Good Content from: Saucony professional triathlete, Sarah Piampiano
One of the things I have noticed most during my pregnancy is how old school the expectations are of women in terms of what can and cannot be done. It used to be that women were encouraged to do very little during their pregnancies for fear of risking harm to their babies. Women were encouraged to rest, not exercise and definitely not elevate their heart rate. But over the past decade or more, research has emerged to suggest that staying physically active is a huge benefit not just to the mother, but to the baby as well. In fact, recent studies have concluded that women who followed an exercise PRIOR to pregnancy, benefit from continued exercise during pregnancy. Elevating one’s heart rate is not to be feared, and breaking a sweat and movement has all kinds of positive side effects.
As an elite female athlete, I’ve been motivated to stay healthy and fit during my pregnancy for a number of reasons:
- As a professional athlete, I want to be able to return to training and racing in an appropriate period of time post birth, and so staying active, in whatever capacity, is something that I feel is important in continuing to fulfill my professional goals and obligations
- Even if competing was not my full-time job, I simply LOVE TO MOVE. Moving my body, being outside, and testing my physical limits is a huge source of joy and happiness for me. It helps ease my mind. Physical activity, whether it be running, cycling, skiing, XC Skiing, SUPing, etc will continue to be a huge part of my day to day life well beyond my years as a professional athlete, and so continuing to move during pregnancy is also important to me
- I truly believe that movement is important to the health of both mom and baby, and so it has been an integral part of my pregnancy process
- I believe the stigma around women, pregnancy, and movement needs to change, and I hope to contribute in some small way to helping educate, inspire and encourage other women to embrace what their body is capable of during pregnancy, as well as use movement as a way to stay healthy throughout pregnancy.
As a first time mom-to-be, I’ve been learning first hand that pregnancy is one crazy journey! Each trimester has thrown curve balls my way. I’ve shared the ups and downs of my first trimester in an earlier blog. And the second trimester was its own beast! Below I’ve shared my own personal experience, as well as what my training looked like during this period.
2nd Trimester – Week 13 through Week 27
–Goal – Stay active and healthy
–Hours Per Week:
–Planned: 10-15 hours (I typically train 28-35 hours per week)
–Actual: 15-20 hours
As I moved from the 1st trimester into the 2nd trimester, I began to feel SO. MUCH. BETTER. My energy came back. My nausea went away. Slowly my food aversions dissipated, and I was finally feeling like I could start exercising again. My 12-week appointment, which is a big appointment to check for potential genetic complications, came back great, and at this stage in pregnancy, I felt more confident that the risk of miscarriage was minimized. As a reminder, I have suffered from a thyroid auto-immune disorder called Hashimoto’s since I was a young kid, and one of the side effects of this disease is a heightened risk of miscarriage before 12 weeks of pregnancy. As a result, I was extremely cautious with training during the 1st trimester. But, as the 2nd trimester hit, I was ready to get back to training!
So, I started moving again. It felt amazing. I started building back my run and bike mileage. I was thrilled to be able to steadily build my running up to a couple 60-70 mile weeks, and I was able to build my cycling back up, doing some 60-80 mile rides, and was slowly making my way back into the pool.
The biggest challenge for me, however, was that my body was placing a limit on the level of intensity that I could do. Running generally felt good, but I found I could only do tempo efforts at 6:30 pace (which is typically not that challenging for me). Anything faster simply wasn’t possible and my body would immediately go into a fully lactic state and I’d have to slow to a walk. With cycling, I was having a lot of issues with my legs going numb and my heart rate spiking (even if I was riding easy), so while one day I could ride 80 miles and feel fine, the next I could barely ride 10 miles as a very slow pace. In the pool I had some days when I could swim well, and the next I would struggle with similar heart rate spikes which would bring me to a stop.
I was accepting of and embracing the fact that my body was growing a child. I. truly did not have high expectations of myself, yet I found the yo-yoing of what my body would give me day to. day to be extremely hard mentally. I didn’t trust my body or feel confident in what a given session would look like. With COVID raging, I was using physical activity as a way to be social and see friends. But during the second trimester, I was so unsure of what would be physically possible for me from day to day that I started to shy away from making these plans with teammates for fear of either holding them back or simply not being able to complete what we had planned to do.
On the days that I felt good, it was amazing to push my body, but on the days when I didn’t feel good, moving at all was a win. My motto became “moving is better than not moving”, and I had to learn to give myself grace. I was still following a plan written by my coach, Matt Dixon or purplepatch fitness, but there were many days that called for the intensity which I was simply not able to do. On those days, the plan went out the door and my focus simply became on trying to just run, or just ride, or just get through some part of a swim.
