Fight Fatigue with Food

Often after I tell pregnant women that they need to cut down their caffeine, and explain some of the other decaffeinated or lower caffeine options to combat fatigue, they often ask, “Is that it?” Fatigue is a reality during pregnancy. I tell women that pregnancy is the only time in their lives when they are, literally, a factory going 24/7 at top speed. Naturally, fatigue is going to occur.

Fatigue vs. Tiredness

There is a distinction between fatigue and tiredness. Fatigue is when you feel like you are lacking energy. Basically, if you got a “boost” from something, you could go on. Tiredness, in contrast, is when you are physically or mentally drained and the only thing that is going to help alleviate that feeling is sleep.  With fatigue, you can keep going although you might be cranky, frustrated or short-tempered. Tiredness means you cannot physically move, perform, or go further unless some sort of sleep or nap occurs.  What I’m talking about here is fatigue: that temporary, transient feeling of being rundown or in need of a recharge.

Most of us simply grab something caffeinated to jolt ourselves back to alertness. However, as I mentioned before, caffeine is not the ideal thing to reach for while pregnant because of its effect on blood pressure, heart rate, and maternal or infant sleep states. Instead, I teach women to reach for the natural “superfoods” that help boost energy without the harmful side effects of caffeine. In fact, these foods work even when you’re not pregnant! Get accustomed to having these foods on hand and sharing them with your family for that needed surge of energy without the crash of caffeine.

Best Foods to Fight Fatigue

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Photo by Brooke Lark 

Water

I can’t stress enough how useful water is for pregnant women. Fatigue is usually due to some degree of dehydration. Again, pregnant women’s bodies are like a factory with high output. Women lose water through subtle means outside of urination: sweat, breathing, etc. That fluid needs to be replenished regularly. Anytime you feel fatigue setting in, reach for a cold glass (about 8 to 10 ounces) of water. Try adding fruit slices, cucumbers or mint for an additional refreshing taste.

Chia seeds

These little powerhouses contain the right amount of protein, fat, and fiber to give you a needed boost. I tell women to create a Chia Seed Pudding (recipe below) and keep it on hand in the refrigerator for when the afternoon slump comes during the workweek.

Bananas

The world’s most convenient snack! Bananas are portable and packed with important vitamins and nutrients like potassium and vitamin B6. One banana contains enough nutrients and fiber to keep blood sugar levels stable and keep hunger at bay.

Quinoa

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Photo by THE 5TH

This is a wonderful grain with so many varied uses. Quinoa makes a versatile base that you can add any kind of vegetable, dried fruit, yogurt, or nuts to. One batch of quinoa keeps well in the refrigerator and heats up quickly on the stove top or in the microwave. Make a batch and add different things to it throughout the week.  A cup’s worth makes a perfect snack to keep blood sugar stabilized.

Green tea

Instead of brewing a cup of coffee, try green tea. It’s loaded with antioxidants and you can adjust the sweetness to your liking with natural sugar or agave. Plus, it only has about 40-45 mg of caffeine so it’s safe to have hot or cold. Adding slices of citrus like lemon, lime or orange with mint gives it, hot or cold, a wonderful taste.

Oatmeal

It’s not just for breakfast! Oatmeal makes a wonderful lunch or midday snack. Oatmeal can be made in advance, overnight, in the refrigerator. Keep several jars on hand and add in other super ingredients like chia seeds, fresh berries, walnuts, or raisins for added taste and nutrition. I advise against the packets, however. Making your own oatmeal with rolled or steel cut oats minimizes any excess sugars, flavors or preservatives that is often found in the commercial, pre-packaged products. Homemade oatmeal helps stabilize blood sugar levels and provides fiber to keep you feeling full longer.

Almonds

The world’s best nut! Almonds are rich in monounsaturated fats (the good kind) and provide lots of nutrients a body needs. Snacking on almonds (the plain, blanched, or unsalted kind) helps keep blood sugar levels stable and provides the right amount of healthy fat.

Black beans

While it’s not easy to drag out a can of black beans and eating them raw is not an option, black beans are a key ingredient in several items like black bean soup, salads, or salsa. A batch of black bean soup keeps well in the refrigerator and makes a perfect lunch or midday snack. Black beans in a salad give it a great taste and provides extra vitamins, nutrients and fiber to keep hunger away. Toast up triangles of whole wheat pita bread or tortillas and dip them into a half cup worth of black bean salsa with corn, tomatoes, olive oil, and avocado for a quick snack.

