I signed up for Stronger U at the start of my 3rd trimester in an effort to manage my weight gain in the final stretch when I found myself craving all the sweets! In full disclosure, I don’t think I really realized what I was signing up for but looking back, I am so glad I started when I did because it enabled me to get up the learning curve before chaos ensued with the arrival of my 3rd child.
I was really surprised to learn that I wasn’t eating enough carbs and was probably consuming a bit too much fat. Oddly enough, I didn’t have much trouble hitting my protein. At first, I couldn’t believe how much food I had to eat and thought for sure I would gain more than I needed but as they say, trust the process and your coach… It was incredible how great the right mix of carbs, fat, and protein made me feel. With this being my 3rd child, I vividly remembered how I felt in the final stretch with my other two and this pregnancy was so much different and I am certain it was due to SU which forced me to drink more water, pay more attention to my sleep and NEAT and in general, gave me more energy. It was truly an incredible feeling.
After I delivered, I took some time off but by 2.5 weeks post-partum, I was really itching to get back to my SU routine. I joke around that it was the only thing in my life I felt I was in control of 🙂 so I dove back in by 3 weeks post-partum which also happened to be right smack in the midst of Thanksgiving and Christmas but I made it work!
My little guy is now 14 months and I’m down almost 70 pounds from when I delivered and almost 50 pounds from my pre-pregnancy weight. I accomplished all of that while nursing and rarely ever felt deprived.
If I had known about SU sooner, I would have started it even before I became pregnant and would have done it throughout my entire pregnancy because I believe having a coach to guide you during such an important time is wonderful and such a relief to know you are in the hands of a professional. I am so grateful I found SU and HIGHLY recommend it for women thinking about getting pregnant, pregnant and who are nursing. But one of the best reasons to do it pregnant and/or nursing is because you get ALL THE CARBS :)”
Did you know that Stronger U works with pregnant women?! That’s right! Our team of Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) have helped 100s of pregnant women eat the correct amount of food (based on their individual needs!) to set both them and their babies up for the best possible pregnancy outcomes. Four of our RDN coaches, who are also moms themselves, decided to join forces to write this blog to tell you a little bit about our approaches for ensuring the success of our members. Also, since we have 8 kids between the 4 of us we’re going to share some personal experience as well!
When we started talking about writing this blog, all of us agreed that we wish Stronger U was around when we were pregnant. We all loved our OB/GYNs and had overall great pregnancy experiences however we never felt that nutrition was discussed enough. Our docs have so many other things to assess and are well trained in making sure mom and baby stay healthy, however, in the 15-minute visits we get with them every few weeks, there just isn’t a lot of time to talk about nutrition too. I received a pamphlet about nutrition when I first became pregnant and was weighed at each visit (so I know weight gain was tracked) but that was mostly it as far as the diet advice I received. Docs do their best but they can’t be experts in all things. This is where Stronger U fits in! We have a team of experts whose job it is to help you focus on optimizing this specific area that is so important to your and your baby’s health. Our members report that their OB/GYNs are so thankful to have us on their team to support moms on their way through a healthy pregnancy.
How do you know if you’re eating to support your pregnancy?
One of the best predictors to determine if a mother is eating the correct amount of food to support a healthy pregnancy and safe delivery is the amount of weight she is gaining. The Institute of Medicine developed weight gain recommendations that are based on a mother’s prepregnancy Body Mass Index (BMI). Our Stronger U RDs use these recommendations as guidelines for working with our pregnant members. On top of overall weight gain, we also track the rate of weight gain throughout pregnancy. Recommendations are ~3-5 pounds gained total during the first trimester, and 0.5 – 1.5 pounds per week gained towards the middle of the pregnancy up until delivery (for many women, weight gain will slow down during the last few weeks). This normally means adding 300-500 calories broken down into a combination of fat, carbohydrate, and maybe even protein depending on the situation from around the 2nd trimester on.
