Getting the right nutrition before, during and after running is important for all runners, not just new moms, which is why we have a whole section of Trail & Kale dedicated to nutrtion.
As a new mom runner, eating the right foods to fuel your runs and recovery is an even more important, but often overlooked aspect of run training, so in this post I’m sharing what foods are best for new mom runners, and why, to help running moms everywhere to incorporate these foods into your everyday diet.
Why running nutrition is particularly important for new moms
Your body has worked so hard during pregnancy and through your postpartum recovery. You grew a human! You may still be growing them by breastfeeding! And you’re most certainly very busy ensuring their other needs are met… and it’s all to easy to forget to look after yourself when your focus is on your baby’s needs.
The guidance in this ‘nutrition for running moms’ guide is just as important whether you:
- Were already a runner before having your baby and want to get back into postpartum run training (perhaps you have your sights on training for a half marathon or marathon), or
- Are new to running and interested in starting your running journey as a new mom through a postpartum running plan or the Couch to 5k.
Either way, as a new mom and runner, it’s essential to continue to look after your body to aid your postpartum recovery, as well as supporting your body’s needs when it comes to getting enough energy and nutrients to fuel your runs, and recover from them afterwards.
This post covers:
- Essential nutrients for new moms who run
- Why you may need to increase your caloric intake
- How to eat the right macro balance
- Recommended foods for running moms
- Additional tips for breastfeeding moms to support milk production
These tips for fueling your runs as a new mom are based on general recommendations made by nutrition experts as well as my personal experience as a mom.
As we are all different with different needs you should always consider consulting your healthcare provider for personalized advice on your diet and supplementation before making any changes, especially if you’re breastfeeding.
Essential nutrients for new moms who run
If you’re a new mom getting into a running routine after having your baby, remember that your body’s still adjusting post-pregnancy.
Childbirth is a feat of endurance, as were the many months of growing and carrying your baby (or babies), and so it’s not surprising that your nutritional needs may be different in those months after your baby arrives and you start to get back into more intensive exercise.
Listen to your body and consider consulting a healthcare provider for personalized advice.
Eat foods that are high in the following nutrients:
- Folic acid: Essential for postpartum recovery and lactation
- Iron: Especially if you’ve just had a baby, your iron levels might be lower than usual. Iron is key for energy and endurance—two things every mom-runner needs!
- Calcium: Calcium is crucial for both your bones and your baby’s.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Great for (among many other things) reducing inflammation, especially beneficial after long runs or sleepless nights.
Why you may need to increase your caloric intake
If you’re breastfeeding and running, your calorie needs will probably be higher than before – unless you’re targeting weight loss, which should be done with caution (and on advice of your doctor).
Assuming you’re not on a weight loss plan, experts indicate that as a breastfeeding mom you may need to take on an extra 400 to 500 calories per day in addition to your regular daily calorie intake recommendation… and that’s before considering additional caloric needs to support your run training and recovery.
How to eat the right macro balance
As a new mom and runner, it’s not just about getting enough calories; it’s also about ensuring those calories are coming from the right places to appropriately fuel your body before, during and after running.
The trio of macronutrients, aka macros: proteins, carbs, and fats, needs a little reshuffle after you’ve had a baby.
I found it helpful to really focus on boosting my protein and healthy fat intake, which is pretty typical for a mom runner getting back to running postpartum.
Just as with any other endurance athlete who’s taken a long break from running (you may have experience of that, with any past running injuries, for example), your body needs time to ramp up your running distance and duration, and eating good recovery foods help with the rebuilding process in your tissues.
Protein, whether it comes from plants or animal products, is essential for repairing and building muscle, especially after a long endurance run, and it also plays a crucial role in recovering from childbirth.
It’s important to understand that essential fatty acids offer a wide range of potential benefits, and not just because you’re a new mom.
Many studies have positively correlated essential fatty acids with (among others) reduction of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality, infant development, cancer prevention, optimal brain and vision functioning, arthritis and hypertension.
If you don’t believe you can get them from your food, some people take healthy fatty acids as a supplement like fish oil or Fatty15 (which does not contain fish oil).
