Second Trimester Fitness and Nutrition
As a trainer I have trained many pregnant clients through their entire pregnancies, but I have never experienced the joys and challenges of pregnancy firsthand…until now.
Influenced by my knowledge of training others and now with my own firsthand experience these are my thoughts on having a healthy and fit second trimester of pregnancy. It’s important to keep in mind that every pregnancy is different, and this information is based on my own experience.
The second trimester of pregnancy is the period between week 13 through week 28. It is often referred to as the “honeymoon phase” of the pregnancy. For most people the annoying symptoms of the first trimester have ceased, and you have a cute little belly, but you are not as big and uncomfortable as most people are in the third trimester. I have definitely felt like I was in the honeymoon phase of this trimester.
The recommend weight gain in the second trimester is 1-2 pounds a week (15-30lbs). I have gained a total of 20lbs in the second trimester which is on track with recommendations. My total weight gain thus far has been 25lbs. I am at the top end of the normal recommended weight gain at this point.
In the second trimester the recommendation is to increase regular calorie intake by 300 calories. Although you do need to eat more in the second trimester, it is only by 300 calories which is not much at all.
Below is an example of snacks that our 300 calories:
- A peanut butter and jelly sandwich
- 28 almonds
- 3 hard boiled eggs
- 3 cups of grapes
- 1 cup of broccoli with a ¼ cup of ranch dressing
- A serving of tortilla chips and 1 TBSP of guacamole
- 1 large cookie
- 1 cup of ice cream
You would be eating appropriately for your second trimester if you just added one of these snacks to your normal eating consumption. You are definitely not eating for two during pregnancy.
In the second trimester I continued having no food aversions (although I can’t say the same for toothpaste haha). I also had no real food cravings. The only thing I noticed in regard to my appetite was that I continued to need to eat more frequently. I would definitely get very hungry if it had been 4 hours since the last time I ate.
In the first trimester, I struggled with eating too many calories because I was struggling giving up my pre-pregnancy eating style of fewer bigger meals, so adding my pregnancy snacking to my larger meals easily pushed me over my calorie limit. This problem resolved itself in the second trimester because I increased my calories by 300 calories (1500 to 1800) and I my growing uterus created less room in my stomach, so it was easier to not eat large meals in one sitting. If I ate a large meal, I would become physically very uncomfortable.
I tried to eat 1800 calories every day. For the most part I found it easy to stick to 1800 calories. There were days that I did have some splurges and went over, but it wasn’t everyday. Towards the end of my second trimester I felt like the 1800 calories was leaving me regularly hungry, so I did increase my calorie count to 2000 calories in the last several weeks of the second trimester.
My second trimester included the holidays and a babymoon in Paris, so I am very happy with my 20lb weight gain. If I wasn’t paying attention to my food intake, I could have easily gained much more weight.
I can see how many women gain excessive weight during pregnancy, especially in the second trimester. First of all, your belly is very cute, and you feel beautiful showing it off, no more sucking it in or spanx. Also, all of your clothes are spandex so you rarely feel uncomfortable in your clothes, like you would if you gained 5lbs and wore your regular jeans.
I think the one of the biggest culprits that encourages excessive weight gain during pregnancy is our cultural mindset that this is the one time in your life to eat whatever you want. Starting around adolescents, thinking and maybe even obsessing about your weight and food intake has been a constant for most women. Whether they have been continually yoyo dieting or avoiding certain foods for decades in order to keep their figure, pregnancy is the first time their weight gain is not only socially acceptable but encouraged. This is enough to open the flood gates for most women and they take full advantage of eating all those forbidden foods and indulging every craving.
I was not only concerned about the quantity of food I was eating, I also paid attention to the quality of the food I was eating. Everything you eat goes to your growing baby, quite literally what you eat is building your baby’s intricate body. Also, your baby’s little taste buds are formed and as they consume your animatic fluid, they get some flavors of the types of foods you are consuming. In research it is shown that babies after birth do prefer foods that their mothers ate during pregnancy. If you want your baby to have a taste for a variety of healthy foods, you need a variety of healthy foods.
It was helpful to think about developing my baby’s palate when I was choosing foods. Whenever I actively thought about what I wanted to feed the baby I made healthier food choices. I was not always perfect in my eating, I definitely consumed some soda, nachos, and Swedish Fish in my second trimester, which is ok as well. I think it is very easy to adopt a fatalistic mindset in pregnancy. Every little thing you do that isn’t ideal, you construct a story about how you harmed the baby. In my opinion excessive stress and worry is probably more harmful to your baby than an occasional treat.
I felt much less fatigue in my second trimester so working out became much easier. Also my boobs were far less sore in the second trimester, compared to the first, so I was even able to jog a little.
Because I was feeling much better my biggest focus for my second trimester fitness was continuing my exercise routine regularly but also making sure I was not pushing myself too much.
Exercise during pregnancy is great for mom and baby, but it’s not the case that more is more. You can definitely do too much, working out too hard during pregnancy can cause adverse effects.
This is important to keep in mind especially with the rise of fit pregnancy Instagram influencers. Some of the incorrect messages you see as you scroll are that we should be pushing ourselves just as hard, if not harder, during pregnancy in order to be fit during and get that unrealistic 48-hour body bounce back after labor.
Studies on pregnant women, especially when it can involve potential adverse side effects, creates ethical complications so we don’t have too much data when it comes to human pregnancy. No one would sign up for a research study that could potentially harm their precious baby. Therefore, most of what we know in terms of pregnancy research comes from animals, such as rats.
