What exercise you can do, and how much

Firstly and most importantly, you need your doctor’s advice. They will make a call on whether or not you can exercise – and how much – based on what they know about your health and any risks to you and your unborn child (or unborn children … #multiples #instantfamily).

If all is well, then as a general rule, the kind of exercise you were doing in the six months prior to falling pregnant you can continue doing for the first trimester at a minimum.

Of course, this all depends on how you’re feeling in that first trimester, which can be absolute hell for those who feel nauseous for 90 per cent of their day, every day, for the first three months (or longer, for some poor souls). I recently had a client who lost 5 kilograms during her first trimester courtesy of morning sickness (actually, ‘all-day sickness’).

Let’s say that everything is going according to plan. The aim of exercising during pregnancy is simple – to prepare your body for childbirth (they call it ‘labour’ for a reason) and the months that follow. The fitter and healthier you are during your pregnancy, the better your recovery will be after birth. In addition, regular exercise helps to reduce the risk of complications like gestational diabetes.

From an exercise perspective, there’s a few things you need to focus on:

Good cardio fitness: It doesn’t mean you’ll be doing HIIT training right up until you’re racing to the hospital to give birth (#burpeebirth). But it does mean that at the very least you should be doing a light form of cardio exercise, like walking or even an easy cycle.

Strength training: Consider that during pregnancy you’ll be carrying around the weight of another small human, and afterwards you’ll continue carrying that human as it gets bigger and heavier. You should continue to work on strenghtening your back, arms and shoulders, as well as your legs.

Circulation: Pressure on your lower body and your movement naturally slowing down means you need to ensure you’re still getting good circulation to your feet and legs. Simple things like walking, getting up and moving around your office or house every 20 minutes, and calf raises are going to help to keep that blood pumping.

A few things to remember:

  • Core training during pregnancy is pointless. Your stomach muscles are stretching to accommodate a growing human. In fact, if you’ve done a lot of core training up until getting pregnant, you might be at a higher risk of having abdominal separation during pregnancy.
  • If you feel any unusual pain, or if you feel faint, dizzy, or sick during exercise, stop immediately and seek help.
  • You, your trainer and your doctor need to keep an eye on your blood pressure. High blood pressure during pregnancy poses a real risk to you and your unborn child. Low blood pressure causes dizziness and fainting (and you really don’t want to fall over when pregnant)!
  • Avoid training at heights – eg, on stairs or standing on a bench or step. As your tummy expands in front of you, it alters your centre of gravity, pulling you forward and putting you off balance.
  • Drink HEAPS of water. Yes, I know, there’s already a squirming feotus pressing on your bladder and causing you to pee a few millilitres every hour. But keeping hydrated is absolutely critical to ensure good blood flow to you and your bub.

Hormones could be to blame!

Have you been really good with your diet, exercising your guts out, and still struggling to lose weight?

Are you a woman?

Chances are your hormones are playing a part in sabotaging your weight loss goals.

Here’s the thing – a 20-something-year-old woman is going to find it easier to lose weight than a 40-something-year old for two good reasons:

  1. The younger person will typically have more energy, less stress in their lives, fewer injuries, and fewer muscle or joint problems caused by wear and tear. (And, as one of my PT clients recently pointed out, they’re probably having more sex.)
  2. Your hormones change as you get older, particularly for women as we approach or experience menopause, post-menopause, or pregnancy.

 

Cortisol is a bitch

Older women will typically have higher levels of cortisol – this is the hormone that’s released in response to stress. It helps to regulate blood pressure and provide a boost of energy.

The problem with too much cortisol – immediate or chronic (ie, constant release for a long time) – is it causes issues like suppressing your thyroid function, messing with your blood sugar levels, and decreasing the effectiveness of your immune system.

So basically, when you are experiencing stress, you’ll feel tired, be prone to illness, and your body won’t process sugar as well as it usually does.

The problem with the latter is over-active release of insulin, the hormone that helps your body process sugar. Your blood sugar levels will increase, which means you’ll crave sweet things more regularly, and you may well ‘stress eat’ because of your overstimulated appetite. And if you have excess sugar it’ll convert to fat, and that’s why you’ll find it difficult to lose weight.

hormones

In addition, cortisol, being the nasty little thing that it is, also prevents your body from burning fat for energy, and when you can’t do that it becomes even more difficult to lose weight.

Oh and one more thing – cortisol can also result in a reduction of muscle mass, which in turn prevents you from burning more fat. Fun, hey?

 

So what can you do?

