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What to Eat During Pregnancy

Posted on Thu, 06 May 2010 03:57:00 -07:00

What to Eat During Pregnancy

What to Eat During Pregnancy

On the heels of our profile on new mom and TRX enthusiast Claire McGowan, and in preparation for Mother’s Day this Sunday, May 9, we wanted to continue to speak to women in the TRX Community who are currently pregnant and looking for workout and nutrition advice. This article, from nutrition expert John Berardi, addresses the latter issue and advises on proper nutrition for moms-to-be.

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Most women realize that what they eat while pregnant can have an impact on the health of their baby. However, very few women know exactly what to eat and what to avoid.

In this article, I’ll be sharing with you strategies for eating properly to support your own health – and the health of your baby. Also, for those of you interested in preventing excess weight gain, gestational diabetes and more, these tips are just what the doctor ordered.

Pregnancy Means Building

To begin with, pregnancy is a period of anabolism, or building. Like weight lifters building new muscle tissue after their strength training sessions, the bodies of pregnant women are in building mode. But instead of building muscle tissue, you’re building baby tissue. To this end, it’s critical that you’re eating more calories, more macronutrition (protein, carbohydrates, fats) and more micronutrition (vitamins and minerals) than you’d normally eat.

But how much extra should you be eating? Well, research shows that an extra 300 to 500 calories a day will do the trick. If you exercise regularly, you’ll want to shoot for closer to 500 calories a day extra. And if you’re not exercising regularly, 300 calories a day should do.

While this represents a respectable increase in food intake, don’t go overboard. Adding two healthy snacks to your regular breakfast, lunch and dinner schedule can easily help you meet your extra caloric needs. Of course, you’ll want those snacks to be full of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients – all critical for health. So make sure you’re making the right choices. For help in that department, see the food listings below.

Pregnancy and Weight Gain

One question I’m often asked is this: how can I know if I’m eating enough? Well, that’s simple. Here are some guidelines for healthy weight gain during pregnancy:

  • Underweight women should gain between 25 and 35 pounds
  • Overweight women should gain no more than 15 to 25 pounds
  • Women 5’2” or shorter should gain between 15 and 25 pounds

I understand many women gain far more weight than this. And there are a few scenarios where that’s a necessary consequence of complications during pregnancy. But for most healthy pregnancies, a combination of exercising and eating right can help eliminate excess weight gain, promoting just the right amount.

Now, here’s an important note for those fitness buffs out there. The levels of weight gain suggested above aren’t negotiable. Indeed, studies show that less weight gain than listed above can result in infants with low birth weights.

And this may mean delayed development. You see, the mother’s weight determines fetal weight. In other words, if the mother does not gain enough weight, the fetus may remain small simply to protect the mother’s own body. So again, you’ll want to gain the right amount of weight. Too little or too much can harm both you and the baby.

Foods to Include, Foods to Avoid

I know nausea and food cravings both come into play when pregnant. However, it’s important to remember that you’re still in control. In other words, it’s your choice as to what you eat and what you don’t eat. So choose wisely.

Giving in to cravings for junk food, or avoiding food because of fear of nausea, can subject your growing baby to a host of birth defects. Heck, research has shown that inadequate nutritional status during development can also have consequences for the child later in life, increasing his or her risk for cardiovascular disease, hypertension and Type II diabetes.
So let’s talk about what you should be eating and what you should be avoiding. The following list provides the foods that should be actively sought out during pregnancy – as well as foods that should be minimized and/or avoided.

Foods to Include

Protein Rich Foods

  • Lean meats (preferably grass-fed, organic)
  • A small amount of dairy
  • Get one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight during second and third trimester
  • Supplement with natural, unsweetened protein powder, if necessary

Omega-3 Rich Foods

  • Flax
  • Walnuts
  • Chia
  • Hemp
  • Fish oil supplements (non-liver)
  • Algae
  • Seaweed

Vitamin D Rich Foods

  • Vitamin D fortified foods
  • Vitamin D supplements (1000 IU/day)

Zinc Rich Foods

  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Whole grains
  • Animal foods

Folate Rich Foods

  • Dark, leafy veggies
  • Legumes
  • Folate-fortified foods
  • Folic acid supplements (4 mg or 400ug /day)

Calcium Rich Foods

  • Dark green leafy veggies
  • Bok choy
  • Tofu
  • Legumes
  • Figs
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Fortified milks
  • Fortified cereal grains

Vitamin B-12 Rich Foods

  • Animal foods
  • Vitamin B supplements (3 mcg/day)

Iron Rich Foods

  • Dark green leafy veggies
  • Dried fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Animal foods

Foods to Avoid or Minimize

  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • >300mg caffeine per day
  • Cured/deli meats
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • High sugar intake
  • Using cravings to justify poor food choices

Foods to Completely Avoid

  • Raw foods (eggs, seafood, meat, sushi)
  • Shark (cooked or raw)
  • Swordfish (cooked or raw)
  • King Mackerel (cooked or raw)
  • Tilefish (cooked or raw)
  • Soft cheeses (mold ripened, blue veined, unpasteurized)


Most medical organizations now recommend a daily multi-vitamin for most people. Pregnant women are no exception. Indeed, research has shown that vitamin supplementation can improve pregnancy outcomes while even reducing nausea and “morning sickness.”

When choosing a multi-vitamin supplement, be sure it contains adequate B vitamins (including B-12 at 3 mcg/day and folic acid at 4 mcg/day). Most prenatal formulas on the market will do the trick. Further, if you’re not getting adequate sun exposure during your pregnancy, you might also include a vitamin D supplement (1000 IU/day).

In the end, the research is clear: eating right during pregnancy is a must. Step 1: choose the right foods (from above). Step 2: monitor your weight gain to ensure you’re not gaining too much (or too little). In taking these steps, you can rest easy knowing you’ve done everything in your power to ensure a successful pregnancy.

If you or someone you know is pregnant and in need of some help planning your diet, we recommend getting a copy of Gourmet Nutrition Cookbook.

Dr. John Berardi is recognized as one of the top exercise nutrition experts in the world. His work has been published in numerous textbooks, peer-reviewed journals and in countless popular exercise and nutrition books and magazines. Through his company, Precision Nutrition (, Dr. Berardi has worked with over 50,000 clients in over 100 countries. These clients span the spectrum from recreational exercisers all the way up to the athletic elite, including: The Cleveland Browns, The Toronto Maple Leafs, The Texas Longhorns, Canada’s Olympic Ski Teams, Canada’s Olympic Bobsleigh and Skeleton Racers, World Champion UFC Fighters, Canada’s Olympic Speed Skaters and more.

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