First let’s focus on the benefits of exercise, Korean scientists did run a study of the effects of prenatal exercise on the brains of baby rats. In this study the pregnant rats ran on a treadmill at a moderate pace for 30 minutes a day. After giving birth the babies of mothers who moderately exercised had better memories than their peers born to sedentary mothers. This was due to increased cell production in the offspring of exercising mothers. Memory is the foundation of intelligence. By this measure baby rats whose mothers exercise really are more intelligent. These findings are backed up by numerous other studies. It is very clear that exercise is encourage during pregnancy.
On the flip side, researchers have also connected too much exercise with significant drawbacks. When a pregnant mother’s heartrate rises, it reduces blood and oxygen flow to the main uterine artery that nourishes the placenta. This results in a reduction in fetal body movements and an increase in fetal heart rate for about twenty minutes. Fetuses cannot sweat, like their mothers, so their little bodies begin to store heat. None of this is dangerous in moderation but could have dangerous side effects when pushed too far.
During another rat study, expectant moms are forced to swim two hours daily 6 days a week. This proves to be too much exercise for the expectant rats. Their babies had significant drawbacks compared to those born to mothers who exercised moderately. Bootcamp moms bore pups with low birth weights. In one experiment, their mothers were so physically stressed that 19% died in lactation, and over 50% killed and ate their pups. Even more shocking is that these negative side effects even continued into their grandchildren. They were born with low birth weights and grew slowly, even though their own parents had relaxed lives. The trauma echoed on through the generations.
Basic guidelines on pregnancy and exercise suggest that pregnant women don’t let their heart rates rise above 140 beats a minute. Why they chose 140 beats is because that is around an average women’s anabolic threshold (when you switch from predominantly burning fat to carbs). As a fitness professional I agree you should stay below your anabolic threshold during pregnancy, but I prefer to use the talk test to a specific heartbeat number. The only way to get an accurate threshold number is to go to a sports lab and run on a treadmill with all the tubes and wires. The common equation that is used to find people’s threshold number does not consider a person’s physical conditioning which makes it wildly inaccurate.
The talk test is a more accurate measurement. Simply put, the talk test means that you should be able to talk during exercise, talking is defined by stringy several words together. If you are fully out of breath, then you are over your anabolic threshold. So as long as you can talk to your neighbor you are working out moderately and appropriately for pregnancy.
For my pregnancy workouts I continued going to orange theory. I was going about 4 times a week vs my 5-6 pre-pregnancy routine. I was able to continue my lifting as normal, although I did lift at a slower pace and did not try to max out on my weights. Based on the above research I did limit my cardio. For the most part I walked at an incline, I would slowly jog for small intervals 30-90 seconds. If I ever felt like I was getting too winded I would pull back on my intensity. When it comes to fitness intensity try to avoid that sneaky fatalistic attitude, just because you push yourself a little too hard once doesn’t mean you baby is doomed.
The other modification I made during my workouts was during my core exercises. A common issue during and especially after pregnancy is diastasis recti. Diastasis recti is the partial or complete separation of the rectus abdominis, or “six-pack” muscles, which meet at the midline of your stomach at the linea alba. One way to prevent this or lessen the severity of separation is to do the right core exercises during pregnancy. As your belly grows you want to avoid exercises that put excessive stress on your linea alba, the midline of your belly.
These exercises are flexion (crunches) and rotation exercises. As a trainer of pregnant women and as a pregnant exerciser the second trimester is a good time to start limiting flexion and rotation core exercises. Remember no fatalistic attitude, don’t think that if you do one crunch during your second trimester you will 100% get diastasis recti. On the other side avoiding crunches won’t guarantee that you will not get diastasis recti. But in my opinion, it is worth stacking the cards in your favor and exercise your core both effectively and safely. Stick to core exercises that don’t involve flexion and rotation. Some of my favorite pregnancy core exercises are planks, bicycle legs, deadbugs, and leg lowers.
Another common exercise rule for pregnancy is to not lie on your back. Laying on your back rests the entire weight of the growing uterus and baby on your back, your intestines and your vena cava, the main vein that carries blood back to the heart from your lower body. Laying on your back too long can cut off this blood supply and cause dizziness and light headedness.
I don’t think this is a hard or fast rule when it comes to exercise. Most of the time you lie on your back to do a set of leg lowers you are only on your back for a short period of time, for most women it is not enough time to create discomfort. Also, if you do a set of glute bridges in-between your back lying core sets you will remove the pressure from the vena cava allowing you to complete 3 full sets without having to get up. I recommend pregnant women to listen to their bodies when it comes to back lying, if it feels fine then you are ok, if it feels uncomfortable then avoid it or modify length of time or position.
One last health note about the second trimester, avoid getting sick at all costs. Over Christmas my niece and nephews gave me a cold and I had never felt sicker in my entire life. It is hard to decipher what is an illness symptom or a pregnancy symptom, you just feel bad. Also coughing while pregnant is a horrific experience. Not to mention you can’t take many common over the counter drugs to alleviate symptoms. During pregnancy is definitely the time to be that person who actively avoids sick people and wash your hands.
As I enter into my third trimester, I definitely feel bigger, but I am still feeling very good. Everyone says that the third trimester is rough on the body, as your body and your baby grow you become very uncomfortable and develop several unwanted symptoms. I am waiting with curious anticipation until when the scales will shift (pun intended haha) and I will stop feeling so good.