It’s the best of time; it’s the worst of times. Yes, we’re referring to pregnancy. While it is truly a privilege to bring forth a life into this world, those 9 months your little guest spent cosily tucked away in your womb were far from easy.
From the pain, to the morning sickness and feeling of lethargy, pregnancy can take a toll on you, especially when you are trying to maintain a normal workout schedule. But does that mean that they don’t mix? Not at all. Many of today’s successful female athletes continued to work out at an intensity mirroring that of their pre-pregnancy days, and went on to have healthy pregnancies and bouncing babies.
So where do you start? Like any sensible plan that helps you achieve your physique goals, diet needs to remain a central tenet for success. Specific nutritional requirements often open up (and by that we mean, frequently larger portions are necessary), making it important for you to take the necessary steps to fortify your diet, often times by well-timed supplementation.
Wondering which supplements are best for you and the baby developing in your womb? Let’s take a look at them now.
Also known as vitamin B9 in the olden days, folic acid isn’t often discussed nowadays outside of its importance to the developing foetus during pregnancy. In reality, folic acid possesses an important dual function for both the baby and the athletic/physique goals of the mother, at this time and even when not pregnant.
During pregnancy, ensuring sufficient consumption of folic acid helps to reduce the likelihood of neural tube defects occurring[i] (which affect healthy development of the brain and spinal cord), help prevent spina bifida, and significantly reduce the possibility of congenital heart defects developing[ii].
It is important to start supplementing with folic acid the moment you find out you are pregnant, as it is of greatest benefit during the first trimester of pregnancy. Ideally, even before you find out you are pregnant if you are actively trying to conceive.
When it comes to helping you stay fit during pregnancy, folic acid supports healthy protein synthesis and DNA replication, important steps to accruing lean muscle mass. Plus, it also assists with amino acid and carbohydrate metabolism[iii], meaning that your body uses these macros more efficiently.
If you are trying to avoid gaining an immense amount of extra fat during pregnancy, folic acid can be considered best in class for both you and your baby.
During pregnancy, it is recommended most often to consume about 1mg folic acid daily, although adverse effects aren’t usually observed at higher doses than this (up to the point of about 15mg).
Women intricately know the importance of iron, especially since it is lost in blood monthly as part of their menstrual cycle. This is why supplementation is important in women, far more so that it is in men.
When a woman becomes pregnant, however, the need for exogenous iron is increased even further. Sure, menstrual bleeding stops for the duration of pregnancy, but in turn the need is increased owing to the fact that a child is developing within the womb.
During pregnancy, the body uses a large amount of iron in the production of blood cells and other cellular components for the unborn child, while simultaneously still being necessary for the health and wellbeing of the mother.
This is why fatigue is extremely common during pregnancy, notwithstanding the fact that carrying around an extra 10 kg or more is a burden in its own right.
Supplemental iron will also go a far way in helping to ensure that you are capable of completing your workouts[iv]- both resistance and aerobic varieties, without feeling winded or compromising oxygen delivery to your precious on-board cargo.
A woman’s blood volume increases 30 to 50 percent during pregnancy, so it should make sense that you need to consume additional nutrition to assist with the synthesis of blood.
Most prenatal formulations supply about 15-17 mg iron per serving, though pregnant women require closer to 27 mg daily[v]. For this reason, and after discussion with your physician, a recommendation of an iron based supplement is fairly common. Good ones supply between 24 and 30 mg per pill.
It’s surprising when you find out that most people have never heard of raspberry leaf before, especially since it was very popular in Europe a few centuries ago, possessing proven benefits towards a healthy pregnancy.
In non-pregnant women, raspberry leaf is said to help alleviate symptoms of PMS, acting as a natural pelvic muscle tonic (Kegels anyone?) that alleviate abdominal cramping. This can be of great benefit if you experience severe PMS symptoms that impair your ability to hit the gym,
In addition to this, is its more specific utility during pregnancy. Although used mainly in the late second and throughout the third trimesters of pregnancy, it can also be employed during the first trimester to reduce nausea and vomiting; better known as morning sickness.
When consumed during the third trimester, it has been associated with a reduced incidence of complications during labour, such as the need for forceps assistance, and pre or post-term labour[vi].
In like manner, there have been findings which point to it helping reduce how long labour lasts[vii], which is highly desirable as no woman wants to spend longer in excruciating labour pain.
While not specifically beneficial to you while pregnant, it has excellent galactagogue properties-helping to stimulate breast milk flow. This may be helpful if you’ve just had your first child and experiencing problems with lactation.
Plus, fenugreek use at this time can help you get back in shape faster if you plan to hit the gym again as soon as you can, since it assists with improved blood glucose control, and even helps to suppress your appetite. This way, you’ll be back to beach body approved in no time!
Pregnancy is sometimes considered uncharted waters when it comes to staying fit, but in general, as long as you do not try to go excessively hard at this time, it is a great idea to stay physically active. Supplements to help fortify your nutritional needs are especially important at this time, especially when it comes to iron and folic acid.
Later on, recruiting the help of raspberry leaf to promote trouble free delivery of your now bouncing baby, and then fenugreek to stimulate copious breast milk production and a rapid return to form for you, and you’ve rounded out a solid squad for before, during and after pregnancy.
[i] Imbard A, Benoist JF, Blom HJ. Neural tube defects, folic acid and methylation. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2013;10(9):4352–4389. Published 2013 Sep 17. doi:10.3390/ijerph10094352
[ii] Mao B, Qiu J, Zhao N, et al. Maternal folic acid supplementation and dietary folate intake and congenital heart defects. PLoS One. 2017;12(11):e0187996. Published 2017 Nov 16. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0187996
[iii] Kim YN, Hwang JH, Cho YO. The effects of exercise training and acute exercise duration on plasma folate and vitamin B12. Nutr Res Pract. 2016;10(2):161–166. doi:10.4162/nrp.2016.10.2.161
[iv] Houston BL, Hurrie D, Graham J, et alEfficacy of iron supplementation on fatigue and physical capacity in non-anaemic iron-deficient adults: a systematic review of randomised controlled trialsBMJ Open 2018;8:e019240. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-019240
[v] Brannon PM, Taylor CL. Iron Supplementation during Pregnancy and Infancy: Uncertainties and Implications for Research and Policy. Nutrients. 2017;9(12):1327. Published 2017 Dec 6. doi:10.3390/nu9121327
[vi] Parsons M, Simpson M, Ponton T. Raspberry leaf and its effect on labour:safety and efficacy. Aust Coll Midwives Inc J. 1999 Sep;12(3):20-5. PubMed PMID: 10754818.
[vii] Simpson M, Parsons M, Greenwood J, Wade K. Raspberry leaf in pregnancy: its safety and efficacy in labor. J Midwifery Womens Health. 2001 Mar-Apr;46(2):51-9. PubMed PMID: 11370690