Recommended foods for running moms
These foods are all ‘superfoods’ that contain many of the essential nutrients described above, that are important for postpartum moms and especially those of us who enjoy running and other fitness activities such as strength training.
Leafy Greens: Spinach, kale, and collard greens are great sources of folic acid. They’re easy to toss into salads or smoothies. Spinach is my personal favorite – it’s great with a wide range of meals, whether raw (washed) or cooked, and also blends easily with fruit and water into tasty smoothies.
Legumes: Lentils and chickpeas are not only rich in protein but are also excellent sources of folic acid. They’re versatile enough to go into anything from salads to stews.
Quinoa: Quinoa grain is a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids your body needs. It’s nutrient-dense and an excellent choice for both meat-eaters and plant-based moms alike.
Salmon: Packed with DHA, a type of Omega-3, salmon is a top pick for improving the fatty profile of your milk and reducing post-run inflammation. I like to eat salmon at least once a week.
Chia Seeds: Chia seeds are packed with Omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and even a decent amount of protein. They’re a versatile addition to everything from breakfast bowls to energy bars.
Berries: High in antioxidants, they’re excellent for post-run recovery and overall well-being. My favorite is the antioxidant-packed blueberry, which is great in smoothies.
Sweet Potatoes: A fantastic source of complex carbohydrates and fiber, perfect for aiding recovery by incorporating into post run meals.
Water: It’s easy to underestimate hydration, but for a lactating, running mom, it’s doubly important… or actually, triply important when you consider that as well as your normal daily water intake needs, you need to drink plenty of water to rehydrate during and after runs… and more water again as a mom who is breastfeeding.
A reusable water bottle like this LARQ one is a great way to have water with you wherever you go.
Postpartum supplements for new moms: are they necessary?
Depending on your dietary restrictions and specific needs, supplements like vitamin D, iron, or even protein powder might be useful additions, in addition to considering an Omega-3 or Fatty15 supplement.
I found a postpartum multivitamin to be a helpful addition to my diet to ensure I get the full spectrum of nutrients.
Always consult a healthcare provider before adding any new supplements, especially while breastfeeding.
Additional tips for breastfeeding moms to support milk production
Nursing adds a whole new layer to our already intricate dietary needs, not just as runners but as nurturers of the next generation!
Before changing your diet or taking any supplements, it’s always a good idea to consult with a healthcare provider or a certified nutritionist specializing in postpartum fitness and lactation. Your body is unique, and getting personalized advice can be incredibly beneficial.
Here are some foods that are commonly consumed by women looking to amp up their milk supply and nutrient content during breastfeeding, which you may have seen referred to as ‘galactagogues‘.
- Fenugreek Seeds: A well-known herb thought to be a good lactation booster, these seeds are often recommended for nursing moms.
- Oats: A fantastic source of iron and fiber for fueling your morning run and potentially boosting your milk supply.
While it’s easy to incorporate oats into your diet, Fenugreek Seeds require some imagination.
Some people boil them into a tea, or come up with other preparations, however most lactating moms are usually quite busy people and so many opt to take Fenugreek supplements in a capsule form (like this one), which makes it easy to consume the recommended amount every day.
As well as specific foods, I’ll say again… hydration! You can’t make all that milk efficiently if you’re not taking on enough water, so make sure you drink plenty before, during and after running as well as throughout the day in general.
Meal timing for lactating runners
Timing can be everything when you’re balancing runs with breastfeeding sessions.
Pre-run snacks that are rich in complex carbs and proteins can fuel your exercise and boost milk quality simultaneously. I like to eat oat and peanut butter energy balls and bars, for example. Don’t forget to stay hydrated, too!
Speaking of meals, it often helps to feed the baby or pump before running. This can get the baby nice and sleepy (great if they’ll be napping or coming with you in a jogging stroller) and can make you more comfortable when you run.
Every mom’s running journey is unique. If you’re navigating postpartum life while training for a running race such as a half or full marathon or simply maintaining an active lifestyle, consider working with a registered dietician to tailor a nutritional plan specific to you.
For more practical advice on getting into running after having a baby (like what bra to wear and how to time runs around your baby!), read my guide to postpartum running, next.