  1. Seek medical advice: If you’ve been struggling to lose weight but you’re doing all the right things, and particularly if you’re a woman aged 35-plus, go and see your doctor and request a hormone balance check. That will give you some insight into whether or not your hormones are out of whack, and your doctor can work with you to get them under control.
  2. Reduce stress: If you suspect cortisol might be the culprit, then you need to treat the cause – how can you reduce the amount of stress in your life? For the sake of your long-term health, you need to make an effort here.
  3. Reduce sugar and fats: Under stress, your body is struggling to process sugar and burn fats more than ever before. That means you really need to focus on reducing these elements from your diet and focus on good sources of protein and fibre.
  4. Change up your exercise routine: If you’re normally into long-distance or endurance training, you’ll need to switch to something more like high-intensity interval training (HIIT). The long slow distance training actually places more stress on your body, which is the last thing you need. It’s also not as effective at burning fat as HIIT. Get a couple of HIIT sessions in a week, as well as strength training to avoid muscle mass depletion.

 

This is an excerpt from my new ebook, ‘Not another #fitspo ebook: The truth about getting fit and healthy, and how to avoid the bullshit’, which will be available in early June! Stay tuned…

It’s the finish line for Diet Roadtest #2!

It’s been four weeks since I started my second diet roadtest. This time, I decided to try the Keto diet, because it’s become such a fad of late.

To recap, the concept behind Keto is that you cut out carbs from your diet and eat pretty much nothing but fats and proteins. In the process, your body is meant to respond by learning to process fat more effectively as an energy source, rather than carbs. You should go into ‘ketosis’, where your liver produces more ketones to break down the fat.

After four weeks of misery and feeling like I’m eating nothing but cheese and meat, this morning I went for a body scan to see what impact the diet has had on my body composition.

The results weren’t good, but they were what I expected

Here’s the short story:

  • Yes, I lost weight – about 2kgs
  • However, that weight loss came from losing muscle (even though I’ve added an extra strength training session to my regime, and I’m lifting heavier than ever before)
  • My body fat percentage remained the same at 19%, meaning the ratio of muscle to fat in my body has gone in the wrong direction.

In short, I’ve actually become less healthy in the last four weeks by following this diet.

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So that really sucks, but it’s pretty much what I suspected would happen. If you don’t have carbs, you will find it really difficult to build muscle.

Building muscle is critical!

Building and maintaining muscle is absolutely critical as we get older – from the age of about 30 onwards, we lose about 1% of muscle mass a year, unless you train to keep it. What that means is, that by the age of 60 (which is still young!) you could lose up to 30% of your muscle! You’ll be weaker, have less energy, and be less able to continue to live a long and active life.

So what’s the verdict?

Firstly, let’s look at the emotional and social side of this diet. A few things I discovered along the way:

  • It’s really hard to find ‘keto-friendly’ snacks when you’re out and about – pretty much everything has carbs in it!
  • It’s hard to enjoy a dinner or outing with friends if you have to avoid carbs (remember, there’s no ‘cheat meal’ on this diet).
  • For the last four weeks, not one day has gone by when I haven’t craved carbs. I’m serious. My body wanted them real bad. And that just made me miserable.
  • The ‘keto fog’ is very real – bouts of fatigue and just feeling generally spaced out were really common over the last four weeks. Not great for feeling on top of my game or being as productive as I could be.

 

Then let’s look at the physiological side:

  • Yes I lost weight, but as described above, it came from muscle loss, not fat loss.
  • Not everyone will reach ketosis – I didn’t, not even after following the diet religiously for four weeks straight.
  • When you engage in a high-fat diet, there’s always a risk to your cholesterol levels.
  • A lack of fibre – which is usually inherent in good carbs like green veggies – means your gut gets pretty unhappy (I relied a lot on a daily dose of apple cider vinegar).

 

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I would not recommend this diet. 

Not only is it not sustainable (you can’t live like this for the rest of your life!), the health impacts just don’t add up to being worth the misery.

 

So what’s next?

I’m going to give my body a break for a few weeks (which is necessary and important given my social life over the next few weeks involves weddings, trips away, etc etc!), and then start my new diet roadtest in line with our next 8-week challenge at Raw by Bek (from 3 June) … which is when I’ll also be launching my new book, ‘Not Another #Fitspo eBook: The truth about getting fit and healthy, and how to avoid the bullshit’! Super excited about that and will be able to share more info soon!

The next diet I’ll be trialling? I’m going vegan for four weeks! The challenge with vegan is always getting enough protein, particularly when you are trying to build muscle and shred fat. I’m actually really looking forward to tackling this one.

In the meantime, we’ll return to our regular programming.

Thanks for coming along for the ride for the second diet roadtest!