Weight Gain and Muscle Mass during Pregnancy

Alexandra Powell Allred's picture

QUESTION

Hi Alexandra,

I am 20 weeks pregnant and through using a pregnancy weight calculator found out that I have gained about 6 pounds too much at this point. I have been eating healthy and started strength training again. It's been a long while since I was on a regular excercise plan. My weight pre-pregnancy was between 105-107 pnds and I am 5'6. I am currently somewhere between 120-125 pounds now.

Is it resonable to assume that maybe some of this added weight might be muscle mass? If it isn't would cardio help maintain a slow and targeted weight gain? I really want to avoid stretch marks and those annoying little changes that might stick around on my post pregnancy body.

ANSWER

Argh!

The pregnancy weight calculators drive me crazy. We are all genetically different and predisposed to different weight gain before, during and after pregnancy. To think we can set a calculator to suit each person is nuts.

In principle, it was designed so that women would stop the "I'm eating for two" mentality but there is a problem. First -- actually, you are eating for two. Not in the "make that a double! With gravy!" sense but in terms of watching what kind of calories you consume and how you treat your body ... yes. You are a great example of the secondary problem.

From what you've said, you're a small person. Under 110 pounds at 5.6 is pretty lean. This calculation did not take into account that you probably -- that is, your body -- needed more body fat. I cannot tell you how many Olympic race walkers, marathoners, etc, I have spoken with who were truly shocked and dismayed by their initial weight gain. They had always been smaller people and to have a sudden weight gain, they began beating themselves up. I'm getting fat!! How will I ever take off this weight! My running career will be over? How can I stop this weight gain?

Some were almost despondent, thinking they would have excessive weight gain and never recover. No one explained to them that your body is going to get and take and hold and have (fat) what it needs for your baby and basically ... you're along for the unhappy ride. So embrace it! Each Olympian I spoke with DID recover, did lose that weight and later, when that first shock and first pregnancy was over and they became pregnant a second time, they understood what was happening.

You have one job and that is to keep YOU healthy. Your body will take care of baby. Cut out the soda drinks, minimize (greatly) your caffeine intake, stay away form junk foods, take in whole wheats and fruits/veggies and get exercise. That's what you need to do - oh, and lots of sleep. Let your body heal and grow while you sleep.

We can have plenty of talks about how to take off the weight after the baby is born. Genetics plays a huge part in this. Here we go - I'll use me as an example to the extreme. During my first pregnant, I was uncertain as to how much I could do, what I should do in terms of exercise and food so ... I did nothing and ate like a pig. I gained 60 pounds in my first pregnancy.

In my second, I was a member of the US Women's Bobsled team. I was running, doing plyometics, bounding and lifting weights to such an extreme, a doctor wanted to study how I worked out because nothing had ever been documented to that level. There was plenty of research on long distance runners, for example, but not on someone doing sprint work, plyos and squatting 350 pounds. My diet was picture perfect and I was a working out machine. I gained 55 pounds. Go figure.

In my third pregnancy, I was working in a gym and karate school. My weight lifting was minimal but with lots of yoga-type stretching and solid cardio work. My diet was excellent. I gained 50 pounds. My body was going to take, have, hold and get fat any way it wanted and it really didn't matter what I did in THAT sense ... but because I was so healthy in pregnancies 2 & 3, I got back to athletic form rather quickly.

Another example is celebrity trainer Kathy Kaehler. I interviewed her some years ago when she was also a correspondent for NBC. She was currently training the top names in Hollywood. She was THE go-to girl about nutrition, diet and exercise but when she got pregnant with her twins, she began so large, her ankles swelled to excess. Her weight gain was so much, you could no longer recognize her as the Kathy Kaehler.

Even a few weeks after the babies were born, she was mortified about her weight because she had to go back on NBC. How, she wondered, could she let the world see her in this condition?? Even as much as she knew, it was a different ballgame when it happened to her. But genetically, she is predisposed to bigger weight gains while pregnant. Today, she looks fabulous but that is how the pregnancy cookie crumbles. It is another reason why I hate it when pregnant models are airbrushed.

Just relax, eat well and focus on how you will train once the baby is born. Meantime, be sure to drink lots of water. Staying hydrated is not only great for baby, swelling to your ankles/joints but it helps the elasticity of your skin, helping it to heal better after baby is born. Vitamin E lotion is great for helping in terms of stretch marks. But it sounds to me that you are quite healthy and WILL recover nicely.

Good luck.
No worries!

Alex