Whole wheat bread

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Photo by Mariana Medvedeva 

Grab a slice of 100% whole wheat bread and pop it in the toaster. Add on tomato, avocado, cucumber slices or hummus for a quick snack. The fiber and nutrients in a slice of whole wheat bread keep your feeling full and stabilize blood sugar levels.

Foods to Avoid

I do, however, teach women to avoid certain foods that will eventually zap their energy and make them feel more fatigued.

Commercial honey

While I love honey for other things, I do not recommend it as a fatigue fighter. Most commercial honey (the kind you buy in a grocery store) contains sugars or additives that will raise blood sugar too quickly then make it crash just as fast. However, natural honey from an apiary has no added products. A teaspoon or so in your green tea, on a slice of whole wheat toast, in oatmeal or with almonds is OK.  Beekeepers take great pride in their product and adhere to strict standards. (I get delicious honey from the Tanis Apiary in Pompton Plains, New Jersey.)

Energy drinks

Avoid Gatorades, sports drinks, or any other product that you would normally use after working out. While these are useful in certain situations, they are not helpful to fight fatigue in pregnancy. They contain too much sugar and other products that do not effectively combat fatigue during pregnancy.

White Bread

Even though it tastes great, white bread is a carbohydrate that does not help plummeting blood sugar or energy levels. Opt for whole wheat bread instead.

Candy

The temptation to grab a chocolate or sugary treat is tempting, but it will do nothing to fight off those feelings of fatigue. In fact, after eating candy you are more likely to feel increased hunger and irritability quicker than if you had one of the healthy snacks.  

Junk food

Again, I get it: they taste delicious, are quick, readily available, and affordable. However, they do nothing to refuel your body and provide minimal to no nutrients that a pregnant woman needs.

Share Your Tips!

What have you found works well to fight off hunger or give you energy? What have you tried that doesn’t work or made you feel worse?

Chia Seed Pudding

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Photo by Rezel Apacionado
  • 1 ½ cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1/3 cup chia seeds
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 2-5 tablespoons of maple syrup (or agave syrup)
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  1. Add all ingredients together (except for syrup) and whisk vigorously
  2. Sweeten to your liking by adding a tablespoon of syrup at a time
  3. Pour into individual pudding cups or ramikins
  4. Refrigerate, covered, for at least 3 to 5 hours (overnight is best) until the mixture takes on a pudding-like consistency. Keeps well in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.  For added taste, top with homemade granola or fresh fruit.

3 thoughts on “Fight Fatigue with Food

  1. This is great! I love most of these foods and many are readily available. They have chia pudding at my office every day and I was just thinking of getting some this morning! I also didn’t know how easy I‎t was to make- I have all these ingredients on hand so I’ll definitely be making this soon- thanks! One question I have for us city gals in this vein is: a lot of places like juice generation or juice press have amazing smoothies and fresh juices, acai bowls etc but I also read today to steer clear of pressed juice because it is not pasteurized, and saw that some menu items have wacky ingredients that are not good for expecting mamas- like bee pollen- what’s your take? Interesting because on the face of it a lot if these places seem like they’d be amazing go-tos. Thoughts?

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    1. Great question! I agree: there are so many pop up juice places lately, especially in large cities, that say they have fresh squeezed juice and they’re “all natural”. While some truly give you the fresh squeezed products, others often mix in other ingredients (including preservatives or water) to extend the shelf life. I think there is a place for fresh juice and it can be a wonderful boost when you feel sluggish. The best way to tell if the juice is right for you: Go into the store and see if they actually press the juice right in front of you. Avoid the juices that are sitting lodged in ice at the counter or on a shelf in the refrigerator case. You should be able to see the fruit that is selected and watch as its sliced and pressed in front of you. A 10 or 12 ounce serving often requires several pieces of fruit or vegetable to make one portion and no water should be added to make up the volume.
      One word of advice for pregnancy: Try a smaller size first to see how you feel after drinking it. Fresh juices can be acidic. Pregnancy hormones slow digestion and often fresh juice can give women wicked heartburn that they did not have previously. Smaller portions, then, are less likely to cause burping, hiccups, or heartburn. Fresh juices, also, should be sipped not gulped down.

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