Being Pregnant Takes the Same Endurance as Extreme Sports, Study Finds

Just more evidence that women’s bodies are amazing.

By: Amanda Mushro


Pregnant mixed race woman power walking in park

Photo by: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc

Jose Luis Pelaez Inc

As if we didn’t already know that making a human is one of the most difficult and amazing feats that a body can do, science now confirms women deserve a medal at the end of those nine long months. While athletes in extreme sports get all the glory for their “performance,” it turns out that pregnancy and endurance sports push bodies to the same limit.

The study, which was published in Science Advances, looked at what happens to the bodies of elite athletes participating in some of the most challenging races in the world: triathlons, Tour de France, arctic treks and the 3,000-mile Race Across the U.S.A., in which runners compete in six marathons a week over 120 days. What they found was that pregnant women who carry a baby to term reach the same peak levels of endurance as these elite athletes. That's right, moms: pregnancy is an extreme sport.

Researchers found there is a limit to the amount of energy the human body can burn before depleting the body’s energy stores: 4,000 calories. That limit is nearly the same for endurance athletes and pregnant women. So, even without running a triathlon, pregnant women are pretty incredible.

“Every mother who has gone through a pregnancy has experienced that effort themselves,” said study co-author and evolutionary anthropology professor Herman Pontzer. “Pregnancy is the longest duration, highest energy expenditure thing that humans can do. Mothers probably aren’t surprised by this.”

The study also found that athletes could not replenish their calories during those long, high-intensity races, and the same was found in full-term pregnancies. Because the body is pushed to the limits while in the final stages of creating human life, it can’t keep up with the calories being burned.

While the prize at the end for endurance athletes is a medal, a mother’s prize at the end is a cute baby. Clearly, they're the real winners here.

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