How to exercise and eat during Aunt Flo’s visit
A couple weeks ago, one of my friends sent me an email asking how in the world she was supposed to exercise while on her period. “How about some training ideas for the week of my period when I feel like dirt and have cramps and mind-numbing fatigue? That’s me this week,” she said.
So I did a little research and I found some pretty interesting facts about exercise, nutrition and a woman’s monthly cycle.
The average woman can gain anywhere between five and ten pounds of water during her cycle. (No wonder our weight fluctuates so much!) And exercising through this period may not sound like fun, but it will help with not only that stubborn water retention, but also with swelling and bloating, irritability and energy, depression and anxiety, and even appetite and cravings.
Probably the most interesting bit of information I found in my research pertains to the week before a woman’s period. According to Bodybuilding.com, the week before a woman’s period begins, she’ll burn between 2.5-11% more calories (and faster than normal) than any other time of the month. And to any woman watching her calories—this is awesome news! The not-so-awesome news is that this is also the time that women get hungrier, crave more foods, and ultimately eat even more than the 2.5-11% increase can handle. The good news? There’s a fix: as long as you have some dedication to your cycle and your diet, you can actually plan to increase your calories (slightly) to help stave off cravings and keep you full—all while knowing you’re still in control of your nutrition. Another thing that will help with weight-loss effort is to lower your calories during the two weeks after your period. Women’s hunger levels and cravings are normally less frequent during this time. So try cycling calories throughout the month to keep your body burning what it should during its most optimal times.
This next bit of info may come as a surprise, but if you’re already strict enough with your diet, you may already be working to alleviate your period symptoms. Women who tend to eat ultra low-carb during the day (even avoiding fruit) and save their carbs for post-workout, report to have fewer or less severe PMS symptoms.
What’s great about eating this way is that you’re actually allowed—scratch that—required to eat simple carbs such as the ones you’re most likely to crave. The catch is that these carbs must be eaten post training, and your training must be centered around heavy lifting. I’m not talking about 10-lb dumbbell lifting, but back squatting, deadlifting—lifting like your typical STRONG FIGURE girl. Could this be uncomfortable during your monthly cycle? Possibly. However once your body gets used to the plan, I think symptoms will become much less severe. It’s even possible that PMS won’t get in the way of your workouts any longer. It’s also important to note that this plan isn’t one that you can just follow for a week. It works because it levels out hormonal responses over a period of time, not to mention that it helps you lose extra body fat!
For those of you like my friend who battle pretty intense cramps, fatigue, headaches, and bloat, going to the gym may not sound like the most exciting thing to do during your cycle; however, out of all my research, there seems to be a pretty strong consensus on the benefits of exercise during PMS. So what types of exercises should you do to help maintain fitness goals?
Light intensity workouts will alleviate PMS symptoms and help shed calories at the same time. Suggested activities include walking (especially with a friend or pet), swimming, easy abdominal exercise and gentle yoga. Each of these exercises can be broken down to fit whatever suits you best during this rough time. Pair walking with easy abdominals or swimming with yoga; maybe you can only stand the thought of swimming or perhaps just the yoga? You can do everything or a little—pick and choose what’s going to make you feel best.
- Walking is great for cramp relief and it will stimulate your body’s blood flow and even help evoke feelings of clarity. I find that walking is always best for clearing my mind, and if you can walk with a friend, venting during this time of the month really alleviates a lot of stress. Walk it out!
- Swimming also alleviates both cramps and headaches. Since your body feels weightless in the water, you can burn many more calories without the feeling of intense physical activity. Both empower.com and voices.yahoo.com says that the backstroke forces you to keep your stomach up and out of the water which helps open the pelvis and relieves bloating and pain. The increased blood flow throughout the body—no matter what type of water movement you choose—will lift your energy and make you feel much better.
- Abdominal Work sounds crazy during this somewhat excruciating time, however as I dug deeper into my research I realized that there are actually a couple exercises that one can do to alleviate painful PMS cramps. Fitsugar.com says that the “scissor abs” move targets lower abdominals and loosens tight hamstrings and hips which all contribute to cramps. Tree.com suggests performing deep belly breathing which can be done anywhere! All you have to do is breathe deeply until you feel your lower abdomen expand. Hold this for a few seconds and then expel the breath slowly.
- Gentle Yoga is perfect for relieving menstrual cramps while toning and strengthening the body. According to both fitsugar.com and voices.yahoo.com, the most common poses (and see pics at bottom of article) for alleviating symptoms are
- Butterfly: Relieves hip tension
- Wide-legged Child’s Pose: Reduces lower back pain
- Camel Pose: Relieves abdominal tension
- Down Dog: Relieves mood swings and depression by increasing the blood flow to the head
- Happy Baby: relieves lower back pain and cramps
- Cat Pose: relieves tension in the low back and belly
- Pilates Roll Up: relieves bloating. (Be sure to have a straight, neutral spine and move through the complete range of motion.)
Spend anywhere from 30 seconds up to a couple of minutes in each pose or a combination of poses, repeating as often as you like.
For the hardcore exercisers who don’t like taking it easy in a workout, giving yourself an easy break from the typical routine may be tougher mentally than physically. Don’t worry, because I’ve got great news! A woman’s tolerance for pain is actually at its highest the week after her period. This is stellar news for heading back to the gym. This is the best time to push yourself, test your limits, lift heavier and break through plateaus. And the added “easy exercises” from the week before will probably give your body a much needed break from its typical stress—allowing you to work harder than you might have without the respite.
And finally, bodybuilding.com gives a few extra tips to help keep your body in top shape during your cycle:
- Avoid salty food so that you don’t retain extra water
- Drink more water than normal to battle retention and bloat
- Sip some herbal tea to help with cramps
- Season foods with oregano for cramp and bloating relief
Try these exercises and dieting tips and let us know how they help! Have any ideas not mentioned here? Please share below!