Whether you are trying for your first child or you’re looking to build that football team, nutrition and lifestyle can play a key role in optimising your ability to conceive. Whilst there are many factors involved, each partner can play a role in improving both their health and nutritional status, providing the best chance of conception.
Here nutritionist Laurann O’Reilly and owner of Nutrition By Laurann, discusses her key nutrition tips and lifestyle strategies for fertility.
1. Physical Activity: Exercise can play a key role as it can help to improve your blood flow in preparation for pregnancy. Even gentle exercises such swimming, walking, pregnancy yoga, and pilates are good choices. If you haven’t been doing much exercise prior to pregnancy, it may be best to start out slow and gentle. It may also be advisable to avoid any extreme sports or contact sports, however you can discuss with your GP what the best form of exercise is for you.
2. Stress Management: Stress in normal circumstances can play havoc with the body as it can have an impact on blood pressure. It also increases the stress hormone cortisol in the body which this can slow down our metabolic rate, increase our cravings of fatty and sugary foods and can cause the body to store more weight around the stomach (visceral obesity).
3. Foods To Include
- At least three servings of protein per day
- Six or more servings of whole grain foods per day
- Five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day
- Three or more servings of dairy products per day
- Foods with essential fats
- Prenatal vitamins
4. Foods To Reduce/Avoid
- Excessive caffeine
- Raw meats and seafood
- High-mercury fish
- Unpasteurised dairy
5. Watch The Sugar: It’s best to limit the amount of sugar and sweet foods you eat when trying to conceive as not alone can this contribute to weight gain, but studies have found that a diet rich in sugars and processed foods are associated with complications such as gestational diabetes, high blood pressure and can affect the health of the child (Nutrients Journal). Another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages during pregnancy is associated with a higher BMI and fat mass in early childhood.
6. Vitamins & Minerals
- Calcium: Calcium is an important nutrient for the body in helping to build and maintain strong bones and teeth. During pregnancy, your calcium requirement may increase to support not only your health but that of your growing baby. Recommended Amount: In preparation for pregnancy and pregnancy 800mg/day (FSAI). Food Sources: Main sources include dairy products such as milk/cheese/yogurt/eggs, fish with the bones such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, broccoli, nuts and seeds (almonds, brazil nuts and hazelnuts), as well as products fortified with calcium such as plant milks, cereals and flours.
- Zinc: Is considered one of the most important nutrients for fertility. For women, zinc is needed to ensure production of healthy eggs, for uterine health and for regulation of hormones. For men, zinc is vital for sperm production as sufficient levels boost sperm count, motility and quality (SIMS IVF). Recommended Amount: Pre-Pregnancy 6.8mg/day, pregnancy (19-50 years) 9.5mg/day (FSAI). Food Sources: Include red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, whole grain foods, fortified breakfast cereals, seeds (pumpkin and sesame) and dairy products.
- Selenium: Selenium is another natural antioxidant which helps protect against chromosomal damage. It is best known for its critical role in sperm formation and motility. Selenium also plays an important role in female fertility, helping regulate thyroid and immune function, supporting the development of healthy follicles. It is important not to take too much selenium and to stay within the recommended amounts (SIMS IVF).
Recommended Amount: Pregnancy 49μg/day (FSAI). Food Sources: Include wholegrains/wheat germ, barley, oats, nuts (brazil and cashew nuts) garlic, pork, beef, poultry, fish, dairy products including milk, yogurt and eggs.
- Iron: Whilst iron hasn’t been proven to improve fertility it plays an important role in the delivery of oxygen around your body. Recommended Amount: During and in preparation for pregnancy you need 23 mg/day (FSAI), however it’s best to get your iron levels checked with your GP to ensure that you are meeting your requirement and to assess if you need supplementation. Food Sources: Sources include lean red meat, beans (such as red kidney beans, edamame beans and chickpeas), green leafy vegetables (such as spinach, kale and broccoli) and iron-fortified cereals.
