My husband and I have been talking about starting a family for a long time. However, one of the complicating factors for us has been my desire to also maximize my time as a professional athlete. As an “older” athlete who just turned 40, I only have a couple of years left to compete at such a high level, and I’ve been resistant to interrupting the time I have left with pregnancy and the birth of a child. As an athlete you cannot simply work (i.e. train and compete) through your pregnancy until just before your due date, and then return postpartum a few months later ready to get back full-stop. No, being a pregnant elite athlete means missing almost a year of full-intensity training and competition. While resting may be good for the body, it sets you back and requires time to return to pre-pregnancy fitness levels. This may sound selfish, but I feel as though competing at ANY sport at a professional level is a gift and a truly unique opportunity. It is one that does not last forever, and I have wanted to relish every moment. If I were younger, I may have felt differently about taking a year out to have a baby and come back, but at this point in my career, it did not seem like the right thing to do for me. My plan was to race through the end of 2020 and then re-evaluate.
Then COVID hit. When we realized races were unlikely to take place at all this year, we re-visited our conversation about having a baby and quickly decided to take advantage of what almost felt like a “free year” - the opportunity to go through a full cycle of pregnancy without missing out on races or the required intensity of training.
After a couple of months of trying, we were thrilled to find out that I was pregnant in June. I am now 22 weeks into this crazy journey. Pregnancies are made up of trimesters. The first trimester is from week 1 to the end of week 12. The second trimester is from week 13 to the end of week 26, and the third trimester is from 27 weeks until birth. I have about 4 weeks left in the second trimester.
Every pregnancy is different, but one of the things I have enjoyed the most is hearing and reading about how other professional-level and highly active women have handled their pregnancies. I’ve been curious about how they felt, what they craved, what their plan for training was, and what their energy levels have been like. I’ve talked to many women and while almost everyone has experienced something different, I’ve found it very comforting when similarities have popped up. I learned I’m not alone in having felt wretched during the first trimester and done very little training. Lamenting over how much pregnancy slows you down across swim, bike, and run is another shared experience and emotion. Of course, some women are total rock stars and are able to make it through their pregnancy as if they were not even pregnant, but for the majority of us, pregnancy slows you down and with it comes a whole host of funny symptoms that you’d never expect.
I thought I might share my own experience. I truly feel that the more you know and the more others share about their own journey, the easier it can be to navigate each step of pregnancy. I’ve also been lucky enough to partner with Cercacor, and using their Ember device throughout my pregnancy has been an important part of understanding how my body is responding to training and exercising, as well as how my hemoglobin, respiratory rate, and resting pulse rate have changed throughout my pregnancy. It has allowed me to both understand my body and pregnancy better, as well as ask questions of my doctor when I see changes that I don’t fully understand. It has left me feeling proactive and empowered as well as armed with some really great knowledge about the physiological changes that happen to the body.
Trimester One - Week 1 through Week 12
Goal: stay active and healthy
Hours Per Week
Planned: 15-20 hours (I typically train 28-35 hours per week)
Actual: 4-8 hours
I knew going into my pregnancy that I should do my best to stay active, fit, and healthy, but I also wanted to do what felt right and natural. I didn’t want to get stuck on the number of training hours or targeting a certain number of days of intensity. However, I am also someone that really loves a structured training plan, so it was important for me to try to maintain some loose structure in my daily activity.
As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I called my coach, Matt Dixon of PurplePatch Fitness, to come up with a game plan. We were very aligned in our goal: keep moving and stay healthy, but this was not a time to be progressing fitness or setting performance goals. We agreed that Matt would continue to set a weekly plan but with total flexibility, and the plan would continuously evolve with my pregnancy. We also decided to be extremely cautious during the first trimester. I have hypothyroidism which can have an impact on the chance of miscarriage if not monitored and treated closely, so we both felt creating added stress from training was not an approach that we wanted to take. We agreed that during the first trimester, my rides would be limited to no more than 2 hours and runs would not be over 75 minutes. Effort would be strictly aerobic base training.