I am a very goal-oriented person, and so during this time, I continued to try to set goals for myself. For me, I liked the idea of pushing myself to accomplish something that would be challenging but also took the approach that if it didn’t happen, that was ok too. It was more about the simple act of striving for something that motivated me each day. For example, I had originally been set to run the Boston Marathon in April, and so on the date of the re-scheduled virtual race in October, my goal became simply to run a marathon that day. I wasn’t chasing time, just the accomplishment of running a marathon at 17-weeks pregnant. The week of the virtual race there were terrible fires blazing in California and the air quality wasn’t safe to be outside. I ended up doing a 30 mile run on the treadmill! I not only completed a marathon in about 3:15, but I also ran my longest run ever…and all at 17 weeks pregnant!
On the flip side, I also set a goal of riding 100 miles in a single ride – something that is not that challenging for me on a normal basis. Unlike the marathon, I didn’t accomplish this goal. On the day I set out, my body was tired and not cooperating, and so I made it to 80 miles. I was FINE with this. I liked challenging myself and was proud to get even 80 miles in.
After the shock of a whites-only diet during the 1st trimester, it was so nice to be craving vegetables and meat and healthy foods again as I progressed into the 2nd trimester. I found by week 15 or 16 most of my food aversions had gone away and I was back to eating a fairly typical diet.
Over the past few years, I have been working with a gut-health company called Ixcela Wellness to help me improve my overall gut health, which in turn has helped improve my recovery, performance, sleep, nutrient absorption, etc. They have worked with me actively during my pregnancy to help identify areas for improvement. After the first trimester, it was clear that my gut health was not great after eating a less varied diet with more processed foods. So as we moved into the 2nd trimester, I worked hard, with their guidance, to really hone in on the foods that would help in my pregnancy. I was diligent about eating fermented foods, lots of protein, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. It was a nice change from the 1st trimester of toast and cream cheese!
Between the start of the 2nd trimester (week 12/ 13) and week 17, I lost 5 pounds. I think this was largely due to the fact that for most of the 1st trimester I wasn’t active, leaving my body stagnant and retaining water. Once I started moving I quickly lost the water weight I had been carrying. But, from 17 weeks on my weight slowly began to creep up. By the end of the 2nd trimester, I was ~16 lbs heavier than my race weight and ~13 lbs heavier than what I was weighing pre-pregnancy.
I found the weight gain has not linear. Some weeks I would gain nothing, and then I would. suddenly put on 2 or 3 pounds over the course of another week. My doctor says that weight gain comes in fits and starts and often corresponds to the baby’s growth spurts. The goal is 1/2-1 lb per week of weight gain, but that is more an average.
On the whole, my energy in day-to day-life during the 2nd trimester was very good. During the day I would be energized and productive, but would often get more tired at night, and feel pretty zonked by 7 pm.
The biggest change I noticed was my energy levels in training. The training was where I noticed most that I was pregnant, and the inconsistency in how I would feel from day to day was hard. Some days I felt great and could put in some great sessions on the bike or running, and others, just the simple task of moving was an accomplishment. I would laugh because on the tougher days thoughts like “I’m never going to last all the way through this pregnancy!!!” Would run through my head as I struggled my way through a session, and then the next day I would feel great and my mindset would shift to “oh, ok. – I’ve got this!”.
One of the lessons I learned during the 2nd trimester was to accept that my body was taking care of growing our baby first and that allocating resources to working out was far down the list of priorities. I started using the motto “moving is better than not moving” and embracing the idea that simple movement was a success and any day that I could fit in some intensity was a true bonus. I tried to now allow myself to get discouraged by the bad days and realize that any movement at all was better than nothing.
Main Pregnancy Symptoms:
-VERY broken and restless sleep
-Slower digestion, so I’ve needed to eat more frequent, smaller meals (starting around week 19)
-LOTS and LOTS of pee stops
-Higher hunger levels at night before bed (which means a regular pre-bed snack)
The one thing I’ve really struggled with throughout my second trimester was sleep. On average, 1-2 times per week I would wake up sometime between 1 – 2:30 AM and could not go back to sleep. That was it. I was done sleeping for the night. The lack of sleep would kill my energy for a few days, and just as I was feeling recovered, I would have another sleepless night. In the grand scheme of pregnancy symptoms, I felt that this wasn’t TOO bad, but it was hard to handle while it was going on.
I think, on the whole, the 2nd trimester was the hardest for me. I expected to feel ill during the 1st trimester, and so was mentally prepared for the exhaustion and nausea. And now, as I am just a few weeks away from my due date, I can say that I also expected to feel pretty terrible during the 3rd trimester, but in fact, I have felt pretty darn good. BUT, I expected to feel great during the 2nd trimester, and the random symptoms that nobody warns you about were hard for me. I felt less prepared and caught off guard, so navigating that was more challenging than I expected.
Up next – the 3rd Trimester!
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