- Vitamin C: Promotes healthy gums, teeth, bones, and helps your body absorb iron (which carries oxygen to our cells). In men Vitamin C helps protect sperm and improves sperm quality. Whilst in women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) it can help to regulate their cycle (SIMS IVF). Recommended Amount: During and in preparation pregnancy you need 66 mg/day (FSAI). Food Sources: Include citrus fruits, peppers, spinach, berries, parsley, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, kiwi fruit, cauliflower, kale and red cabbage. Tip: As Vitamin C can be lost through cooking and processing, you can get the best benefits from raw or gently cooked fruit and vegetables.
- Vitamin E: Vitamin E a valuable antioxidant, works together with Vitamin C to protect egg and sperm quality and to enhance fertility. Please be aware that vitamin E has blood thinning properties and should not be taken in supplement form during IVF treatment where blood thinners are being used. (SIMS IVF). Recommended Amount: 12 mg/day.
Food Sources: Include sunflower seeds, wholegrains, avocados, tomatoes, almonds and other nuts, spinach and other green leafy vegetables,
- Vitamin D: Is important for the absorption of calcium in the body and to help maintain your bone health. Vitamin D is produced in the skin by exposure to the sun and optimum levels have been associated with improved sperm quality and quantity. For women, sufficient Vitamin D has been shown to help to maintain a healthy pregnancy and is associated with better IVF outcomes. Food sources contain small amounts of vitamin D, however due to the low level of sunshine in Ireland supplementation is often needed. It may be advisable to get your Vitamin D levels checked with your GP as excess vitamin D can be stored in the body (SIMS IVF). Recommended Amount: During and in preparation for pregnancy you need 10 μg/day in Vitamin D3 form (FSAI). Food Sources: Include oily fish (such as salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel), eggs, and fortified foods such as cereal and milk.
- The B Vitamins: The B-complex are a family of vitamins that are necessary to produce healthy genetic material in both the egg and sperm. All of the B vitamins are essential during the pre-conceptiono period and if supplementing, should ideally be taken as a complex, rather than individually (SIMS IVF).
- Vitamin B6: Helps form red blood cells and helps your body use protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Recommended Amount: During pregnancy you need 1.9 mg daily
Food Sources: Include beef, pork, whole-grain cereals, and bananas.
- Vitamin B12: Helps form red blood cells and maintains your nervous system. Recommended Amount: During pregnancy you need 2.6 micrograms daily
Food Sources: Include meat, fish, poultry and dairy products.
- Folate (Folic Acid): This B vitamin is important for the production of healthy red blood cells. It’s also known that folic acid can prevent neural tube defects so it’s essential before and during pregnancy. Also please be aware that certain medications or medical conditions may also increase your folic acid requirements so it’s best to consult your GP if you have any concerns. Recommended Amount: You must get at least 400 micrograms of folate daily before pregnancy and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy to reduce the risk of neural tube defects. During pregnancy, doctors recommend you get 600 micrograms daily.
Food Sources: Include green leafy vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, spinach), peas, chickpeas, lentils, nuts and fortified foods.
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids: These essential fats play an important role in the production of healthy cells and in supporting immune and hormone function. They are also important for women with PCOS, helping insulin metabolism (SIMS IVF). Whilst in men, diets rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to improve sperm health, quality and motility, whereas high intakes of saturated and trans fats adversely affect sperm quality (Nutrients Journal). Recommended Amount: Pre-Pregnancy 1750mg and in Pregnancy an additional 700-1400mg /day in EPH/DHA form (HSE Early Pregnancy Guidelines). Food Sources: Include oily fish (such as salmon, mackerel and sardines), include pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, walnuts and ground linseeds.
- CoQ10: Coenzyme Q10 is a vitamin-like substance that acts as an antioxidant, helping to protect cells from damage caused by normal everyday living and exacerbated by stress, pollution and nutrient deficiencies. A significant body of research shows it can help with sperm quality, quantity and motility and it is also believed to support egg quality, especially women over the age of 35 (SIMS IVF). It also pays an important role in maintaining energy levels, as it’s required for converting food energy into energy our body can use.