If a mother starts her pregnancy within the “normal” BMI range of 18.5 -24.9 kg/m2, it is recommended she gains between 25-35 pounds total during the entire pregnancy. Women are often concerned about gaining that much weight. Another thing we are able to help our members with is easing their fears about this process. While some of the weight gained during pregnancy IS maternal fat stores (you are supposed to gain some fat, this stored energy is used to meet both mom and baby’s needs during pregnancy as well as for breastfeeding afterward), if a mom gains within the recommended amount of weight, most of pregnancy weight gain is a result of an increase in tissue (the baby, placenta, increase size of the uterine wall, breast tissue) and fluids (blood supply and amniotic fluid).
”Signing up with Stronger U for my Pregnancy was one of the best decisions I could have ever made for ME while growing this tiny human. As a Registered Dietitian myself I understand the importance of being COACHED. I knew once I was pregnant I wanted to be coached in terms of my nutrition so I could continue to fuel myself for baby and my active lifestyle. Coach Maggie Watson kept me fueled up and strong enough to be able to continue CrossFIt and Olympic weight lifting 6 days/week up until I delivered my little guy. Her knowledge, motivation and inspiration surpassed by expectations and I cannot wait to see what we do together post-pregnancy.
Fun Fact: I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight within a week of delivering my little dude and back to the gym in under 3 weeks. Stronger U is where it’s at.”
However, when weight is gained in excess of recommendations during pregnancy, oftentimes the extra is gained as excess maternal body fat and that body fat tends to stick around for awhile after the pregnancy too. Research shows that women who gain the recommended amount of weight retain less body fat even years later. In addition to setting you up for less weight retention postpartum, gaining the recommended amount of weight during pregnancy is associated with infants born at a healthy weight and reduced incidence of Cesarean section deliveries and postpartum weight retention. Currently, only about 32% of women in the US gain weight within the recommended ranges (48% gained more, 21% gained less) so it’s clearly something that MOST women struggle with. The amount of weight gained during pregnancy is important and is a key indicator of the overall healthy progression of a pregnancy. It’s also a strong predictor of postpartum weight retention.
So how do the Stronger U RDNs help women gain the recommended amount of weight?
There are no magic pregnancy macros that will get you there. In order to be successful, we rely on all the information provided to us by our members each week (their weight, their macro intake, how they are feeling, sleeping, exercising, etc.) and adjust as needed to keep gain within guidelines. Now, anyone who has experienced pregnancy knows that the gain is not always linear. But, we strive to keep it as steady as possible and to maintain nutritional integrity throughout pregnancy. The first 20 weeks or so are really aimed at maintaining weight (unless otherwise directed by their OB). This means that we have to find a balance of macros that will create an equilibrium. If someone has been in a fat loss phase, then coming up incrementally to find that maintenance zone might take a few weeks. My rule of thumb is not to move anyone more than 10-15% up in calories simply so that they are more inclined to just add more of the foods that they are currently consuming. For someone moving from a ‘cut’ phase, that means they are likely consuming lean proteins and lots of high volume carbs such as fruits and veggies. If we can keep that nutritional integrity, we are on the right path! We don’t want anyone falling into that old trap of “eating for 2“.
