During pregnancy, our energy needs increase gradually to support the growth and development of the baby. However, counting calories is not advised – instead, women should focus on nutrient density and healthy dietary choices.
Calories are the fuel for our bodies – they provide the energy needed for all bodily functions and movement. In recent decades, more research has been focused on caloric intake due to the growing rates of obesity. Required caloric intake can be estimated for individuals based on their energy expenditures, age, gender, weight, height, and level of activity during all stages of life, including pregnancy and breastfeeding.
How many more calories do I need during pregnancy?
The guideline from the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) is to increase daily caloric intake by 340 calories in the second trimester and 452 calories in the third trimester but no additional calories are needed in the first trimester . These calories are in addition to the maintenance intake, which is the number of calories consumed with no weight loss or gain.
Should I count calories while pregnant?
The simple answer is ‘no’. During pregnancy, the focus should be on nutrition instead of calories. Especially in the first trimester, it is important to make sure that you are getting enough nutrients if you are experiencing nausea or food aversions.
There is a lot of math and measurements involved in calculating energy requirements and arriving at your total caloric intake for each phase of the pregnancy. The results are a statistical estimate, but even if they were 100% accurate, it is unlikely that tracking calories is a useful or sustainable approach.
The main takeaway from knowing how many extra calories are needed is that you are not eating for two (doubling your calories) but, instead, adding the equivalent of a snack or light meal to your average daily intake.
With how much you’re eating, what matters the most is your body’s response (i.e. weight loss, maintenance, or weight gain). We know that weight gain during pregnancy should be slow and steady, starting from the second trimester. If you are gaining slower or faster than expected, you may want to assess your dietary intake, which includes the quality, not just quantity, of food.
What should I do instead of tracking calories?
For those who have never tracked their calories, it’s unlikely that they will be tempted to start during pregnancy. But many others, like bodybuilders or those who have tracked calories for weight loss, may feel a lack of control when they aren’t counting. If you want to track something, weigh yourself occasionally (weekly at the most) and plot your weight over time.
The best thing you can do during pregnancy is to choose a variety of nutrient-dense whole plant foods, drink plenty of water, limit your consumption of processed foods and caloric drinks, all while getting plenty of rest and movement. Sounds simple and intuitive, right? But it may not always be easy, especially during pregnancy when cravings, aversions, fatigue, and hormones seem to take over. Doing your best in making healthy, sustainable, and enjoyable choices is your best approach.
- Tracking calories during pregnancy is not recommended.
- No additional calories are needed in the first trimester above the amount you consume while maintaining your weight.
- The additional calories needed during the second and third trimesters are equivalent to a snack or a light meal (average of 400 calories).
- The best things you can do for yourself and your baby is to consume varied, healthy foods, stay hydrated, rest, and exercise.