First Trimester Fitness: 3 Ways to Overcome Fatigue

The first trimester of pregnancy is infamous for being a fitness deal-breaker, largely due to fatigue. But there are ways to work around it.

The first trimester of pregnancy is infamous for being a fitness deal-breaker. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard of moms who were training for marathons one week, then stuck in bed drinking chicken broth and eating Saltine crackers the next. If you’ve been in this situation, you know the feeling of helplessness and frustration it can cause, especially if you’re training for an event.

My First Trimester Slump

I am eleven weeks pregnant with my fourth child. I feel great now, but there were a few weeks when I thought one or all of these things every time it was training time.

  • “I’m soooooo tired. I can’t.”
  • “I’m going to throw up. Nope.”
  • “I really just don’t feel like it. Maybe tomorrow?”

These sentiments above sum up the three biggest challenges active women face during the first trimester:

  1. Fatigue
  2. Nausea/lack of appetite/vomiting
  3. Lack of motivation.

Over my next few articles, I’m going to help you work through each of these common struggles by discussing their causes and a few ways to deal with the difficulties. Today’s topic is fatigue.

Why Am I So Tired?

During my first pregnancy, I remember telling my husband, “I didn’t think you could be this tired.” (I said that again a few days after my daughter was born, but oh well.) Pregnancy fatigue can be repressive. Getting plenty of sleep the night before doesn’t stall it. And if you exercise you may be even more prone to fatigue, since you’re expending more energy than a sedentary woman.

Progesterone levels also increase during pregnancy and can contribute to the drowsiness. Here’s the reality: progesterone (and the tired feeling associated with it) is a good thing during the first trimester and crucial for the health of your growing baby.1 If you’re a hard charger you might not like this fact, but it is especially true for athletic women, who often have low progesterone levels.2

That said, feeling like you could fall asleep in the middle of a deadlift is not exactly conducive to good training. Here are three solutions for dealing with that sleepy feeling:

1. Find an Alternative

Here’s my intended training week from week eight of my current pregnancy:

  • Monday: 5k run with double stroller
  • Tuesday:  Kettlebell workout
  • Wednesday: Hike with kids
  • Thursday: Hour walk/yoga
  • Friday: 10k run
  • Saturday: Yoga, kettlebell workout
  • Sunday: Run one hour, easy pace

Here’s what it ended up looking like:

  • Monday: 5k run/walk with stroller (I won’t even mention how long it took)
  • Tuesday:  Kettlebell workout (took twice as long as it was supposed to, and may have included cheated reps)
  • Wednesday: Hike with kids (let the husband carry the toddler this time)
  • Thursday: 30 minute walk (had to cut it short for an emergency bathroom trip)
  • Friday: Yoga (legs up the wall, yesssss)
  • Saturday: Off
  • Sunday: 30 minute run by myself (which was mostly walking, if I’m honest)

Needless to say, I was really tired that week. But the moral is, if you feel too tired to do your planned workout, do something else. If packing up the kids and going to the gym seems like too much of a chore, do a bodyweight workout at home or find a yoga sequence to try. Take a walk outside and get your body moving. Just avoid doing nothing at all. Finding a way to move will help you feel energized, especially if you can get outdoors.

2. Eat More

If you’re active, you need to eat more – period. If you’re pregnant and active, you need to eat a lot more. Your body already has a lot of extra stuff to do, and the energy demands of exercise compound the need to consume more calories. Consider this research about non-pregnant female athletes by Louisiana State University School of Medicine:

One discovery has been that chronic energy deficit in the female athlete can cause musculoskeletal and reproductive dysfunction. Despite previous theories on the causes of menstrual dysfunction and the increased risk of stress fractures in the female athlete, studies have shown that the primary mechanism of menstrual disturbance in the female athlete is low energy availability. Even normally menstruating athletes can be in a state of low energy availability and can therefore experience deleterious effects on musculoskeletal health and performance.3

For athletic women, experts recommend consuming an extra 300 calories per day, especially in the second and third trimesters, although this calorie recommendation varies from person to person.4 If at this point you’re saying, “But I can barely keep anything down!,” please stay tuned for part two of this series.

3. Manage Your Stress

In a fascinating study published in The Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health, researchers drew the following three conclusions about a sample group of pregnant women in the first trimester.

  1. Women who experienced fatigue also tended to feel nauseous during the day and tired when they woke up in the morning.
  2. Fatigue levels did not seem to correlate to environmental variables (i.e., hours worked at a job or number of other children at home).
  3. “[S]ignificant correlations were observed between fatigue and psychological variables that included depression, anger, anxiety, and confusion. These data suggest that fatigue is a significant problem for pregnant women and is not resolved by rest.”5

Point number three stood out to me because it drives home an important point that is often overlooked. Pregnancy presents an opportune time to develop a self-care ritual and connect with your deeper self. Find something that calms your mind and makes you feel centered. Maybe it’s prayer, meditation, or deep breathing. Maybe it’s a warm bath. Or maybe it’s a (moderately sized) glass of vino and a good book.

first trimester fatigue can make fitness challenging

If you’re an athlete, you push yourself to your limits, often on a daily basis. Take time every day to unwind and connect with your own thoughts, emotions, and hopes. You can sleep all you want, but it won’t be restful unless your mind is also at peace.

One of my favorite practices for pregnant moms is the Ayurvedic tradition of self-massage, or abhyanga. It is a massage that starts at the crown of the head and continues to the feet (and let’s not be prudish – yes, some women also massage the perineum to help prepare for labor. I’ll leave that up to you.) It takes five minutes, is a great way to relax after a long day, and some people even say it prevents stretch marks.

The bottom line: find a daily ritual that relieves stress and helps you re-focus and center yourself.

You Can Get Through It

I’m not going to lie – first trimester fatigue can be overwhelming and supremely annoying. But it’s probably going to happen at some point. Try to find ways to work with it, rather than in spite of it. Modify your workouts, increase your caloric intake, and manage your stress. These three baby steps (excuse me) will pave the way to a healthier you – both during pregnancy and after.

More Like This:


1. Shaw, D., and Nagadeepti, N. “Luteal insufficicency in first trimester.” Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism. 17(1): 44-49, January 2013.

2. Georgia Reproductive Specialists. “Menstrual Disturbances in Female Athletes.” Accessed 14 October 2015.

3. Drakh, A. et al. “Low Energy Availability in Female Athletes.” Medscape. Updated Jan 2014.

4. Fink, Heather Hedrick. Practical Applications in Sports Nutrition. Jones & Bartlett Learning, Nov 25, 2013.

5. N. Reeves, et al. “Fatigue in Early Pregnancy: An Exploratory Study.” The Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health. 36:5, September/October 1991.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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