There’s no such thing as being too fit, right? Well, that all depends on what one’s goals are. If you are a woman trying to conceive, too much exercise might actually be your downfall. In fact, as fertility specialists, we can spot a potentially “over-exercised” woman from the door of the waiting room. When we have a patient who looks incredibly fit, and she complains about irregular or no-periods and and difficulty conceiving, our first question will be, “How often do you exercise?”

It turns out that we aren’t the only ones. Reproductive specialist Dr. Andrew Toledo at Reproductive Biology Associates has had to counsel countless marathon runners, triathletes, female athletes and women with intense workout habits to take it down a notch. When it comes to conception, says Dr. Toledo, “If you really want to get pregnant, you’ve got to cut back on exercise. You can’t do both.” And, women aren’t the only ones who are affected. Men who exercise to the point of exhaustion on a regular basis can also have problems with healthy sperm production.

The good news is that the body recovers quickly and taking a break from your normal routine can often yield a conception within a handful of months or less.

Are You a Female Athlete? You May Need to Switch Priorities For a Little While

It is important to note that we are not talking about your average 30-minute exercise routine, five times a week – or even a daily exercise program. We are talking about hard-core workouts and athletic training that requires at least an hour of training or more, in a constant effort to boost performance and endurance. Also, women whose hormone levels are most affected by extreme exercise commitments tend to have body fat percentages of 20% or less (normal is about 21% to 35% depending on your age).

There are several reasons why excessive exercise and infertility can go hand-in-hand. Excessive exercising can drive the body into a “starvation state,” and the body’s reproductive system goes into a shut-down mode where estrogen production decreases. No estrogen = No fertility. Another downfall to continuously low levels of estrogen are osteoporosis and heart attacks, which are additional reasons to avoid this “shut down” state. Eating enough calories to compensate for the fuel you’re burning can be a good place to start if you aren’t ready to bail on the marathon training just yet.

When your body fat dips below normal, and estrogen levels drop you may experience irregular periods, lighter periods or a ceasing of your periods altogether, called amenorrhea. When this happens, you are at risk for fertility problems.

The following steps can help you get pregnant without stopping your training altogether.

  • Track your menstrual cycle. Consistently track your cycle and describe it. This will help you to establish whether or not your periods are regular. The typical cycle lasts anywhere from 21 to 35 days and begins on the first day of your period (not the day your period finishes). If you notice your periods are longer than 35 days apart, there’s a good chance your hormones are being affected by your training schedule.
  • Ovulation tests. Where most women use OTC ovulation tests to try to get pregnant, you can use them to make sure you’re ovulating in the first place. The sticks are like pregnancy test sticks and measure the amount of luteinizing hormone present in your urine during the days before you ovulate. No ovulation = Potential Hormone Imbalance.
  • Eat enough calories. Eating enough calories is the key to ensuring your body stays out of starvation mode. Eat sufficient amounts of healthy proteins and fats and don’t over-fiberize your diet since too much fiber can affect ovulation. As a standard, a 135-pound woman who has 20% to 25% body fat and is an extreme exerciser should consume between 1900 to 2000 calories per day. Talk to your doctor about the recommended caloric intake for your body type and lifestyle.
  • Visit a fertility specialist. If you’ve tried unsuccessfully to conceive for 12-months or more (6-months if you are over 35), schedule an appointment with a fertility specialist. The sooner you establish potential causes of infertility the faster you’ll be on your way to finding solutions.
  • Freeze your eggs. If you aren’t willing to give up your sport just yet, consider freezing your eggs. They can be used later on when you are ready to shift gears and become a parent, while allowing you to reach your maximum potential while you can.

If you think struggles with fertility may be the result of your exercise schedule, pull back a little and see what happens. You may be pregnant before you know it.

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OBGYN/Fertility SpecialistYour OB/GYN is your first resource and go-to specialist for anything related to female reproductive health. In addition to providing annual exams, pap tests and sound health advice, they can also provide a wealth of information about fertility and your journey to conception. However, if you are 35 years or older, have been diagnosed with a condition known to cause infertility, or have tried to conceive for 12-months without success, odds are your OB/GYN will refer you to a Fertility Specialist.

What’s the Difference Between an OB/GYN and a Fertility Specialist?

A fertility specialist –also called an infertility specialist – is an OB/GYN with extra training in fertility issues. In addition to completing the rigorous education and experiential training for the OB/GYN medical path, fertility specialists will continue their education and training specifically in the field of reproductive endocrinology and infertility (REI). In most cases, this requires an additional three years of intensive and highly focused training.

Board certified REI specialists have gone the extra mile (or five!) to complete up to 10 years of total post-graduate training. In order to receive their certification as both an OB/GYN and a reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist, they have to pass four tests:

  1. The general obstetrics and gynecology (OBGYN) written examination
  2. The general obstetrics and gynecology (OBGYN) oral examination
  3. The reproductive endocrinology and infertility (REI) written examination
  4. The reproductive endocrinology and infertility (REI) oral examination

Once complete, certified fertility specialists must maintain their education and training and be able to prove as much via continuous literary reviews and written examinations every six years.

This specialty allows them to review each person, and couple, on a case-by-case basis to make a more in depth analysis of potential fertility issues.

When Should I See a Fertility Specialist?

Fortunately, most women and men will never need to visit a fertility specialist. However, when needed, a board certified REI specialist is your greatest ally in conceiving a healthy baby as soon as possible. In most cases, your OB/GYN will refer you to a specialist when their initial infertility evaluation and more traditional reproductive assistance medications are unsuccessful.

Consider making an appointment with a fertility specialist if you:

Are over the age of 35. It’s better to know any potential issues ahead of time if you are pursuing parenthood at an age where productivity is biologically programmed to slow down. The sooner any kinks or potential hiccups are identified and ironed out, the sooner you can conceive your baby.

You have tried unsuccessfully for 12-months. If you have tried to conceive for 12-months or more and haven’t been successful, a fertility specialist may be your next stop. Make sure you’ve communicated with your OB/GYN as there are tests she can run and prescription medications that may be able to help. If not, it’s time to move to Plan B.

You’ve had multiple miscarriages. Even though it’s hard to hear, miscarriages are perfect normal. In fact, most women with one or more children have at least a single miscarriage story in their history. However, if you experience repeat miscarriages – three or more in a row – you are best off visiting a reproductive specialist to see if the cause can be identified.

You (or your partner) have condition known to cause fertility problems. If you’ve been diagnosed with PCOS, severe endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, undescended testicles, low sperm count/motility or other medical conditions linked to infertility, we recommend starting your reproductive journey with a visit to a specialist so you are prepared for what lies ahead.

It’s true that natural conception can take a while, but a fertility specialist can take the information provided by your OB/GYN to begin looking deeper. She will speak with you at greater length, run additional tests and procure lab results that can get to the bottom of things so you conceive your baby faster, whether it is naturally or with the help of assisted reproductive technology.



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