Despite our best intentions, I hardly trained at all between weeks 4 and 11. Although I never vomited, I was very nauseous and overwhelmingly tired. Do you ever wake up from a deep sleep feeling so exhausted and heavy you can barely lift your head off the pillow? That was how I felt all the time. Between the exhaustion and the nausea, my training plan went out the door. For those 7 weeks, I simply did what I felt I could handle each day. My energy was always the best first thing in the morning, and running felt pretty good, so I was able to consistently run 4-5 times per week between 30 minutes and 1 hour. I found that I got winded much more easily and that my body felt more sluggish to start, but I always felt good enough to get out the door.
Cycling, on the other hand, felt terrible. I felt like all of the air had been pulled out of my lungs and the energy had been zapped from my legs. A simple soft pedal stroke made me feel lactic and my heart rate would go through the roof. I never felt good riding, so it was harder for me to motivate myself to get out the door. Between weeks 5 and 7 I rode 3-4x per week. However, from weeks 6 to 10 it was a win if I rode even 2x per week. It wasn’t fun to be out riding, and although I wanted to keep it up, I also felt like I didn’t want to push my body to do something that didn’t feel comfortable. Swimming, like cycling, felt awful during the first trimester, and despite the fact that there was a beautiful lake out my front door, I struggled to find the energy or motivation to get out. Between weeks 4 and 10 I swam a total of 4x. In short, I was on the struggle bus and despite my best intentions to stay fit, I ended up resting more than anything.
Being pregnant during the first trimester was one of the most bizarre experiences for me from a nutritional perspective. Nothing was appetizing to me. The idea of eating meat or fish made me gag. Almond or other nut butters - no way. Rice cakes - nope. Vegetables - gross. Grains (oatmeal, rice) - I’ll eat it, but it doesn’t really sound good.
So, with meat, fish, vegetables, nut butters and pretty much anything healthy that you can think of out the door, you might wonder what I ate? Not a whole lot.
There were a few foods that I craved, and so for 7 weeks that is what I ate:
- All fruit but citrus in particular, including oranges, pineapple, berries, and grapes. I couldn’t get enough fruit. I’d eat 3-4 oranges per day.
- Cottage cheese. I never knew I loved cottage cheese so much!
- Gluten-free toast with cream cheese and tomato. For breakfast. For lunch. For snacks. It was all I ate
- Salted potatoes
I was also able to eat lobster and corn….and thank goodness, since we spent the month of July in Maine where lobster is as cheap as chicken! It wasn't the most balanced diet, but I was also grateful that I wasn’t craving burgers and fries at all times.
When I am Kona-fit I weigh around 118 lbs. During the rest of my season, though, I typically weigh between 120-122 lbs. During COVID I consistently weighed 123-124 lbs.
I found the first trimester to be the time when I felt the worst about my body. I experienced a lot of bloating and water retention. I learned that as soon as you become pregnant your body releases a hormone that causes your blood vessels to relax to prepare for the increase in blood volume, which doubles during pregnancy. To make up for this extra “space” in your vessels, your body holds onto a lot more water, making you feel and look puffy and bloated.
The bloating coupled with the lack of movement from not working out much didn’t make me feel good. My body felt stagnant and I generally just felt gross. When my husband and I returned to San Francisco from our trip when I was 11 weeks pregnant, I weighed in at nearly 132 pounds - a 8-10 pound increase over my normal weight.
Weight is a touchy subject, but one of the commitments I made to myself during my pregnancy was to not gain an unnecessary amount of weight. Weight gain is inevitable and my primary concern is to have a healthy baby, yet I don’t want to pack on pounds just because.
