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  • Writer's pictureJamie Alexander

Period Power: How Your Cycle Impacts Gym Performance and Cravings

For many women, the menstrual cycle is more than just cramps and mood swings. It's a rollercoaster of hormonal shifts that can significantly impact our relationship with food and exercise. Have you ever had those days where you just feel rubbish? Low in energy, bloated, weak in the gym. Understanding how your period affects your body is key to optimising your workouts and managing cravings, but more importantly, it means you won’t be so hard on yourself when you understand your period cycles.


A lady on her phone tracking her period with an app

The Hormonal Dance:

The menstrual cycle can be broken down into four phases, each dominated by different hormones:


  • Menstrual Phase (Days 1-4): This is when you have your period, and fatigue is a common symptom. It wouldn't be the best time to push yourself with new exercises, however always take into account how you are feeling.

  • Follicular Phase (Days 1-14): This phase starts after your period ends. This is the window where oestrogen rises, giving you more energy and making it a great time to try new workouts or push yourself harder.

  • Ovulation (Around Day 14): Oestrogen and progesterone peak, leading to increased alertness and potentially improved endurance.

  • Luteal Phase (Days 15-28): Progesterone takes centre stage, causing bloating, fatigue, and cravings for comfort foods. This is where things can get tricky.


Craving Combat:

The dip in oestrogen and rise in progesterone during the luteal phase can wreak havoc on your blood sugar. This instability can trigger intense cravings for sugary, fatty foods. Here's how to fight back:


  • Fuel Up Smart: Eat regular meals and snacks throughout the day to keep blood sugar levels stable. Choose complex carbs like whole grains, fruits, and veggies, and pair them with lean protein and healthy fats.

  • Hydration is Key: Dehydration can mimic hunger pangs. Aim for plenty of water throughout the day, and consider herbal teas for a comforting, calorie-free drink.

  • Plan Ahead: Stock your pantry with healthy snacks you genuinely enjoy. Pre-portioning nuts, fruits, and yogurt can help avoid impulsive decisions.


A woman on her sofa holding her stomach due to period pains

Strength and Stamina Shifts:

Progesterone (more prominent in the luteal phase) can also impact muscle strength and recovery. You might find yourself lifting lighter weights or feeling achy during the luteal phase. Don't see this as a setback! Here's how to adjust your workouts:


  • Listen to Your Body: Reduce the intensity or duration of your workouts if needed. Reduce the weights of your usual lifts, maybe even just focus on bodyweight exercises. If you’re really not feeling it, going for a long walk instead.

  • Prioritise Recovery: Get plenty of sleep during this phase to help manage your energy levels and mood.


Remember:

  • Individuality Matters: Every woman's cycle is unique. Track your symptoms and adjust your diet and exercise routine based on what works best for you. What works for someone else doesn’t mean it will work for you.

  • Be Kind to Yourself: Don't feel guilty if you experience cravings or fatigue. These are normal responses to hormonal changes and the majority of women go through the same thing.


Embrace the Cycle:

Understanding how your menstrual cycle affects your body empowers you to make informed choices about your food and exercise routine. By working with your hormones, not against them, you can navigate your period with strength and confidence, both in the gym and beyond.

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