Should You Workout During Your Time Of The Month?
It doesn’t matter what you call it – ‘time of the month’, ‘periods’, or ‘menstruation’ – it all boils down to the same monthly process in women, which for some can be a painful and exhausting experience. Others are lucky, suffering only for a few hours when menstruation starts and symptoms from start to finish lasting only for a few days.
The level of period pain experienced by women varies, along with the amount of blood and tissue lost during the process. There is no known scientific reason why it is worse for some sufferers than others, other than the fact that as the muscular wall of the womb contracts, both blood and oxygen supply to the blood vessels are cut off. To compensate, the body releases chemicals which trigger your pain receptors, thus causing the discomfort and spasmodic pain. When these chemicals are released, they set off further chemicals called ‘prostoglandins’, which enhance the contractions in the womb and
subsequently cause even more pain.
Effects periods have on your body
Other than period pain and the visual signs of a period commencing, women can also suffer a variety of other symptoms, not connected to the womb or uterine contractions.
• Extreme tiredness and/or lethargy which can occur from mid-menstrual cycle until several days after, in extreme cases
• Mood swings – common in many women, causing highs and lows in temperament including tearfulness or emotional disturbance
• Aches and pains in other parts of the body, particularly pelvic and lumbar regions. Pains can also occur in the legs.
• Swelling and water retention, causing discomfort and frustration, particularly when clothes won’t button up!
• General ‘fogginess’ of the mind, and a feeling of detachment from simple problems
The menstrual cycle itself can be affected by some forms of contraception, such as the birth control pill or IUD’s (inter-uterine devices), therefore it is best to consult with your GP should your periods become almost non-existent, or exceptionally heavy. The general length of a menstrual cycle is 28 days, but there should be little concern if this varies by a few days.
There’s one thing in the life of all females that is a given. The menstrual cycle, you should all be experts in this by now so we shan’t bore you with a biology lesson. But if you do want a refresher from your GCSE biology lessons this short video by Limu Health Care explains the process in simple terms.
Each menstrual cycle lasts around 28 days, it can vary from person to person but 28 days is the average. When your period starts is the first day of the cycle. Days 1-14 are called the Follicular phase. This is when bleeding starts and usually lasts for up to 7 days.
Ovulation is when the egg is released and this can occur between days 12 and 18, most cases. Meanwhile days 14-28 are the Luteal stage, where the body prepares itself for the possibility of conception
This is the basic stuff that you already know, at least you ought to, but how can these phases affect your approach to nutrition and training?
During this part of the cycle your body produces a number of hormones, most notably estragon. During this phase it’s highly likely that you will be slightly more insulin sensitive. This means that you can probably eat a few more carbohydrates than normal.
Of course, as fat loss is your primary goal, you will bring in those extra carbs in place of some fats. So if you currently eat around 40:30:30 carbs:fats:protein then you might like to go up to 50:20:30 carbs:fats:protein. You may potentially be a little more flexible here and allow yourself a few more sweets or treat foods, so long as you don’t exceed your Calorie targets.
Now, because you’re body can handle more carbs this is a good time to do your most intense exercise. Intense efforts where you are getting your heart rate up really high (in excess of 80% of max) like heavy weights and HIIT. It makes sense that as you are eating more carbs you should train accordingly. You will also notice, with the higher amounts of carbohydrate that your exercise performance is better.
This means you train harder and burn more Calories as a result.
It’s also worth noting that in first few days of this phase you will likely store more water and may feel some bloating. Don’t be alarmed if you are doing everything right but your scales aren’t moving. Carry on as you are and when the water retention dissipates you will likely see a drop on the scales.
The Luteal Phase
It’s likely that during this phase you will feel a little more emotional as your hormone balance shifts, it’s common to feel symptoms of PMS during this phase, aslisted above. You may experience more sweet cravings but, your insulin sensitivity will be reduced. Insulin resistance will mean that you are less capable of burning off those carbs so cutting down on the sweet stuff and upping the fats (dark chocolate anyone?) might be a good idea.
Because your energy levels will take a hit here and because you are eating more fats and less carbs now is a good time to do more steady state cardio (less than 70% of maximum heart rate). Aerobic exercise oxidises fats for fuel so adjusting your exercise to suit your activity again, makes sense here.
This might also be a good time to add in some gentler workouts like yoga and some self-compassion, stress reduction or meditation to help your mood and save your partner’s sanity.
The Female Athlete Triad
This is a complex situation and not exclusively related to the menstrual cycle but it’s worth mentioning here. Amenorrhea is the condition where your menstrual cycle stops, which is bad. This is fairly common in female athletes and very active ladies who are very lean. The reason being that they are eating too little and training too much.
In addition to amenorrhea, it can also lead to joint pain, stress fractures and, eventually, osteopenia and osteoporosis.
