daily nutrition, rather than sticking to a rigorously designed plan, will likely be the key to staying sane during this time in your life. Being mindful just means being present and not ignoring cues your body is giving you. If this scares you, that’s understandable. But, don’t take my word for it. Volumes of research suggests that women, when left to their own devices, will likely choose the more nutritious options (5). You may find that you’re hungry more often during the day; don’t ignore this, as it’s your body telling you it needs to eat. Conversely, you may find that after two bites of breakfast you are full. Again, this might be different than how things used to be, but it’s where your body is now, so don’t ignore it. Using these cues to guide your meal timing, rather than structuring your day in advance, may take some getting used to. One way to avoid all of this is to be prepared. Still make your big ass salads to take for lunch, still batch cook your meals, still set out a rough plan. But, make sure that you’ve got an emergency stash of other foods ready when needed. Fruits, nuts, cheeses, and jerky are great snack foods that can help when hunger strikes.
And just like that, a short forty or so weeks later, you’ve given birth to a beautiful little boy or girl. But now what? Do we jump right back on the Leaning Protocol to get that “pre-baby body” back? That’s a hard no, for a couple of reasons. First, you have a baby now, so the idea of a “pre-baby” anything is illogical. And, you shouldn’t want to be back to your “pre-baby” body, because over the last forty-ish weeks you’ve grown stronger and your body has gone through some amazing changes. So, what should you do? Right now, in what is deemed the “fourth trimester”, your focus should shift to healing and recovering from the most epic event you could put a person through. Though this time of healing may be impacted due to things like a lack of maternal leave, you want to try to build in plenty of time to rest and offload many of your tasks to either family, friends, or your partner. But what should you eat? Well, in short, the same stuff you ate during pregnancy. Animal products, including fish and organ meats, should be a staple of each meal. Bone broths and warm soups are also something that traditionally are leaned upon at this time. Cooked veggies and carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes, rice, and oats, should be plentiful as well. It’s estimated that breastfeeding requires an additional 500 calories, so again practice mindfulness and don’t ignore hunger cues.
Pregnancy is full of challenges and new situations. Regardless if it’s your first child, or you’ve been through it before, each pregnancy is unique. While some of the challenges may be new, the challenge of proper nutrition remains unchanged. But with proper preparation, an intuitive mindfulness, and a set of principles, you will be able to eat your way through pregnancy with little issue. And, if or when things seem to be falling apart, give yourself a breath and remember that this is something that women have been doing since the dawn of time. If there is one thing that you are physically made to do, it’s given birth to a healthy baby. So, embrace your pregnancy and everything that comes with it because, before you know it, you’ll have a little one running around. Then you’ll have to figure out how to fuel their fire…but that’s for another post.
- Ladipo, O. A. (2000). Nutrition in pregnancy: mineral and vitamin supplements. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 72(1), 280S-290S.
- Price, W. A., & Nguyen, T. (2016). Nutrition and physical degeneration: a comparison of primitive and modern diets and their effects. EnCognitive. Com.
- Scaife, P. J., & Mohaupt, M. G. (2017). Salt, aldosterone and extrarenal Na+-sensitive responses in pregnancy. Placenta, 56, 53-58.
- Barbour, L. A., McCurdy, C. E., Hernandez, T. L., Kirwan, J. P., Catalano, P. M., & Friedman, J. E. (2007). Cellular mechanisms for insulin resistance in normal pregnancy and gestational diabetes. Diabetes care, 30(Supplement 2), S112-S119.
- Hutchinson, A. D., Charters, M., Prichard, I., Fletcher, C., & Wilson, C. (2017). Understanding maternal dietary choices during pregnancy: The role of social norms and mindful eating. Appetite, 112, 227-234.
BLOG: Eating for Two with Abandon – Part 2 by Ben Skutnik
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Ben grew up a football player who found his way into a swimming pool. Swimming for four years, culminating in All-American status, at a Division III level, Ben grew to appreciate the effects that various training styles had on performance and decided to pursue the field of Exercise Physiology. After receiving his M.S. from Kansas State University in 2013, Ben moved on to Indiana University - Bloomington to pursue a PhD in Human Performance. While in Bloomington, he spent some time on deck coaching swimming at the club level, successfully coaching several swimmers to the National and Olympic Trials meets. He also served as the primary strength and condition coach for some of the post-graduate Olympians that swam at Indiana University.
Currently, Ben is finishing his PhD while serving a clinical faculty member at the University of Louisville, molding the minds that will be the future of strength and conditioning coaches. He also helps support the Olympic Sports side of the Strength and Conditioning Department there as a sports scientist.
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