Recommended Amount: Research has found Pharma Nord's Bio-Quinone Active CoQ10 Gold to be effective at 200mg/day (Giannubilo Study). Food Sources: Include oily fish (see above) and wholegrain foods.
7. Supplementation Guidance: If you do take a supplement, always check that it is suitable for use while trying to conceive as some nutrients such as vitamin A are not recommended above specific levels during this period. Always inform your doctor of any nutritional supplements you are taking and avoid taking herbs while undergoing IVF treatment unless your doctor has agreed to this.
8. Stay Hydrated: Hydration pre and during pregnancy is important. This is of particular importance if you are losing fluids through morning sickness as you may become dehydrated. Try drinking decaffeinated tea and coffee and instead caffeinated drinks as much as possible. Requirement: Pre-pregnancy our adult fluid requirement is 35ml x your weight in kilos/day, once pregnant the recommended requirement is 2,300ml/day (EFSA).
Laurann O’Reilly is a qualified and experienced Nutritionist with a BSc. Degree in Human Nutrition from University of Nottingham and a Master’s in Public Health Nutrition from University College Dublin.
For many professional athletes, Covid has definitely shaken things up as a result of many of you now working from home, changes in eating habits, energy expenditure, training regimes and events.
Rest with the right nutritional strategy you'll come back stronger than ever.
1) The Importance of Maintaining a Nutrition Strategy During Covid
2) The Key to Your Sports Nutrition Strategy
(i) Size: Your Requirement & Portion sizes
(ii) Type: The Food You Choose
(iii) Timing: When You Eat
Size - Your Nutritional Requirements
Your requirement depends on your age, weight and level of activity. Keep in mind that your energy expenditure may have likely decreases significantly during lockdown.
Your energy or calories are composed of a combination of your macronutrients - carbohydrates, protein and fat
Requirements (adjust lower or higher depending on level of activity)
Type & Timing
We can often underestimate the functions and abilities of foods. By utilising and understanding the how our macronutrients work we can manipulate and utilise them to allow us to function and perform at our best
- Are our main source of fuel and are broken into quick release and slow release, this is called the Glycaemic Index (GI) or sugar index
- The GI refers to the rate at which sugar or glucose gets absorbed into the bloodstream
- High GI carbs - Are quickly absorbed the bloodstream, causing a spike in our blood sugar levels (foods high in refined sugar, white bread & pasta)
- Low GI carbs - Are slowly absorbed into the blood stream, causing a steady inflow (brown bread, brown pasta, brown rice, wholegrain foods)
The Glycaemic Index (Timing)
When it comes to performance, we want an continual supply of fuel
When to Take Your Recovery Protein Supplement (Timing)
- It is generally recommended to take your protein supplement within 20-30 minutes post training for optimum
Types of Recovery Protein
- As your training intensifies it's important to preserve your muscle stores and increase strength. It may be necessary to take a recovery protein supplement post training
Provides a wide spectrum of amino acids (essential & non essential)
Plant Based Protein Supplements
(Rice & Hemp)
- This combination provides the full spectrum of amino acids when taken in the right quantity (15g of each is one serving)
- Other plant based protein supplements also include soy and pea protein for instance which are also good sources
We need a small amount of fat in the diet for the absorption of our fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E & K)
- Saturated & Trans Fats found in fatty
Sources: Meat, lards, margarines & processed meats
- Little nutritional value
- Mono Unsaturated Fats
Sources: Nuts, avocados, olives, olive oil
- Polyunsaturated Fats
Sources: Oily fish (Including salmon, mackerel, herring, trout & tuna), walnuts, flaxseed, sunflower based spreads - These include your omega, 3, 6 & 9 fatty acids which are important for your joints and circulation
When to Eat Fats (Timing)
3) Meal Planning
Based on your requirements above you can now begin to plan your meals and snacks for the week ahead, keeping in mind your quantities and timings and factoring these into your training.
3) Set Up Schedule
As lockdown may find many of you working, training and eating at home, you may find that these aspects of your life have become unbalanced.
Work/Study - It's hard when working or studying from home to set the work/study, life, eating and training boundaries. For this reason it's important to set a schedule of your working hours so they don't flow into other areas of your life and affect your training and nutrition strategy.
