Earlier this year Jasmine Paris became the first female winner of a 268-mile ultra-marathon. An amazing achievement in itself, made all the more interesting by the fact she stopped several times during the race to express milk for her 14-month old baby. Most of us are a little more moderate with our running goals post-pregnancy (Parkrun is often just fine!), but even so many women who ran and raced consistently before and/or during pregnancy say that running is part of them and they want, perhaps need, to get back to it. It is perfectly possible to combine both.
Breastfeeding takes a lot out of you, so does raising a baby, so does running. When breastfeeding, your body’s primary job is to sustain your baby, its secondary job is to sustain you. Energy for running is extra so let thoughts of races and fast times go for the time being. I highly recommend you use this time to enjoy running for its mental health benefits as much as physical benefits.
In this post we will talk about the best foods to focus on while breastfeeding and running and how to get these foods into your daily diet simply and quickly, without making your already busy life more stressful. We also cover some of the practicalities of returning to running while nursing your baby.
As a side note, this blog post is in no way shaming new mums who do not breast feed. Getting back to running is a challenge postnatally however your baby is fed.
There is some recent research on breastfeeding and exercise, mostly focusing on exercise and the quality/quantity of milk. Studies show that in general exercisers and non-exercisers produce the same amount and quality of milk. So, rest assured that returning to running will not impact your milk supply. Specific research on running performance while breastfeeding is very limited, more anecdotal.
Your body is clever. If you are running too much, milk production will be preserved (remember, baby is top priority) and your baby will be well looked after. Your body will also work hard to look after and sustain you. If you are running too much whilst breastfeeding it is your running that will suffer. Frustrating maybe when trying to regain fitness and race times, but it does make sense.
Because you want to feed yourself and your baby, on top of going running, you need regular high-calorie meals, and snacks in between. In other words, keep the energy flowing in for all the things you are doing that use up energy (that is breastfeeding, looking after yourself, and running). Breastfeeding mums need around 500 calories a day more than non-breastfeeding mums, depending on baby’s age and other factors. You want to focus on nutrient-rich unprocessed foods. Think healthy, high-calorie foods that require very little prep - avocados, olive oil drizzled on salads, hummous and bean dips, hard boiled eggs, nuts and seeds.
Good sources are chicken, turkey, eggs, lentils and beans, fish, nuts, seeds, and lean red meat. Protein is needed for recovery and repair after running, is important for your own recovery after pregnancy and giving birth, and important for your baby’s growth and development. In other words, daily servings of lean protein are vital. Keep an eye on how much oily fish (sardines, salmon, mackerel, fresh tuna) you eat while breastfeeding – current NHS guidelines state no more than 2 portions of oily fish a week and 1 portion of shark, swordfish or marlin a week, where one portion is a 140g serving. There is no current limit on the amount of tuna you can eat while breastfeeding.
They contain a whole range of B vitamins, including pyridoxine (vitamin B6 – helps with hormonal balance and immune function) and thiamine (vitamin B1 – essential for energy production). Wholegrain carbs, as opposed to simple sugary carbs, will keep blood sugars even and balanced, giving the sustained energy you need as a new mum. Choose wholemeal bread, rolled oats, quinoa, wholegrain rice, potatoes or wholemeal pasta.
Vegetables and fruits
Breastfeeding mums returning to running are no different to anyone else, in that you should be eating a range of colourful vegetables and fruits. Every single day. Vegetables and fruits are packed full of vitamins, minerals, fibre and phytonutrients. Great for you and great for your baby. Keep it simple by cutting up carrots, peppers, celery and cucumber and keeping a pot in the fridge to pick at when you get the chance. Frozen peas and other veg are great staples to add to dinners. Pre-packed spinach, rocket and watercress can quickly be stuffed into a sandwich to increase the nutrient value of a simple lunch.
Breast milk is made mostly of water so you need to be drinking enough for you and for your baby. Add running into the mix and staying hydrated becomes even more important. General advice is to drink little and often. Aim to drink a glass of water every time you breastfeed, and make sure you replenish lost fluid from running by drinking another glass or two of water straight after. Listen to your body. If you feel headachy or dry in the mouth then drink more. Also, check the colour of your urine when you go to the toilet. It should be a pale straw colour; dark urine indicates you need to drinking more water.
There are definitely some practicalities to bear in mind when returning to running whilst breastfeeding. Comfort is key. Get a supportive running bra designed for high impact sports. You may need to shop around and try on a few to find one that is comfy for you. There are some specialised running bras available, see the link below.
Most new mums also say that breastfeeding right before heading out for a run is so much more comfortable than running ‘full’. That way around also gives you peace of mind that your baby is fed and comfortable before you disappear off for a while. Less stress all round that way.
It is perfectly possible to breastfeed and get back to running.
Do you have questions or any specific concerns you want to talk through? Click on this link and let's talk.
Please note that I am a BANT registered Nutritional Therapist, the advice given in this post is not medical advice. Always listen to your own body and speak with your GP if you have any medical concerns.
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Helen Morton, runner and food lover, sharing latest nutrition research and recipes.