I had been doing Stronger U for about 2 years and was in the middle of a session when I found out I was pregnant. Stronger U quickly paired me with a Registered Dietitian (Maggie) and our focus shifted from “cutting”/body composition to growing a healthy baby. Continuing Stronger U while pregnant was the best decision I’ve made when it comes to nutrition. Maggie helped me navigate through morning/all day sickness, food aversions and cravings, changes in appetite, and meal prepping for postpartum all while teaching me ways to provide both myself and my growing baby with the nutrients we both needed. After having my son at almost 41 weeks, I continued with Stronger U. The habits we established before and during pregnancy have carried over into postpartum. I gained a healthy 20 pounds while pregnant. I was back to pre-pregnancy weight 1 week after having my son and was able to start tracking again 2 weeks postpartum. Now, Maggie is helping me adjust macros to focus on maintaining adequate supply for nursing while gradually improving body composition. I can’t say enough positive things about this experience. I am so thankful I’ve had Mike, Maggie, and the Stronger U team by my side throughout this huge life-changing experience. It’s given me even more confidence in the habits I’ve established as part of this program.“
The first trimester can be a challenge, but that is a great time to build rapport with a coach and use teamwork to get through those times that can be plagued with nausea, food aversions, etc. If women have food aversions or nausea, we are there to offer support and ideas on how to manage through them. This may mean that protein comes down a bit in the first trimester to accommodate some of those aversions and upset stomach. The low-end recommendation for reducing risk of deficiency for protein during pregnancy is 71g/day, but if one can handle more protein, that number is kept higher. If protein does need to decrease, then naturally those calories have to get filled with carbohydrates and fat. So, the balance may shift a bit. The big thing to remember in the first trimester is that perfection is not the end all be all. There are always going to be days that feel off, but making sure that we can get some nutritional value in that first trimester aside from crackers and ginger ale is crucial.
If a first-time mom were to Google “pregnancy protein requirements,” it’s highly likely the information she’d get from her search would tell her she only needs 40-60g of protein per day. But that is based on protein recommendations that are increasingly falling out of favor with nutrition researchers because we’re realizing they’re inadequate for optimal health in most people. More recent research suggests optimal protein intakes for women in early pregnancy are at least 0.6g/lb/day, increasing to nearly 0.8 g/lb/day (much closer to the recommendations Stronger U provides its members). Of course, a Stronger U RD working with any pregnant member will balance these updated recommendations with the mom’s tolerance for protein, which is often low in the first trimester due to nausea. We understand that while optimal ranges are great to shoot for, it doesn’t do the mom any good to encourage her to choke down protein when she can barely stand the sight of food in those early days! So we do our best to balance “optimal” with “what can mom handle right now?”
Now you may be wondering why protein intake recommendations have changed, or why the ideal amount increases during pregnancy. Recommendations changed because nutrition researchers realized that older recommendations weren’t actually created following studies in pregnant women – they were best guesses. Updated research demonstrated the increased need for protein in response to the demands pregnancy places on a woman’s body. In early pregnancy, even though the embryo is still very very small, the amount of cell division and growth going on requires an increased amount of building blocks (e.g., protein) to be available to the growing embryo. And decades of research surrounding pregnancy have concluded that in almost all cases, the growing embryo will pull whatever it needs from the mother’s body. Negative side effects of inadequate protein intake during pregnancy include intrauterine growth restriction and low birth weight, which can predispose the baby to health problems throughout its lifespan. This is why Stronger U RDs make these recommendations to our pregnant members and follow the mom’s intake closely as her pregnancy progresses – to make appropriate changes so, at the end of ~40 weeks, we end up with TWO healthy members of the SUniverse!
Preparation and planning are key.
Understanding how much food is necessary is important, and so is giving members a plan for applying these guidelines. Building strong habits during pregnancy can make ALL the difference when the world turns upside down and that sweet baby comes! Understanding how to plan a day to hit your macronutrient goals is one of the first things that we ask people to master. The chances of taking the time to sit down and work the puzzle when you have a newborn that needs you 24/7 is PROBABLY not going to go so hot. So, taking the calm before the newborn storm to learn how to plan a day is where it all starts. After creating a plan, the next step is developing the skills to implement the plan. One of our biggest tips is that if food is prepped and ready to go, the chances of sticking to that plan are so much greater. I challenge most of my pregnant members a couple of months before baby to take stock of their freezer and start preparing some freezer meals so that they have easy access to healthy food in those first few weeks postpartum. All they need to do is get out of the haze of sleep deprivation long enough to thaw out a freezer meal. That can help bridge that time from birth to getting settled into a routine.
