Ladies, did you know just how much of an impact your menstrual cycle has on you?
It’s one of those things that we get used to having fairly early on, certainly before any major life experiences and really with very little education.
I don’t know about you, but the text books certainly didn’t warn me about the desire for chocolate, the cravings beforehand, the cramps and discomfort, the skin breakouts, the headaches, or, if you’re really unlucky, the migraines.
I don’t recall any conversations about how you can actually support your body as it goes through these changes every single month for year after year after year, but you can and it doesn’t matter how late on it is that you discover this because you can make changes right away and reap the benefits.
Phase 1 – Follicular Phase (Menstruation) Day 1-12
Yes, that time of the month. Physically your body is doing it’s job of getting rid of the uterine lining, takes between 3-6 days usually and I think it’s safe to say that certainly for the first couple of days you feel pretty sluggish, a bit meh and that’s with good reason – you aren’t imagining it. Your hormones at this stage (progesterone and oestrogen) are at their lowest, which explains the lack of energy.
So what can you do to support your body? As a Personal Trainer it would be wrong of me not to tell you that it’s perfectly OK to exercise, that exercise will actually release endorphins that lessen the pain from cramping and they make you feel good and give you more energy. So yes, do that!
But also, check out what you’re eating. Depending on how heavy your period is you may find your iron levels are low – explaining the lack of energy and feeling of tiredness. You can compensate for this by eating more iron-rich foods like red meat, poultry and fish and if you’re less-inclined to get it from meat things like tofu, beans and lentils are great sources.
Did you know Vitamin C helps to absorb iron? Try adding fruit and vegetables like peppers, green leafy veg and tomatoes to your meals because it’ll help soak up the iron in the meat or beans.
Decaf your drinks. Vitamin C might absorb more iron, but caffeinated drinks (even green and black tea) have a substance in them which can decrease the amount of iron that your body absorbs, plus caffeine can actually make blood vessels in your body constrict, this can make cramps even worse. If you can’t give up caffeine entirely, maybe just ease off on those few days.
Phase 2 – Ovulation Phase Day 14-16
New eggs start their journey which results in an increase in oestrogen, testosterone as well as follicle stimulating hormones and luteinizing hormones – the body’s natural processes in preparation for a potential pregnancy. With these going up you should be feeling great!
Seriously, you should notice an increase in all things positive, so now is the time to take full advantage!
Get stuck into workouts that allow you to work at a higher intensity, whether that’s HIIT workouts, crossfit, weight training, cycling – if you’ve got the energy you may as well use it!
In terms of food, you aren’t lacking anything in particular, so keep making healthy choices, if you’re super-efficient you might want to make up some dinners to freeze ready for being back at day 1 when you probably won’t want to be bothered!
Phase 3 – Luteal Phase Day 17-28
Things are going great, you’re feeling really good and then your body starts to adapt based on whether that egg released in the phase 2 gets fertilized or not. If the egg is not fertilized that’s when your body enters this luteal phase – hormone levels begin to decrease and that’s when you may find yourself displaying those really irritating premenstrual symptoms – cramps, headaches, bloating, mood-swings.
Because of the changes in hormones this is why you may find you get those cravings for carb-rich foods, why the thought of chocolate may be all-consuming, why you feel the need to binge.
There is no need to deprive yourself massively, sometimes you need to listen to your body, but if you know that it needs carbohydrates then give it the good carbohydrates, give it the energy that it’s going to need to get you through the phase 1 that you’re approaching and try to prevent that sluggish feeling.
During this period your progesterone levels are at their highest, one of the biggest culprits for constipation so your fibre intake here is really important, think berries, broccoli, beans, nuts, even bran cereal and flaxseed (life changer for me).
Feeling bloated just before your period is really common regardless of what you eat, that’s thanks to oestrogen levels increasing which causes water retention (and the addition of a few lbs on the scales for a few days!). If you focus on less processed foods that’s a good start, but if you know it’s coming and you know it’s uncomfortable try to avoid or reduce common triggers like wheat and beans, broccoli, kale, dairy products and, dare I say it, alcohol.
Re-educating yourself as an adult can be genuinely enlightening, it’s a lot more interesting when you’re actually choosing to find something out than when you in school being forced to learn about something you may not have been interested in, just like me with Science and P.E. I would be so into that now than I was back then!
Keeping track of your cycle might seem dramatic to some, but if you find yourself suffering in some way every single month, or are sick of finding yourself craving rubbish each month and feel like you’re undoing your efforts the rest of the month, then give some of these changes a go, see if they make a difference. The more aware you can be of what your body is doing, the more prepared you can be to help it through.