There I was at age 41—a personal trainer, former IFBB bikini pro, and cardio kickboxing teacher, and I was out of breath climbing up the stairs! I needed to take it down a notch and rest, even though my head said go, go, go.
Name: Nicole Moneer
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Occupation: NASM Personal trainer, CHEK holistic lifestyle coach
Experience: Retired IFBB bikini pro, Team Bodybuilding.com sponsored athlete
What happened? The same thing that's been happening to women since the dawn of time: I got pregnant! I didn't feel it all the time yet, but every day my body was sending me louder messages that I couldn't ignore. A lot of us in the fitness and health industry live constantly in the train-hard mode, but that has to change when you're pregnant. I was growing a little human, and I've never done that before!
Most people say the first trimester is the hardest, and I found it to be true, if only because it's the trimester that's the most unique for every woman. The cravings, nausea, energy levels and emotions—did I already mention the cravings?—run the gamut!
Here's how I adjusted my training, nutrition, and supplementation during this crucial time. I want to help you feel better and preserve as much of your fitness level as you can. You'll need it just a few months from now!
Training During the First Trimester
If you're already used to thinking in terms of 12-week stretches from following fitness plans like those on Bodybuilding.com, great. That's how long your first trimester is! And just like a 12-week transformation, there are some sleepless nights, hunger pains, and of course, the fear you're not doing it all exactly the way you had hoped to. Believe me, I experienced all of these.
Of course, not all women train with weights while they're pregnant. Depending on your pregnancy and any complications you're experiencing, it may not even be an option for you. But it was for me, and that was a huge relief! My time in the weight room is important to me, both mentally and physically. My pregnancy never fully removed me from training, but I did make adjustments as my body and energy levels changed.
Make no mistake, though: "crushing it" was no longer my highest priority. You hear a lot of people saying that you'll need to "listen to your body" during this time, but this doesn't necessarily mean "Hey, I feel great, so I can push it harder today." On the contrary, my body let me know when I needed to back off in intensity or skip an exercise entirely.
Here are some of the other modifications I found helpful:
- Instead of weight training 4-5 times per week, I started going 3-4, and eventually less.
- My rest days weren't active-rest days. Often, I was sleeping! For the first three months I went to bed between 6 and 8 p.m. and slept all the way through until about 8 a.m. That's more than what I'm used to, but it felt totally necessary!
- I avoided any exercise that required me to lie on my stomach, or which resulted in any pain or pulling on the midsection. This is a rule you'll hear from doctors and other experts.
- I lowered the amount of weight I lifted—often dramatically. Pregnant powerlifting is not a sport!
- Use seated variations. For certain exercises, it feels more comfortable to sit down on a chair, bench, or stability ball.
- I avoided hot yoga, which can damage a baby's organs in the first trimester. This had been a weekly ritual for me, so it was a tough change. Also off limits: saunas and hot tubs.
- Soreness from my exercise went up, so I doubled down on stretching and foam rolling.
- I teach Pilates with my clients, and I found that it helped me maintain my strength and flexibility. Prenatal yoga was also a great addition!
As you can see, you have options. Explore them, and use them!
When Cravings Attack
I was in horrible health when I was younger. But today, I feel and look better at 41 than I did at 21, and a lot of that is because of how I eat. Since 2006, I've been committed to healthy eating: organic vegetables, healthy fats, and grass-fed antibiotic hormone-free protein sources. But during my first trimester, my body decided it wanted to go on a nutritional adventure and drag me kicking and screaming all the way!
Everybody has a craving story. Here's mine. Before I knew I was pregnant, I felt extremely thirsty and was hungry all the time, but not for anything in particular. Then, all of a sudden, it got very particular.
For instance, I'm a big greens fan, but I rarely eat fruit. Before I became pregnant, I ate different vegetables throughout the day. Then, all of a sudden, I could barely stomach green vegetables, and I craved mangoes, berries, grapefruit, apples, and pears constantly! I didn't have a dark leafy green salad for over two months, which was very alien to me.
Then it got weirder. When I hit Week 7, I craved everything I had been rejecting for the last few years. "Pizza and cake, now!" was what my body was telling me, and I had no choice but to listen. I would even wake up in the middle of the night to eat. I had to wake up because I had this hole in my stomach!
Trust me: The hunger pangs you get when you're pregnant are much different than when you're not. Experienced fitness competitors can go to bed hungry, wake up hungry, eat, and be fine. A pregnant woman can't go to bed hungry. I was scared that I would wake up and puke! The only times I threw up during my first trimester where when I went three hours without eating, in fact. I had to eat to feel comfortable, to even get to sleep.
During the day, it felt like I was training for a marathon. I found myself eating hourly, sneaking in bites of something calorie-rich between client sessions to get me through. If I missed a window, I became nauseous and had a hard time focusing on work.
But here's the big takeaway: The couple of weeks when I did eat like crapola, I didn't beat myself up for it. I've spent the last eight years cleaning up my nutrition and supplementation, so I was confident this was just a phase. And sure enough, when Week 10 hit, I wanted chicken and vegetables again. Thank God!
Vitamins and Supplements
I'll be honest: I cut out most of my prepregnancy supplement stack after consulting with my midwife and nutritionist. But I also had my blood work done and discovered that there were a few areas I could still benefit from a little extra help with.
For instance, my vitamin D was off the bottom of the charts. I supplemented with calcium and vitamin B and went on a whole-food prenatal vitamin made by New Chapter. I also took extra choline, since this nutrient is crucial for baby's development, particularly in the brain and central nervous system.
I usually alternate between omega-3 capsules and liquid fish oil such as cod liver oil, which is more concentrated. I kept this up during my entire pregnancy, and I also tried to eat quality wild-caught fish that I felt confident was low in mercury. A little calcium and B-vitamins, and I was set!
About the Weight Gain...
In the first trimester I gained about 6-8 pounds. It's kind of amazing that's all I gained, considering how much I ate. But honestly, I wasn't freaking out about my weight. I knew I needed healthy weight to have a baby with healthy weight. I totally understand how people in this industry may freak out about weight gain, but I committed to enjoying the journey.
This was my first pregnancy, and I wanted to experience it in all its bizarre, intense glory! I didn't think I could get pregnant, so it was a blessing from day one. I enjoyed learning more about my body, and I want everyone to know that even after all that we've learned about pregnancy, it's still a lot of trial and error.
I took control where I could, but gave it up where it felt necessary. That's a life lesson we can all benefit from, pregnant or not!