“The best thing about doing Stronger U while pregnant is knowing I’m giving my baby a well-rounded diet. I felt like I was much healthier and had a much easier pregnancy”
Simplification is a key principle that can be learned through the process of tracking macros. Taking something that seems overwhelming and breaking it down into steps that are manageable is simplification. It might mean even cutting out steps that are unnecessary. Simplification is learned quickly in the world of tracking macros. There is no reason to overcomplicate things. If you can prep one day a week and have basic foods that you can eat then spice up AND help you hit your macros, life is just so much easier and members are more successful. Learning to cut down on FANCY and stick to good ol’ fashioned simplicity is actually beautiful as it gives you time for other things, like finding a place to store all those new baby shower gifts!
Routine really is a major carryover strategy. In terms of macros, it is important to identify the things that keep you successful. Getting up at the same time, identifying a workout time, having food ready to go for your scheduled meal times, etc. are skills we work on with all members and that is not any different for our pregnant women. Keeping health as a main focus is something that I personally emphasize to my mamas.
There is no way that a mom can be at her best for everyone who needs her if she is run down and frazzled. Self-care is a must. That doesn’t always mean going out and getting your nails done (or maybe it does for some!). Self-care is eating right for your body so that you have strength and confidence. It is prioritizing exercise for physical AND mental health benefits. And guess what, your exercise might not look exactly like it did before you were pregnant when energy probably was higher and time was feeling less filled up. Choosing to take care of yourself is not only for you, mamas, it sets an example for your current and future kids. You are looked up to more than you know, so live a life that sets the example that you want out there!
“Stronger U gave expert guidance to ensure I was getting the nutrition my body and baby needed to grow without gaining a ton. I didn’t trust myself to do it alone because pregnancy was so new and foreign and I didn’t want to undo my hard work getting to my pre-pregnancy weight”.
In summary, Stronger U can work with you at any stage of pregnancy to provide up to date evidence-based nutrition advice, and dietary evaluation to help you achieve appropriate pregnancy weight gain, and promote adequate fetal growth and development. Stronger U offers unlimited, one on one access to a nutrition expert that has the ability to spend more time with you to address any nutritional concerns you or your OB provider may have. When your OB makes your individual recommendation about pregnancy weight gain, we collaborate with you to ensure weight gain is progressive through diet and lifestyle while keeping up with your increased nutrient needs, hunger/fullness cues and food preferences. Throughout pregnancy, if common issues arise such as constipation, nausea, reflux, and/or nutrient deficiency, in addition to your providers recommendations, we can take a look at your current food intake, offer nutritional recommendation to promote improvements by collaborating with you to utilize the food you eat to better manage these symptoms. We can work alongside you and your OB provider to promote healthy pregnancy by addressing adequate hydration, key nutrients, and meal planning, all while taking into account your particular food preferences, allergies/intolerances, schedule, food accessibility, and individualized nutrient needs.
In the first trimester, Stronger U can help you adapt your current lifestyle to meet your bodies changing nutrient needs; provide education about foods to avoid/limit/add more of and further customize eating patterns and meal composition to best achieve weight gain targets for your pregnancy. In the second and third trimesters, while food intake continues to be essential in assessing weight gain, maximizing energy, and promoting overall health, you will continue to receive our nutritional expertise on an as-needed basis, offering daily to weekly points of contact, offering you added accountability, and support throughout the remainder of pregnancy. We collaborate with you to build better habits around food that support positive lifestyle outcomes, empowered eating and food decision making during pregnancy and beyond. Stronger U is an excellent resource for answering and clarifying all of your nutrition related questions, concerns, and debunking myths and beliefs that promote unnecessary dietary restrictions during pregnancy. Such as the misconception of pregnancy means the mom should be eating for two, and therefore calorie needs double.
Stronger U often works with individuals from pregnancy through to postpartum and beyond. Stronger U can work with you to provide adequate nutrition to support breastfeeding while simultaneously working to achieve your post-partum weight loss goals.
This blog was written by Dr. Jessica Bachman along with fellow RD’s: Maggie Watson, Katie Leahy, and Josette Curtis. If you’re interested in learning more about Stronger U, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or to schedule a free informational phone call with someone on our Member Experience Team just CLICK HERE! Can’t wait to hear from you!