Eating - The body also loves routine, and by having your meals at the same time every day, it allows your body and digestive system to synchronise.In terms of your eating schedule, This also your designated time for taking a break from tasks and focusing on your meal or snack, allowing you to properly digest and savour your foods
Training - By understanding the type and timing of foods discussed above, you can now implement this into your daily routine through scheduling your training and eating into set times. This will help you get the most out of your nutritional strategy, maintain your fitness and strength.
4) Hydration – Establish Your Fluid Rehydration Strategy
With training and matches on hold, now is the optimum time to master another aspect of your nutrition strategy, hydration. The importance of hydration is often underestimated
Hydration is Important For
Your Basic Fluid Requirement
35ml x kg body weight
Fluid Rehydration Strategy
Millilitres (ml) = Kilograms (kg)
- Weight Lost = Fluid
- Example: Weight Loss = ½ kg = 500ml
5) Maintaining Your Fitness
To maintain your strength, fitness and endurance throughout lockdown, it's important to continue training by including a combination of different types of training and to build your nutrition strategy and schedule around these.
Do not underestimate the importance of sleep as it provides us with the energy needed to train efficiently, allows us to repair, for our body do rebalance including our hormones.
Laurann O'Reilly - Nutritionist
For more information contact me here at email@example.com or 085-7337432
In my nutrition workshops I talk a lot about the topic of mindful eating. In fact many of us are guilty of the opposite, ‘passive eating’ which is little or no attention on the food we’re eating as we are distracted at our work desks, watching tv or a movie. This can have a huge impact on our bodies.
Eating is a Sensory Experience
What's important to understand is that eating is a sensory experience involving smell, taste, touch and sound. The smell of food helps us to perceive food aromas and flavours. The taste of food helps us to identify the individual flavours. The texture of food can influence perceptions of everything from the taste to the freshness of food. Whilst the sound of food is often considered to be our forgotten flavour sense, which stimulates the anticipation of food.
When we're distracted such as eating whilst working, watching television or our on our phone, our senses become distracted and can result in
- Still feeling hungry - disruption of your satiety centre
- Digestion issues - you may not chew your food properly or you may eat too quickly
This is the practice of deliberately paying attention to the process of eating and allows us to engage with our senses.
It helps us gain a greater understanding of
- Internal & external cues that play a role in our eating habits
- Our satiety (fullness) and hunger systems
- Our body's digestive process
- The flavours and sensations of food
-- What foods provide satisfaction and the proper nutrition
How Eat Mindfully
1) Sit at a table whilst eating and remove any distractions such as phones/television/laptops
2) Appreciate the aromas, flavours, textures and colours of the meal
3) Try to identify individual ingredients (this is a sensory exercise)
4) Learn to enjoy cooking and experiment with different ingredients and recipe
5) Remember to slow down and to chew your food!!
6) It should take approx 20 minutes for your satiety (fullness centre) to register that you're full
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions,
Laurann O'Reilly - Nutritionist
Nutrition can play an important role in optimising your recovery post training or event. A proper nutrition strategy is essential in helping to speed up the rate at which the body restores and recovers.
1) Immediately Post Training/Event
This should begin immediately post event. For those who use a fluid rehydration strategy, you will know that weighing yourself before and after training or events can provide you with your total fluid loss.
After a high endurance event you can begin rehydrating with 150% of the fluid lost over the following 4-6 hours. For example, if 1kg of fluid is lost, you can try rehydrating with 1.5L of fluid.
It’s also important to replenish your electrolytes (salts) after training sessions and events exceeding 1 hour and within which a high sweat was broken. Whilst sports drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade do a good job of delivering electrolytes (and fluid) during the marathon, don't rely on them solely afterwards.