After researching and reading, I learned a few things about pregnancy and weight. First, about 22-25 pounds of weight gain is associated with all things baby: larger breasts (2 lbs), larger uterus (2 lbs), the growth of the placenta (2 lbs), the size of the baby (7-8 lbs), amniotic fluid (2 lbs), fluid retention (4 lbs), and a doubling of blood volume (4 lbs) among other things. For a healthy female, doctors encourage 25-30 lbs of weight gain, which means that when you take all the baby factors out of the equation, you are looking at 5-8 lbs of added weight. Gaining too much can put you at risk for gestational diabetes and can increase the risk of obesity and diabetes in children later in life. On the flip side, I also read that gaining too little weight can cause complications with birth, as well as negative long-term effects on the baby’s health and development. In short, I figured that gaining 25-35 lbs seemed about right. And based on what I read, that means eating approximately 300 calories per day more than normal. This translates to an added snack, but not much more.
Around 11 weeks I began feeling better and my training began to pick back up. I pretty quickly lost 6 lbs of what I presume was mostly water retention from the lack of movement. I was at 126 lbs, which was a 4-6 lbs increase over my normal race weight and 2-4 lbs heavier than I was pre-pregnancy.
During the majority of the first trimester my energy felt like it was at an all time low. I was exhausted, unmotivated, and felt like I had just completed 5 Ironmans in a row. I slept a lot, napped a lot, and lounged around doing a whole lot of nothing because even reading a book or doing a puzzle felt like an effort some days. Around week 11, that started to shift. I didn’t feel completely zonked at all hours, I was able to get out and exercise a bit, and my nausea was improving. By the time I entered my 12th week, I felt like my energy was back and I slowly started bringing exercise and training back into the equation. I even started following a training plan again!
Main Pregnancy Symptoms:
Bloating and water retention
Many pee stops
Very sore and tender breasts
Cercacor Ember Device:
My Cercacor Ember device has been such a valuable tool for me over the past several years. It has been amazing to see how my metrics and parameters have shifted as my fitness progresses, but it has also shown the warning signs when fatigue levels are high, sickness is creeping in, I’m dehydrated, the air quality is bad, or simply that my body isn’t recovered enough for the next hard session.
During pregnancy, this has been no different. While I am not using the device in the same capacity to help manage and track performance, using the Ember throughout my pregnancy has been extremely enlightening.
For example, one of the first things that I noticed in the early weeks of my pregnancy was the jump up in my resting pulse rate. When I am very fit, my resting pulse rate is typically between 38-44. During COVID it was regularly in the 45-50 range, but very quickly it jumped up to 54-58 bpm.
The other thing I immediately noticed was an increase in my respiratory rate and a steep fall in pulse rate variability (PRV, also known as HRV).
I’ve learned that these changes are very common. First, your body is working harder and diverting a lot of resources to creating a human, and most people see a 10-20 bpm jump in their resting heart rate that lasts through pregnancy. For me, this was a 6-10 bpm jump, but it was alarming to me at first, as 54+ is typical when I am under-recovered.
When you are pregnant, your respiratory rate increases by 50%, which means you are taking in more oxygen. This is why you get more winded when you work out. It also explains my higher resting respiratory rate and SPO2.
In addition, because my blood vessels are more relaxed than usual, my heart has to work harder to pump adequte blood throughout my body. This increases my resting heart rate and my feeling winded when working out.
As for my increase in hemoglobin, I believe that it was related to the decline in my training volume. I didn’t find much about hemoglobin increasing in early pregnancy, but I do personally experience an increase in hemoglobin during my off season as I let my body rest and recover. Once my training ramps back up, my hemoglobin numbers always decline again.
Being armed with this trend data was extremely helpful as I was able to research why these changes were happening, and address anything I wasn’t sure about with my doctor.
The trend graphs from my Ember data provide some interesting insights. For example, my PRV began plummeting shortly after I became pregnant and continued to decline until around week 10 or 11, when I began to feel better and my energy started to return. Similarly, in almost identical timing, my average resting pulse rate (PR), began to steadily increase until that same time. My first-of-day respiratory rate steadily increased, averaging 10-11 pre-pregnancy, and increased to 13-14 during the first trimester.