So, to avoid becoming a victim of the female athlete triad make sure that you are eating enough food. Ensure that you track your food intake accurately, avoid the common mistake of under reporting and remember, less isn’t always better where nutrition is concerned.
Watch this video and if you are reporting the 1,200kcal per day (for example) but your food intake looks more like the last row of meals then you know you’re under reporting.
If you still aren’t sure then read this article about how to track your food accurately.
The ‘pros’ for working out during your period
Fluctuations in your hormone balance during your period are impossible to avoid, but unfortunately they can affect you both physically and mentally. Energy levels as well as stamina can decrease considerably, which is frustrating if you are keen to follow a fitness regime.
Extreme and hard workouts are not a therapy for periods, and much more gentle exercise is recommended. Pace yourself and your body according to how you feel and ensure that you are comfortable at all times. There is no scientific reason not to workout if you are feeling perfectly fine.
A workout during your period can also give you much more clarity of mind, and whilst you are physically pushing yourself, you are also clearing out the cobwebs and dispensing with any lethargy. Exercise will increase your heart rate and consequently the blood flow which carries oxygen throughout the body – as mentioned, oxygen can be depleted during your period.
On a lighter exercise programme, you can hopefully say goodbye to stomach cramps. Exercise will release more endorphins in the body (endorphins are the ‘happy hormones’) giving you a higher level of relaxation. Any exercise that involves stretching will increase the blood flow to the pelvic region and relieve those painful muscle cramps. Yoga,
swimming or a light workout are highly recommended.
If at any time you feel unwell or experience problems during exercise, you must consult your doctor. Also remember to stay hydrated at all times.
The ‘cons’ for working out during your period
Scientifically, there are no real ‘cons’ for working out during your period. The biggest con is pushing yourself too hard and not listening to your body. No gym wants to see a client overcome with fainting or illness, due to excessive exercise during this time. It won’t do you any good, and could do you harm. If you are feeling down or fatigued during the menstrual cycle, the only way to get up again is to treat this time of the month with gentle exercise. If you have no other illnesses, such as hypertension or other lifestyle problems, you can go ahead with a sensible exercise programme.
Know your limitations and trust your body.
Best workouts/exercise during periods
At Gymcube, we not only take care of your body, we take care of you and your wellbeing. Our classically engineered programmes are designed to suit all bodies and most medical conditions with the correct methods.
During periods, gentle exercise is recommended in the form of:
• Light cardio workout (simple bike ride or walking)
If you are just visiting the gym for light work, or at home, try to include exercises that involve lying on your stomach – this can alleviate cramping at the same time as massaging your painful areas. If you feel this may be slightly uncomfortable, apply a heat pad (disposable) just before you start your exercise.
Gymcube can advise you on the best workouts/exercise programmes for that critical time of the month, taking into consideration that during different times of the menstrual cycle you will need different plans. Our team of expert fitness professionals will know when and how to work your body.
Exercises To Relieve Period Pains
If you struggle with bad lower back cramps during your period and have failed so far to get rid of them, the video below may help you. Cherry Baker and Cherie teamed up to demonstrate some really simple exercises you can do to relieve back pain during your period.
Best foods during periods
A healthy balanced diet should always see you through life in general, but during periods you may need that little bit extra help. It is as much about ‘what not to eat’ as it is about the foods that you will benefit from.
By far the worst thing to do is to satisfy any ‘cravings’ – the tendency is to comfort eat during this time, so reaching for that chocolate bar is a definite no-no, but you can munch on a couple of square of high percentage dark chocolate to take off the edge. Sugar may comfort your tastebuds, but it will not do your period symptoms any justice. Avoid sweet and sugary foods and drinks at all costs.
Concentrate on these foods:
• Oily fish, such as salmon. Rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, this will help to relax you, and contend with mood swings and bad tempers!
• Avocados – these have the same effect as salmon
• Leafy or cruciferous vegetables – load up on these. With a high iron content, they replenish the iron in the blood which can be lost during menstruation. Kale and spinach are particular good
• Yoghurt – a good muscle relaxer and a great source of calcium and magnesium, needed to reduce symptoms
• Whole grains - satisfying and filling. The Vitamin B content is also good for tiredness and moodiness
• High potassium foods, such as Bananas. They also contain Vitamin B6 which aids in preventing mood swings. They also assist in regulating bowel movement. Some people can suffer from constipation during menstruation. Awesome Supplements' Daily Dose contains the RDA of all these essential nutrients as well.
Unfortunately, menstruation is a woman’s cross to bear, usually until you are at least 50 years old. Life should not stop for you during this time, and there are ways to alleviate the symptoms by following all of our tips.You will feel better, happier and have more energy. So get off the couch, stop feeling sorry for yourself – the less you concentrate on your aches and pains, the quicker they will go away!