Triathlon training during pregnancy is one of the biggest unknowns a woman faces when she discovers she is pregnant.
There are a lot of questions that remain answered and sometimes a lot of confusion prevails.
Is It Dangerous To Train For Triathlon During Pregnancy?
The short answer is “no”- many of you will be pleased to hear!
There are plenty of women who continue to do triathlon training during pregnancy all the way up to the day of the baby’s arrival. Watch how much training and racing this one mom did throughout her pregnancies.(sound is up and down but the message is clear)
There are also plenty of women who are back racing at a high level within just a few months of giving birth.
Beth Gerdes raced Ironman triathlon 4 months after giving birth.
Ironmom Gina Crawford won her Ironman distance title 6 months after giving birth.
Ironman champion Kate Major trained all the way through her pregnancy and found that wearing a compression shirt gave her bump extra support.
Gillian Clayton run all the way through her pregnancy and competed in Vancouver triathlon at 34 weeks pregnant.
So there is hope for us all that we can carry on. And there is evidence that triathlon training during pregnancy is actually good for your health and that of your baby. But as with all things pregnancy related, it will be different of every one and it may even be different for you in different pregnancies.
Triathlon Training During Pregnancy: Let’s start at the beginning:
What if I’m a triathlete trying to conceive?
If you are trying to conceive, moderate exercise has been shown to boost fertility.
It enhances insulin function, blood flow to the organs and overall hormonal health. Good news!
Keep training- just don’t be too extreme. Eat well, sleep well and focus on being happy, positive and in control of your life.
If you do have very low body weight and very low fat composition, you may think about adding a little weight as low percentage body fat makes conception more difficult.
So if you are very lean, it is time to allow yourself to come up a little higher than race weight to make conception easier.
The change does not have to be significant. Ie do not go from under weight to overweight.
Even a change of a few % body fat can make a massive difference in ease of conception.
Equally being overweight can lead to problems becoming pregnant. Just focus on being healthy.
Triathlon Training During the 1st Trimester
OK-congratulations- you are pregnant! In the old days you would be put to bed and told not to move.
Nowadays we know this is the worst advice-ever.
Exercise creates a wealth of health benefits for both mother and baby.
The best advice for triathlon training during pregnancy is to carry on doing what you would normally do but to listen to your body.
Most women will find their body is the boss now- and even if they wish to go out and pound the pavements, they may have a few days where their body just has overwhelming fatigue!
So rest when you need to rest and exercise when you feel like it.
Exercise will help prevent gestational diabetes, reduce muscle cramps, enhance cardiovascular fitness, reduce stress, help you sleep better, prevent urinary incontinence and prevent undue weight gain.
Exercise is not a proven cause of miscarriage. Triathlon training during pregnancy is absolutely fine. So don’t think you need to stop altogether. Just rest when you need to rest, keep moving and if you are feeling great then do your normal training.
What most women find is they are forced to slow down a bit simply because of hormonal changes, nausea and extreme fatigue.
So if this happens to you, listen to your body, continue to focus on eating well, and getting more rest.
You are growing another human being inside you who is hungry for your resources and will zap more energy from you than an Ironman triathlon!
Pay special attention to your nutrition.
The growing baby has a voracious appetite so look to supply him/her with as much healthy food as possible from a wide range of healthy fruit and vegetables and lean protein from good sources.
Eat organic if possible and ditch rubbish calories and junk food. It is a good idea to take supplements for pregnant women containing all the vitamins and minerals you require including folic acid which prevents spinal defects in new babies.
Look to reduce caffeine to less than 200mg a day as this crosses the placenta and is not great for the growing fetus. Check the caffeine levels in your gels, blocks and drinks and reduce these.
Also avoid unpasteurized cheeses, raw fish and meat due to increased risk of harmful bacteria. Check the source of any fish you do eat as some of them contain harmful level of mercury, which can be toxic to the nervous system.
It is best to avoid extremes: like extreme heat, extreme cold and extremely hard sessions. If you feel overwhelming fatigue, have a day off or reduce your intensity. If you do feel pain, shortness of breath, get vaginal bleeding or stomach cramps, obviously stop.
Triathlon Training During Pregnancy: The 2nd Trimester
For many women, their energy levels take a boost now. Much of the nausea and extreme fatigue will have passed now and you should be able to resume a fairly normal routine.
The second trimester is an important time for fetal growth. Your heart works 40% harder during this time to pump extra blood round the body.