Coconut water also an excellent and natural form of electrolyte replacement as it contains five key electrolytes sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus
Another good electrolyte replacer is ‘Dioralyte’, aim for a minimum of
1 sachet Dioralyte x 700ml of water
We want to replenish the muscle fibres as quickly as possible to improve muscle recovery. Look for whey protein or vegan protein blend with a good amino acid (protein building block) profile
The body is most effective at replacing carbohydrate and promoting muscle repair and growth within the first 60-90 minutes post exercise, however this will continue to occur for another 12-24 hours.
This is due to the rate of muscle glycogen resynthesis being highest during the initial 1 hour post training or event. It has even been suggested that consuming carbohydrates within 1 hour post exercise can increase the rate of glycogen resynthesis by as much as 45%
Your Recovery Snack could Include:
- Greek yogurt, granola and a banana
- Lean meat/egg/low fat cheese sandwich, banana and sports drink
- Granola Bars, raisons & mixed berries
Your post workout meal should contain complex carbohydrates as well as a source of protein as these accelerate the recovery process
-Carbohydrates – Your level of carbohydrate ingestion post training/event can influence your rate muscle glycogen synthesis and repletion
You should aim for approximately 1.2g of carbohydrate x kg body weight/hour
- Protein – Muscle recovery and repair is dependent on a positive muscle protein balance
You should aim for approximately 0.4g/kg/hour
2) Post Event Nutrition - 1 week
The focus for the week post endurance event is to rebuild, restore and refuel the body and we can do this though consuming
As the body will be in a state of inflammation it’s also recommended to include plenty of anti-inflammatory foods such as
3. Additional Tips for Enhancing Recovery
1g of caffeine x kg bodyweight x 4 hours
*Please note, that individuals with certain medical conditions or taking particular medications must take caution with consuming caffeine
0.2 x kg bodyweight + 1 Litre of Water (flavoured if required)
*It is recommended that if you take sodium bicarbonate prior to an event that you test it well in advance as it may cause stomach issues in small amount of individuals
I hope you found this helpful and please feel free to contact me here if you have any questions
Laurann O'Reilly - Nutritionist
No doubt Christmas is a busy time for heading out and having a few drinks. With work parties, catching up with family and friends along with leisurely glass of wine for the holiday season we can find ourselves a little….ouchie!
So how to we prevent the dreaded hangover and sore head that accompanies it?
Here are some little tricks
1) Have a good meal – This may be an obvious one but it always wise provide yourself with a bit of ‘soakage’ and have a good meal. Not alone will it line your stomach, but it will provide you with the energy required to dance and sing yourself through the Christmas season whilst slowing the rate at which the alcohol reaches your blood stream.
2) Activated Charcoal – Really? Yes you can get activated charcoal tablets and if taken before you have your first drink they can help to absorb the toxins from your alcohol in turn preventing a potential sore head
3) Stay Hydrated – Why not alternate your drinks with water or a soda between each drink, this allows you to pace yourself, keeping you hydrated. Not alone will it help your hangover the next morning it will ensure you can enjoy your holidays without missing out on the fun stuff. Be sure to have a big glass of water before going to bed
4) Milk Thistle – This is an amazing herbal remedy and liver cleanser, which has miraculous results at helping prevent and treat the dreaded hangover. Best taken in liquid form (20 drops in a little amount of water before bedtime and first thing when you wake up)
5) Electrolyte Rebalancing – Alcohol can unfortunately cause serious dehydration as discussed above, the mistake we often make is drinking large amounts of water to remedy this but unfortunately we end up flushing out our body salts (electrolytes) with this. There is no harm having a sachet of electrolytes on standby (1 sachet in 500ml water). Natural forms of electrolytes can be found in bananas and coconut water.
6) Smoothies – have a fruit based smoothie. Not along will this help to repair the damage from the night before but it also provides you with a healthy form of sugar to bring your blood sugar levels back up from the night before.
Wishing Everyone a Healthy & Happy Christmas – Please Drink Responsibly
Please share with your friends
Laurann has an Honours BSc. Degree in Human Nutrition from the University of Nottingham, a Masters in Public Health Nutrition from University College Dublin, is an Associate Nutritionist with the Nutrition Society London, a professional member of the Celiac Society Ireland, is registered with the Institute of Public Health Ireland and fully insured.