Olympic athlete and world champion cyclist Lizzie Deignan announced her pregnancy in February this year. While she may not be back racing until 2019, she fully intends to keep cycling during her pregnancy, so long as she feels comfortable.
She's learnt a lot about cycling and pregnancy, and spoke to us recently about her experiences, sharing her tips for mums-to-be who want to pedal through pregnancy.
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Despite Diegnan having plenty of experience listening to her body — being her own coach — she's the first to admit that the baby is in charge now: “I almost feel like the baby’s the coach,” she jokes, “because I have to listen to the signals that I’m getting from the baby.”
Finding good advice
Ask any pregnant woman, and the chances are everybody has — and has voiced — an opinion or two about what they should or shouldn’t be doing. Getting advice about exercising while pregnant is no different.
The National Health Service (NHS) in the UK recommends keeping up your "normal daily physical activity or exercise (sport, running, yoga, dancing, or even walking to the shops and back) for as long as you feel comfortable." Part of the problem though, says Deignan, is advice can be too generalist, but she’s enjoyed conducting her own research.
“There’s lots of advice around exercising as a pregnant woman, but not for an elite athlete. So one problem I’ve found is a lot of advice is centred around ‘moderate’ exercise,” she points out. As an elite athlete, her definition of ‘moderate’ is likely to be rather different to the average cyclist.
One book that Deignan has found particularly useful and happily recommends is Bump it up by Professor Greg White.
“My friend Jo Rowsell bought it for me,” Deignan explains. “It goes through each trimester, and talks about people who don’t really do exercises right up to people who do marathons. That’s been really good!”
Lizzie Deignan’s top tips for cycling and pregnancy
1. Your mental and physical wellbeing is important
"For me, my mental wellbeing related to exercise and cycling is a huge reason why I continue to do it. If exercise is something that gives relief and makes you feel positive, then absolutely carry on doing it."
2. There are small adaptations you can make
Some women find that they’ll need a different saddle, others, like Deignan, are happy on the one they’ve got. You may also need to raise the position of your handlebars so you can sit in a more upright position to accommodate your baby bump.
"I make simple choices like I don’t train on roads that have high traffic. I don’t go out in the heat of the day. I always wear bright clothing now and have a light on the back of my bike, just so I feel like I’m doing everything I possibly can to stay safe."
3. Listen to your body
"I’m finding every day very different. I can have days when I can go out on the bike and I'll be able to do three hours really steady and feel comfortable and strong. Then I’ll have other days when I can do ten minutes and then stop because I feel so empty."
4. Always take extra food out
"You’ll find that feeling of hunger that creeps up on you on a normal bike ride is ten times stronger when you’re pregnant! I tend to eat homemade stuff, so flapjacks or banana bread. Something that I actually want to eat!"
5. Bring plenty of water!
As per NHS guidelines, make sure you drink plenty of water and other fluids when you’re riding to stay well hydrated.
6. It’s different for everyone
"It’s really important that it’s stressed that everybody is different. I’ve had people giving me feedback on my social media on the fact that I’m still training, that they’re so jealous and they feel so lazy they can’t do it. And I think ‘you might have morning sickness that’s way more extreme than mine’ or a full-time job and two other kids at home!"
7. Be confident in your choices
"Be conscious that you will get advice from lots of different sources, but so long as you and your partner are happy with the choices you are making, then that’s all that matters. And if you are worried, then get medical advice. There are plenty of old wives tales out there and it’s important to see through them and work out what’s best."
While she's taking a step back from the professional scene, Diegnan plans to remain engaged in the world of cycling. "It’s nice to be able to say yes to a lot more opportunities that I might not have had the time for before," she comments. She's looking forward to getting involved in several projects, including Cycle Expo Yorkshire which takes place in her home town of Harrogate in October. “That may be the baby’s first outing!” Deignan smiles.
Looking for more cycling and pregnancy advice?
If you're planning on cycling throughout your pregnancy, or just want to know a bit more about what it might be like, we've got a range of articles that will help.
You can read about other women’s experiences of cycling while pregnant, including commuting and mountain biking, the most frequently asked cycling and pregnancy questions answered by an expert and our overall guide to cycling while pregnant including what to expect in each trimester.