Eating FOR your Cycle
“I couldn’t stop eating”
“I just wanted crackers and biscuits – I couldn’t stop”
“I felt soooo tired and just kept picking”
These are some of the things clients tell me.
And often my first question will be: “Where are you on your menstrual cycle?”
To which the response is often: “I’m on” or “I’m about to be on.”
So…. let’s address this head on. How should you eat when you’re on or about to be?
Because there’s lots of changes going on in your body in these days. And it would make sense to try to work with these changes rather than trying to crack on as normal or bash them into submission…
So, remember your biology lessons from Year 7? 8? Let’s revisit.
PERIOD PHASE 1: MENSTRUAL / FOLLICULAR PHASE. (Day 1 – 12)
Day 1 is marked by the arrival of our perfectly (or not so perfectly) timed visitor – our period, and as you would have learnt in school, this phase begins with the shedding of our uterine lining. This process typically lasts 3-6 days. I think we can all agree, we usually don’t feel 100% – we typically feel tired, get cramps and just feel sluggish overall.
The main hormones at play in our menstrual cycle are progesterone and oestrogen and at this stage in our cycle, they are at their lowest.
So, how can you help yourself out in this part of your cycle?
TIP #1 – UP THE IRON
You’re losing blood volume. So chances are you’re low in iron. Symptoms include tiredness, weakness, shortness of breath, poor concentration, light headedness. Did that workout feel much harder than usual? Low iron could be a cause.
The best sources of iron our body easily absorbs includes: red meat, poultry and fish. Other sources include dark leafy greens, dried beans, peas and lentils. Or you can take a supplement, I use FerroDyn by Nutri Advanced.
TIP #2 – TO TRAIN OR NOT TO TRAIN?
This one is down to individual preference. If you’ve got terrible cramps or a heavy flow, maybe swap your session with a more restorative session, like a long walk or yoga. Having said that, endorphins released during exercise might help combat your cramp pain. But it really depends what type of period you’re getting…
Personally, I make myself push on. BUT, I will schedule a 20min power nap before or after the session, and I’ll often allow myself to back off on any part of the session if I’m really not feeling up to it.
TIP #3 – WHAT TO EAT?
Ideally we’re aiming for high fat and low carbs in this phase. Salmon, Greek yoghurt and nuts or nut butters for example. To help ward off the cravings, try by eating a couple of square of dark chocolate.
PHASE 2: OVULATION PHASE. (Day 14 – 16)
After our period, a new egg begins to mature in our ovaries (which produces oestrogen), and our oestrogen levels start to rise. The pituitary gland also produces the luteinizing hormone, which produces testosterone. With a rise in oestrogen and testosterone, we feel more energised and ready to take on the world.
TIP #1 – GET TRAINING!
This is your STRONG phase. You should maximise this by training hard and heavy! It’s a great time to try a new exercise or class that you’ve been putting off. It’s a great time to try and max out some PBs. You’re strong and confident, and your body is in prime Anabolic (muscle building) state!
TIP #2 – FUEL THE WORKOUTS
You have the most energy at this stage in your cycle. Fuel your workouts with excellent sources of protein like nuts, yoghurt, eggs, fish and lean cuts of meats and poultry.
PHASE 3: LUTEAL PHASE. (Day 17 – 28)
After the high, comes the inevitable low… Bye bye lovely anabolic hormones. Hello self-doubt, (I know I’m in this phase because it takes me forever to pull out of the junction at the top of my road!), mood swings and fatigue.
Add cravings. Cravings for carbs, particularly!
In this phase we tend to be insulin resistant: we are physiologically primed to be losing fat here. However, these damn cravings are doing their utmost to not let this happen (for a reason: fat is a precious commodity in our body). But if you could just avoid the carb-fest then it is a great time to shed a lb or two… So how can you do this?
TIP #1 – GET AHEAD OF THE CRAVING
Listen to your body and look for patterns. I’m sure we’ve all experienced the 3 pm chocolate craving. If you know that you’ll get that craving at 3 pm, have a healthy snack at 2:30 pm to curb that craving. Nuts, nut butters, protein balls and fruit could be your saviours here…
TIP #2 – TAKE A MAGNESIUM SUPPLEMENT
If you’re really craving chocolate it might be that you’re low on Magnesium! Cacao is actually incredibly rich in Magnesium (and iron, potassium as well as antioxidants) and some people think the link between chocolate cravings and periods might be a lack of magnesium. So, take a supplement. Or a couple of squares of dark chocolate. The darker the better. Anything less than 70% just won’t do!