Have you ever missed a workout because of your period? Guilty as charged.
I know the feeling. Your first-day cramps are at an all-time high. It can be tough but when your first day is through it might surprise that you can actually use this time to your advantage. Let’s break down the first stages of the menstrual cycle that are the toughest.
The Luteal Phase - Pre-Period Symptoms
The first two weeks leading up to your period can be the most challenging when you're trying to get in a solid workout.
This is called the Luteal Phase - You're combating low energy levels, PMS, cramping, tender breasts, and a storm of pre-period symptoms. This phase is when your body is producing several hormones - estrogen and progesterone. The production of these hormones causes you to feel less energy therefore decreasing your performance in the gym.
What should you do during this phase? Recognize that your body needs a break in the week leading up to your period. Schedule rest days as needed and try to get to the gym, but keep your training around 80% to give your central nervous system (CNS) time to recover.
The First Day of Period
The first day is tough. Give that one a break. When your cramps start to subside and you feel ready for the gym, get after it. Remember how estrogen and progesterone were high in the Luteal Phase? Well now they're actually low! This change in your hormones can actually help you feel more powerful in the gym!
Stacy Sims, a PhD and Stanford exercise physiologist says, "The more active you are [overall] and more regular you are with your activity, the better your periods end up being - less cramping, less heavy flow." If you want to read the full article click here.
Just because flow has arrived doesn't mean you're weak! If you feel bloated headed into the workout, exercise can help. Among the benefits of exercising during period is releasing mood-boosting endorphins when you sweat and water leaves the body resulting in less bloat.
What to Eat on your Period
Now, cravings are no stranger when our periods come around. I'm guilty of the occasional Ben & Jerry’s. So, what should we do when those cravings hit? The best thing to do is eat satiating complex carbs and proteins. This will help you stay fuller longer, easily digest, not overeat and lower your chance of giving into sweets. Great carb sources to help you combat cravings could be whole wheat bread, wild rice, quinoa, potatoes and black beans. Find your favorite protein sources to compliment the carbs, add some greens and if a craving does sneak in, grab a protein shake.
Remember the goal - protein protein protein. Keeping protein high is important because your energy levels are low and we don't want to lose any of our hard earned muscle!
Menstrual Cycle Dehydration and Sleep
Remember in the luteal phase when your hormones rise? This has an affect on your blood plasma - blood plasma levels drop around 8% in your luteal phase. Blood plasma is what helps your blood cells transport nutrients, hormones and proteins throughout your body. Water is the main vehicle to support blood plasma transportation! Retaining water during your period is going to not only help you function more efficiently, but it's going to keep you sharp and perform better in and out of the gym.
During the luteal phase progesterone also increases our core body temperature during sleep, which makes it hard for us to get quality REM sleep for proper recovery. Tart cherry juice has been known to help improve sleep but melatonin is another popular option - this is what I like to use.
I hope this has taught you something new about how our periods can impact our fitness goals. Always remember, some are worse than others and what works for me may not work for you. The important thing is to identify what you are struggling with and combat it in a way that makes sense for you. With that said, I hope this encourages you to feel strong and empowered when mother nature arrives. As always, if there is anything more serious, make sure to consult with your doctor.
(Guest Post by Savannah)