Exercises is good for the fetus, encouraging blood flow and oxygen to the little one. As always listen to your body, and slow down or reduce the intensity if you feel ill, or have any cramping. Your food intake will be increasing and you will start to put on weight. (This is normal- don’t freak out!)
On average you may require an extra 350 calories and 20 grams protein.
Also pay attention to your fluids and make sure you are getting plenty of water. Some women find incorporating pregnancy yoga a helpful way to prepare their body for giving birth and is a good way the mentally de-stress.
Triathlon Training During Pregnancy: The 3rd Trimester
Your body shape will be rapidly changing. You will notice an increase in pelvic pressure, your center of gravity changes and you may have some back pain.
Your hormones will be changing in preparation for the birth. Hormones such as relaxin and estrogen trigger remodelling of soft tissues and will make some of your skeletal joints slightly unstable and increase the risk of falls, stress fractures and sprained ankles. So pay attention to uneven surfaces or running in the dark as the most important thing is to stay safe.
Many women find triathlon training during pregnancy may start to become very uncomfortable during this time. So if this is the case for you, look to switch your activity to more comfortable ones like the elliptical trainer or swimming rather than running and biking. Here are some tips on other types of exercise for the 3rd trimester.
You may notice a return to fatigue as the pregnancy progresses and generally feeling a bit more achy. Always respect your body and do what you feel like.
Listen to your body, you may need to reduce volume or intensity but there is no evidence to cease training.
Many women from all disciplines train right up to the day before giving birth. Keep your nutrition healthy. Your energy requirements continue to increase keep giving your self enough protein, calories and fluids…
When Can I Resume Triathlon Training After Pregnancy?
Whilst the general consensus is 6-8 weeks after birth, keep in mind this may differ for you.
Remember every women’s body is different, every birth experience is different.
Do not race back too soon, if you do not feel ready and do not put pressure on yourself to get back in a certain deadline.
If your body is not ready, do not feel “behind” or a failure if you need 10 weeks or longer before you are back.
Each birth is different and some are quite traumatic-so discuss with your doctors and midwives your particular situation.
Ask your midwife or physical therapist about pelvic floor exercises to make sure you reduce your risk of urinary incontinence.
Again it is best to leave running until last. You will be able to start water exercises first, and walking and floor exercises. So make sure you tone up your midsection and that your pelvic floor muscles are strong before you pound the pavements.
Take the baby with you in a running stroller and look out for new mum’s classes where you can bring the baby in a pram and exercise together with other mums.
Remember to mentally be kind to yourself. This is a special time so do not beat yourself up. If you have a day where you feel fat, frumpy and lethargic, go out and buy a lovely dress.
Keep socialising, chatting to friends, training when you can and remember you are not sick!
You are having a baby!
Know that if you kept up most of your triathlon training during pregnancy, you will be back to normal in a few months so try to be grateful for this time now.
Triathlon Performance After The Birth
Once you are fully recovered and have got used to having a baby, your athletic performance afterwards should be the same or better than before.
Many women find they are now experts in time management, in being efficient and getting things done.
There is some evidence that women who have given birth become better athletes- due to having found new mental powers, having been to a place where they had to control a whole new world of pain and discovered in themselves a lot of mental and physical power they never knew they had.
Maybe you can train harder?
Maybe you deal with mental challenges better?
Maybe you now know your body can take a whole lot more punishment than you knew before and come back stronger?
Paula Radcliffe (world record holding marathon runner) had sustained athletic success after the birth of her first child.
Evidence is suggesting the rib cage may expand during pregnancy, which assist an athlete’s breathing. Also the heart is remodelled- the chamber capacity increases enabling it to hold much larger volume of blood. This increases the efficiency with which oxygen is supplied to the muscles (the same mechanism induced by blood doping). The heart should therefore function more effectively until it returns to its former state.
Jo Pavey won her first European gold medal in 10,000m 11 months after giving birth.
So do not think that this is the end of your athletic career.
Do what feels good for you. You may surprise yourself!
Keep a triathlon training journal and track your training through your pregnancy.
As every mother knows, having a baby is hard work. All your training will come in handy during pregnancy and afterwards.
You need a ton of mental toughness
You need amazing stamina
Your fitness and strength will help you get through labor easier
Exercise will help decrease pregnancy pains
So overall experiment with what is right for you. Discuss with your midwife, doctor and fitness professionals but most of all listen to your body.
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