We moms don’t need science to tell us just how taxing pregnancy is on the body, but it’s certainly nice to know that science has validated us as “ultimate athletes.”
Researchers from Duke University came to this conclusion after conducting extensive studies on some of the longest, most intense athletic activities. They suggest that all humans have a maximum amount of energy output – a cap, if you will, on the amount of energy they can expend over a long period of time.
To start, they analyzed runners in a 140-day, 3,000-mile race from California to Washington D.C. and then combined that data with information it had previously collected from triathletes, Tour de France competitors, and Arctic expeditionists. All of them capped their maximum metabolic rate.
After about 20 days of participation, the study participants were able to maintain energy use at a rate of 2.5 times their metabolic rate. Any more than that, and the body would pull away from its fat reserves and start eating away at its own tissue.
In the next phase of their research, Duke scientists examined the metabolic rate and energy usage of pregnant women.
“We were curious to see how pregnancy compares in a formal analysis of long term endurance,” Herman Pontzer, co-lead author on the study and evolutionary anthropology professor at Duke, told Parentology.
Pregnant mothers expended almost as much energy as the athletes they’d examined previously, but the duration of their metabolic high lasted far longer.
“People burn more calories per day in ultra marathon, triathlon, Tour de France, etc., but none keep it up for as long as a pregnancy” Pontzer says. “Sure enough, it’s the longest, most intense thing the body can do.”
And mothers who choose to breastfeed do it even longer, Pontzer says, because we continue to burn more calories during lactation. Factor in that many of us are working out, both during pregnancy and in the months after, and moms really are the “supreme athletes” of the world.