You may be 2 months or 2 years into motherhood when you decide to start exercising again. Normal everyday activities like lifting your baby and running around after your toddler will certainly keep you physically active, but for many women, more formal exercise is an opportunity for looking after their mental wellbeing as well as getting fit.
Low energy can be a barrier to starting exercise for a lot of mums, so it makes sense to focus on that first: having more energy is a gateway to being more active. Once you're upping your activity levels, you'll need to make sure you're eating the right things to help you prepare and recover from exercise so you can really feel its benefits.
Watch out for loose joints and ligaments
For newer mums, the first thing to be aware of is that joints and ligaments are looser for at least 4 months after pregnancy due to the hormone relaxin. Relaxin softens muscles, joints and ligaments during pregnancy, and levels can remain elevated throughout breastfeeding leading to joint instability. So go easy with high impact exercise and be sure to warm up and cool down properly to protect muscles and ligaments from injury.
Eat protein to encourage collagen production
Protein, especially collagen, helps to regenerate and repair the body's muscles and tissues so it's a good idea to eat foods that encourage collagen production. You can consume collagen directly from slow cooked bone broth (cook the carcass from your roast dinner for 12-24 hours to release the collagen from the bones). Then use the broth as a base for soups and stews and as a hot drink. You can also encourage collagen production by eating lots of vitamin C rich foods in your daily diet. Include plenty of broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, cabbage, bell peppers, cherries, berries, citrus fruits, papaya and kiwi fruit.
Hydration is key
Hydration is especially important to replace lost fluids from sweating, and to keep energy levels up. As a guide, 1 hour of moderate exercise = 1 litre fluid loss on average, so be sure to replenish your fluids with plenty of water, herbal teas and high water content fruit and veg like cucumber and melon.
What snacks to eat when
1-2 hours before working out, eat a low glycaemic load snack, such as an apple or pear with a handful of nuts. Include another snack or meal combining protein & carbs within 2 hours of exercising (within the first 45 minutes is ideal). Try something like hummus & oatcakes, a smoothie with good quality protein powder, energy balls, a hard boiled egg with wholegrain crackers/toast or a baked sweet potato with cottage cheese This restores lost energy stores and aids tissue repair.
Up your magnesium intake
An important ingredient for relieving aching muscles and reducing any tightness or cramping after exercise is the mineral magnesium. Pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds, cashews, almonds, avocado, spinach, chard, quinoa, brown rice, oats and black beans are all rich in this relaxing nutrient. Think of ways you can include these ingredients in meals and snacks throughout the day to build up your stores. For example, porridge with seeds and nuts at breakfast, quinoa, black bean and spinach salad for lunch and brown rice with salmon, avocado and chard for dinner.
As well as eating your magnesium, you can bathe in it: an epsom salt bath after exercise is wonderfully soothing and a great way of absorbing additional magnesium through the skin.
Increase your antioxidants
Whatever form of exercise you're doing, getting plenty of antioxidants into your diet from a range of brightly coloured fruit and veg is essential. These help to reduce oxidative stress caused by exercise. Pack in the berries, cherries, beetroots, apples, dark green leafy veg like spinach, broccoli and kale and lots of vibrant sweet potato, carrot, squash and citrus fruits.
Exercise has many benefits, including for cardiovascular health, insulin sensitivity, bone health and mental wellbeing. Get the most out of whatever exercise you do by making sure you're providing your body with the nutrients it needs for energy, endurance, muscle function, repair and relaxation. Most importantly, listen to your body and do what feels good.
Jodie Abrahams is a registered nutritionist and Elvie brand ambassador.