Iron is important for another reason, too. “When it comes to an expectant mom’s energy level, iron plays a critical role,” says Dubner. Women who are deficient in iron often have that washed-out-tired-all-the-time feeling. Experts recommend an iron supplement during pregnancy. To help the body use iron maximally, though, eat foods rich in other iron-building nutrients: B6, folic acid, B12 and riboflavin.
“Fueling your body throughout the day is also key to maximizing the energy available from food,” says Kathleen Zelman, M.P.H., R.D., an Atlanta nutrition consultant and American Dietetic Association spokeswoman. To begin, approach each day as if you were going to run a race: by planning meals carefully. “Eating for the demands of your day, fueling baby’s growth and carrying around the extra weight of your child-to-be requires good energy-
giving fuel from the moment you step out of bed in the morning,” says Dubner, who adds that everyone, pregnant or not, wakes up in the morning with an empty fuel tank.
To keep your energy high but level, eat plenty of short-, medium- and long-lasting energy foods, starting with breakfast. Depend on complex carbohydrates, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables for short-term fuel and some medium-range energy. “Because complex carbs take longer to digest than simpler ones, such as white bread and sugary foods, they stay with you a little longer, which means they energize you at a steadier rate,” says Zelman.
While protein is indeed necessary for your baby’s optimal growth, some of it is used by your body as long-lasting fuel. “Protein-rich foods give you energy three to five hours down the road, a little at a time,” Dubner says. “That’s why it’s good to divide up your protein throughout the day and not save it all for dinner, which is how many people eat.” Spread out good-quality protein foods — milk, eggs, yogurt, lean meats, dried peas and beans. You’ll come to the day’s end with your battery still charged.
Speaking of spreading out your food intake — that’s a good idea when it comes to calories, too. “Just as you shouldn’t eat all your protein at dinner, you should distribute your calories throughout the day,” Zelman says. You’ll also avoid that over-stuffed feeling that happens so quickly during pregnancy and can make you feel tired.
Finally, drink lots of water. “Being just slightly dehydrated also makes you feel fatigued,” says Dubner, “although most people won’t recognize the problem as dehydration.” As always, drink six to eight glasses of water a day.