There are often many taboos when it comes to talking about periods and the menstrual cycle. And that is exactly why we want to talk about the subject MORE – to help break down this social barrier. It is normal and most definitely not weird. Almost 50% of the world’s population will experience a period, yet for some reason we don’t talk about it. We have teamed up with professional triathlon coach and Auro trainer Lucy Hurn, to provide some powerful knowledge around the menstrual cycle and how to go with your flow when it comes to training, your hormones and your period.
Hey Lucy, why is it so important for women to know how to adapt their training to their menstrual cycle?
“Although research is adapting every day, a lot of studies based around training and ‘what works for your body’ is focused primarily on men. But women are different, obviously we have different body shapes, but we also have periods and a menstrual cycle. Our hormones can have a massive impact on how our bodies respond to exercise, as well as our diet and how we feel. Our bodies are constantly changing throughout the month, and that is exactly why it makes it hard for research to pinpoint precisely what works best for women’s bodies – but that is also why this research is essential!”
Do you think there are negative connotations surrounding periods?
“Talking about the impacts of periods can generally seem negative, often we are drawn to the downsides – cramps, mood swings, bloating. But it is also important to focus on the good parts. Once I had a client tell me “I don’t know why I can’t do this work out, I’ve got so weak”. But she wasn’t weak, it was just the wrong time of the month for that sort of training. If you change your training routine to work alongside your cycle you can often get better results. Your period is a good thing. It is a good sign that , everything is in balance and you are healthy enough to get pregnant (whether you want to or not is another matter! But your body will stop the menstrual cycle if it thinks you are not healthy enough.) [feel free to reword that! Just didnt want to imply that either you’re definitely healthy, or that getting pregnant would be a bad thing!] . Additionally, the hormones released during the menstrual cycle help protect bones.”
Lucy has guided us through the different stages of our menstrual cycle, telling us how our hormones, diet and bodies change throughout the month, and providing us with expert tips on how to adapt our training to our cycles
(the days are approximate based on a typical 28 day cycle, but everyone’s body is different so your cycle might be different, start tracking now if you don’t already to spot your patterns)
Phase 1: Time to rest (approx. days 1 – 5 of your cycle)
“At this time our oestrogen and progesterone are at their lowest. You may experience symptoms such as lethargy, cramps, heavy legs & lack of concentration. These hormone changes may have inflammatory impacts on the body, which moderate exercise can usually help. But, at the end of the day, base your exercise during this time off how you feel. If you had prepared to do some HIIT today but really don’t feel up to it, perhaps delay this for a few days.
Try adapting your diet slightly during this first phase, as you will be losing iron through the blood. Include more iron-rich foods into your diet such as red meat, kidney beans, chickpeas and dried fruit. Your white blood cell count is also lower during this time, meaning you are at a higher risk of getting ill, therefore focus on eating well, getting enough sleep and rest.”
Phase 2: Beast Mode (approx. days 6 – 14)
“Beast mode time! This is the BEST time for hard training. For most people your menstrual symptoms have passed, your oestrogen is rising; you will be feeling stronger, more energetic and alert. Focus on strength and high intensity training during this time. Go for it on your sprints, power work and heavy weight sessions. Your muscles also repair better in this phase and interestingly you have better special awareness during this time… so perhaps try out a new skill that you have never done before!
However, your joints are vulnerable during phase 2, which makes you more prone to soft tissue injuries. So, make sure you warm up well before you start your training.
Regarding your diet during this week, you may find it easier to eat well as your cravings are less pronounced due to your blood sugar levels being more stable.”
Phase 3: Ovulation and onwards (days 15 – 23)
“This phase begins with ovulation. Some may experience pain or cramps for a few days around now. You may have a slightly increased heart rate, blood pressure and temperature. This is nothing to worry about, but it is good to be aware of this to ease any concerns. Our energy levels may begin to decrease at this time, meaning that training may become harder.
Your blood sugar levels will be less stable meaning cravings will be coming your way, yes there’s a reason we wantchocolate! But, if you can, try and aim for protein-based snacks, or complex carbs (mixed grains, whole foods with fibre, rather than just sugary snacks) for sustained energy release rather than having a quick sugar high and then crashing. Your muscle breakdown is accelerated during phase 3, so you have to do more to protect muscles, so ensuring you are getting an adequate protein intake is especially important!”
Phase 4: The pre-menstrual phase (days 24- 28)
“This is the week before menstruation and for most people the most dreaded phase. Our progesterone and oestrogen levels start to drop which produces an inflammatory response resulting in pre-menstrual symptoms (mood swings, trouble sleeping, bloating, headaches, skin breakouts and changes in appetite and sex drive).
It is harder to exercise at this time as our energy levels are at their lowest (and not to mention the pain and bloating!). But moderate exercise can definitely help. The best thing to do is treat this week as a recovery week. This doesn’t mean don’t train at all, but just reduce the amount and intensity of the exercise you do.
Your blood sugar levels will still be unstable meaning your cravings may continue, so try to avoid processed foods and refined sugar. Instead, try to eat anti-inflammatory foods rich in antioxidants such as oily fish, eggs, nuts, fruit, veg and berries. This will not only help with cramps but also sustain your energy.
Then we go back to phase 1 again – and that completes our menstrual cycle!”
To recap: everyone is different, what Lucy has outlined is typical for an average woman, but perhaps tracking your period for a few months is a good way to learn for yourself how your cycle works.
It’s not about saying ‘I can’t train’ or developing a chip on your shoulder, but rather it’s about knowing what to do and when: when your body will respond best to certain types of training, when to swap things round, what to prioritise in your diet and how to ensure you recover best from the training.
Check out Lucy’s podcast ‘Know your menstrual cycle’ on the Auro app today where she discusses this topic further whilst taking you on an easy run (or any other easy session you fancy).