Trismarter.com sports nutritionist Rebecca Marks-Rudy is interviewed, and provides a meal plan for Lava Magazine’s October issue. On page 120, Rebecca recounts racing a triathlon only months after giving birth to her son. Also see page 126 for Rebecca’s Pregnant Triathlete’s Meal Plan.
Pregnancy didn’t stop Rebecca Marks Rudy from training for a triathlon. Just four months after giving birth, she was ready to race again.
Sure, race day was different for the 32 yearold on that July day in 2008. She woke up at 4:30 a.m. to breast pump so her four-month-old son Jack would have milk while she was racing. She hauled the pump to the start of the New Jersey State Triathlon. While other participants were warming up, chugging water and gulping down energy gels in the moments before the race, this new mother pumped on the beach.
“There were some stares, but I was fine with it,” said Marks Rudy, a nutritionist who lives in Princeton. “Pregnancy is still looked at as a condition, and it’s not.”
She had previously asked the race director if she could leave the pump at the information tent prior to the race. The surprised director agreed: “Well, that’s a request we’ve never heard before,” he told her.
The race began. Marks Rudy swam through the calm waters of Mercer Lake. She biked two loops through West Windsor Township. She ran along the water and on paved trails that were laid out especially for the U.S. Cross Country Championships.
At the end of the 200-yard dash to the finish line, Marks Rudy’s husband, mother, son and daughter were cheering. She finished the Olympic-length triathlon in two hours and 34 minutes, placing fourth in her age group. But unlike other participants who sip on juice boxes, refuel on bananas and get free massages after the race, Marks Rudy’s work wasn’t over.
Within 15 minutes of finishing, she was breast-feeding baby Jack.
“You do what you have to do,” she chuckled. Marks Rudy isn’t alone. Melissa Pennock, a mother of six in Lindon, Utah, has trained for triathlons during her pregnancies with three of her children. Six years ago, she completed a 5K run, 10-mile bike ride and 350-meter pool swim—all while she was about four months pregnant with her daughter Sierra.
Pennock wasn’t aggressive during the race. “I was just being careful not get kicked in the pool,” she said. “I was proud of myself and was thinking, ‘They probably don’t even know I’m pregnant and I’m glad I’m here.’ I felt a greater sense of accomplishment because I was pregnant.” Pennock’s father is an obstetrician and stressed to her that it was safe—and even healthy—for women to exercise during pregnancy.
For many female athletes, pregnancy might seem like a threat to all the hours of physical training, mindful eating and hectic scheduling they’ve devoted to their practice. But while PRs may be hard to come by during and immediately after pregnancy, experts say a bun in the oven doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stay on the sidelines. To be sure, there are risks—but they can be alleviated with the proper precautions.
“I would never tell anyone that you cannot do this or do that,” said Dr. Raul Artal, chair of the department of obstetrics, gynecology and women’s health at Saint Louis University. “I would tell them what the potential risks are and it becomes a personal decision. Is it worth it?”
One major risk, he said, is hyperthermia, when body temperature increases to dangerous levels—not uncommon for athletes who don’t drink enough water. Hyperthermia can be especially dangerous during the early stages of pregnancy when organ formation occurs, and dehydration can sometimes lead to premature labor. Pregnant women should be sure to drink plenty of fluid.
Artal pointed to an Olympic athlete he consulted who was preparing to race 10,000 meters in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. She went into premature labor, likely due to hyperthermia, at 32 weeks. She was lucky her baby survived.
“There are people who have done triathlons and nothing has happened,” said Artal. “It’s taking an unknown risk.”
New York City triathlon coach Sara Dimmick said that while she would encourage women to train (carefully) for a triathlon during pregnancy, they should avoid actually racing.
There are all sorts of risks—notably trauma to the baby. A woman’s center of gravity changes during pregnancy. She might fall. And during the swim, she risks getting kicked in the stomach.
Some coaches suggest switching to a stationary bike or aqua jogging during pregnancy, and avoiding slippery running trails.
Pregnant women shouldn’t try to train through exhaustion the same way they might during normal circumstances.
“Each day is different,” said Dimmick. “If you are exercising and you become light-headed or out of breath more than usual, I would stop training for the day or take it at a slow, easy pace.”
Artal added that pregnant women should not exercise for more than 45 minutes at a time without taking a break because glycogen stores deplete quickly during pregnancy. Take a sugar break.
Pennock, who has raced in approximately 20 triathlons in the past decade, said that while she was pregnant, she would focus on one exercise, either swimming, spinning, or jogging at a low intensity every day.
“Before, I was already working out. I just had to listen to my body more,” she said. “Some people think pregnancy limits you, but exercise actually made me feel better.”
Artal said women should start really taking it easy at the six-month mark. “Even Olympic champions slow down. It’s in their nature.”
Pregnant athletes also need to keep a close eye on what they eat. The nutritionist Marks Rudy says prenatal vitamins are important, as are iron, protein, folic acid and calcium. Find a doctor you trust, someone who can help you set up a nutrition plan for your training during pregnancy.
“It’s about being creative and exploring other options,” said Marks Rudy, who works for Trismarter.com, which offers online triathlon coaching and sports nutrition services. “Your decisions don’t have to be ideal. There’s a middle ground. If your body is saying, ‘Only a bagel and cream cheese will be satisfying!’ you do that.”
Because of pregnancy-related food cravings and aversions, unexpected nausea and immediate hunger pangs, pregnant women should keep a variety of healthy snacks on hand, like bananas, apples, dried fruits and low-fat cereal bars.
Rudy Marks added it may be benefi cial, especially for pregnant women, to eat a light snack 30 to 60 minutes before a workout. Lowfat, low-fi ber carbohydrate options like oatmeal, whole grain crackers with low-fat cheese, or low-fat yogurt with ¼ cup of low-fat granola are good options, she said.
“I tried to eat healthy and ate a ton more often,” Pennock said of her race training during her pregnancy. “If my stomach was empty, I felt a lot more nauseous. I cut up fruits and vegetables and kept them in my car. I always have snacks in my purse.”
Most importantly, pregnant triathletes should be flexible, Marks Rudy said.
“Understand when you’re pregnant that it’s nine months of your life that you may not be at your peak fitness or optimal nutrition,” she said. “If you’re used to having salads every day and suddenly that’s disgusting to you, it’s okay to make changes. There is life after pregnancy. Life will be different, but your body will come back.”