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Optimizing Exercise + Nutrition During Your Cycle

Ugg (!!!) it’s that “time of the month” and things just aren’t the same.

Your sleep is off, your cravings are outta control, you feel more stressed, more irritable, and you’re ready for it to all be over.

As a certified women’s specialist and coach, I am here to help you understand what to expect during your menstrual cycle and most importantly, learn exactly what to do to optimize your exercise and nutrition habits accordingly!

Given all the variances and fluctuations women experience throughout a menstrual cycle, learning best strategies ensures you feel your best and can continue prioritizing your goals.

This is especially true if you’re already exercising regularly, starting a new fitness routine or, curious what to expect if you start exercising, knowing you don’t feel 100% during your cycle.

So much of the feedback and questions I hear from our female Warriors has to do with the noticeable differences they feel/experience in their strength levels and appetite throughout the month.

For example, last week’s weights now feel like 1,000 pounds of lead. The massive kettlebell you swung just a few days ago now feels impossible to pick up. Mustering up the energy to even walk through the RF door feels like a massive chore!

First and foremost, just know you are not alone!

These fluctuations are often linked to both your menstrual cycle and the phase of your cycle.

While your cycle can become quite challenging throughout the month, understanding and adapting to the hormonal fluctuations occurring during this time is a powerful tool for optimizing your strength training and nutrition!

In this blog, I am exploring the 4 different phases of a menstrual cycle and how to optimize both your fitness and nutrition during each so you know exactly how to adjust both accordingly. 


THE 4 PHASES

As women, we have often been told to avoid lifting heavy or exercising all together while menstruating (plus a myriad of other myths).

Welp, NONE of this is true!

What IS true? By understanding your cycle, you can achieve effective and sustainable results when it comes to your fitness and performance.

Don’t forget, as women, we are strong AF! Now let’s use that to our advantage!!

First, let’s discuss the 4 phases of the menstrual cycle:

  • Menstrual Phase: Days 1-5

    • The menstrual phase marks the beginning of your cycle. This is when the shedding of the uterine lining occurs (a.k.a your period). During this time, energy levels may be lower and you may experience discomfort (hello bloating, cramps, headaches…), increased muscle soreness, and fatigue.

  • Follicular Phase: Days 6-14

    • During the follicular phase, estrogen levels begin to rise and you may experience increased energy and stamina!

  • Ovulatory Phase: Days 15-17

    • Estrogen and testosterone levels peak during ovulation, leading to increased strength and energy levels!

  • Luteal Phase: Days 18-28

    • As progesterone levels rise, you may experience increased cravings, variance in hunger levels and potential fatigue.

*Note: menstrual cycles can differ from woman to woman. The average cycle is typically 28 days long but can range between 21 – 35 days.


HOW TO OPTIMIZE YOUR FITNESS + NUTRITION

#1. Menstrual Phase (Days 1-5)
Training Tips:

  • Listen to your body and prioritize recovery: when exercising during your period, you may need to scale back on your weights and take longer breaks – this is ok!

  • Move your body daily: you know your body best and the important thing is moving daily, regardless of intensity.

  • Don’t beat yourself up: allow yourself grace if/when strength or cardio-based workouts feel too much or extra hard.

  • As needed, consider adding in gentle forms of recovery/movement such as yoga, walking or swimming.

  • Stay well hydrated to manage bloating and cramps.

Nutrition Tips:

  • Focus on replenishing nutrients lost during menstruation by choosing foods rich in iron and omega-3 fatty acids:

  • Eat Iron-rich foods: such as lean meats, seafood, legumes, beans, and dark leafy greens replenish lost iron.

  • Pair iron-rich foods with foods containing vitamin C for better absorption.

  • Eat vitamin C-containing foods: such as citrus fruits, bell peppers, strawberries, and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower.

  • Eat Omega-3 Fatty Acids: these foods reduce inflammation and support joint health. Examples include fatty fish (salmon, mackerel), flaxseeds, walnuts, and chia seeds.


#2. Follicular Phase (Days 6-14)

Training Tips:

  • Bump Up Intensity! This is the optimal time for more intense strength training and high-intensity interval training.

  • Get that heart pumping!!

Nutrition Tips: Eat a balanced diet that supports muscle growth and endurance.

  • Eat Protein-Rich Foods: such as chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, legumes, and beans.

  • Aim to add 1 palm-sized serving (~4 ounces) of protein to each of your meals and snacks.

  • Eat Complex Carbohydrates: our body’s main source of energy you NEED them for optimal performance!

  • Aim for 1-cupped handful (~1/2 cup) of whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice, and oats. Be sure to also include foods such as fruit, sweet potatoes, beans, and legumes.


#3. Ovulatory Phase (Days 15-17)

Training Tips:

  • Grab the heavier weight! If your focus is on building muscle, improving endurance and increasing your overall performance, now is your time to shine!

  • Challenge yourself! Squeeze in an extra rep, try a more challenging modification – you can do it!

Nutrition Tips: Eat heart-healthy fats to provide sustained energy and support hormone production and antioxidant-rich foods to reduce inflammation and support recovery.

  • Dietary fats are the body’s secondary source of energy and are NEEDED for daily energy and hormone support.

  • Heart-Healthy Fats: foods such as avocados, nuts, and olive oil.

  • Antioxidant-Rich Foods: foods such as berries, dark leafy greens, and colorful vegetables (eat the rainbow each day!).


#4. Luteal Phase (days 18-28)

Training Tips:

  • Engage and practice mind-body exercises: activities promoting relaxation and stress reduction such as meditation, yoga, or gentle stretching. You know your body best!

Nutrition Tips:

  • Eat a sufficient amount of protein to stay satisfied!

  • Monitor hunger cues: cravings are complicated, and it can be difficult to differentiate between a craving and true, physical hunger.

  • Hunger: your body’s physiological NEED for food. If you are truly hungry, hunger will continue to increase. If you feel “hollow”, have a grumbling belly, or, feel low on energy, it may be time to eat a nutrient-dense meal or snack.

  • Cravings: your body’s WANT for food, often triggered by sights, smells and emotions.

  • To get in more touch with hunger vs. cravings, take 5-10 minutes to evaluate hunger levels before diving in.

  • Cravings will pass within a few minutes whereas hunger will continue to grow.

  • Eat Complex Carbohydrates: carbohydrates such as quinoa, oats, fruit, and sweet potatoes stabilize blood sugar levels and manage cravings.

  • Eat Magnesium-Rich Foods: foods such as nuts, seeds, and dark leafy greens all contain magnesium to support muscle relaxation and reduce cramping.


Now, let’s debrief! First and foremost, remember that what you are experiencing and feeling is NORMAL, and you are NOT alone!

Secondly, it is important to understand your cycle so you know what to expect and how best to offset variances in energy levels, strength, appetite, cravings, and hunger.

By aligning your nutrition and exercise routine with the different phases of your menstrual cycle, you will empower yourself to optimize your performance, enhance recovery and prioritize overall well-being!

Listen to your body, make adjustments as needed, and celebrate the unique strengths that each phase brings to your fitness routine. Remember, self-care, proper nutrition, and daily movement can and will contribute to a healthier and more balanced lifestyle throughout your menstrual cycle.

If you’re unsure what to do or have any questions, book your free intro with our team so we can help you navigate these nuances so you can feel your best!



 

Stay Fueled

 

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