Dieting around your menstrual cycle.
We all know that your menstrual cycle affects your hormones. One day you’re fine, the next day you’re acting like a crazy bi**h with zero energy and crying in to a tub of ice cream. But you’ve probably never really gave much thought to how your cycle can affect your gym performance and/or weight loss goals.
By knowing where you are in your cycle and what hormones are prominent at certain times, you can start to work around this and hopefully overcome any issues it’s causing.
What are the different phases of your cycle and what’s important for you to do during each phase?
So your cycle essentially has 4 phases:
Phase 1 – menstruation – day 1- 5 give or take, some women have shorter and some longer periods. As you lose blood your iron stores deplete. So the most important thing for you during this time is to replenish your iron stores. You can do this by increasing red meat, green veg, nuts, beans and lentils. You can often feel tired in this period so increasing iron intake, as well as getting enough sleep, will help.
Phase 2 – the follicular phase – day 5-14. During this time the brain sends chemical signals down to the ovaries to tell them to release an egg. The hormone oestrogen also starts to increase. Oestrogen is essentially a feel good hormone, during this period you’ll probably feel like you have more energy and find it easier to diet. So this is a really good time for you to be training hard!
Phase 3 – ovulation – day 14-16. This is where you egg releases. During this period you are the most fertile so if you’re trying for a baby you will probably want to get some extra cardio in here, if you know what I mean 🤣.
Phase 4 – the luteal phase – days 16-28. As we get in to the second half of the cycle your body will see a rise in progesterone . Progesterone is the hormone which prepares body for pregnancy, however we still have a relatively high level of oestrogen in the body so you have a lot of hormones present at this time. This has an Impact on training and eating. At this point (days 14-21) our metabolic rate increases. Science says you will feel hungrier! So look to increase your calories by 200-300 a day. As we get toward the end of the phase (21-28) This is where we start to get sugary cravings, can go a little crazy with our food and undo all the effort put in, in the previous weeks to stay in a calorie deficit. So here we need to try and eat more complex carbs such as beans, whole grains and vegetables, this will help to curb the cravings. You could also try adding in a couple of pieces of fruit per day. You’ll start to feel all those PMS-ey symptoms- bloating, irritability etc. SUGAR MAKES SYMPTOMS WORSE, so reaching for the bag of haribo isn’t doing you any favours. Watching our refined sugar intake allows our blood sugar levels to stay more stable and in turn helps us keep our mood a little more stable. Hydration is also important here as we lose sodium and feel very lethargic. It’s even more important when your exercise.
You can simplify these phases in to 2 phases, days 1-14 (oestrogen phase) and days 15-28 ( progesterone phase) .
Should you change your calories during each phase?
So as mentioned above, it’s easier to diet during day 1-14 and your metabolic rate increases and you generally have more cravings during day 15-28 , so changing your calories can help .
Day 1-14 can be your calorie deficit phase, you’ll probably find you can stick to it better here. Day 15-28 can be more of a maintenance phase. As discussed earlier, you should look to increase your calories by 200-300 or take them back up to Maintenance , taking your focus off trying to lose weight and put more focus on eating the right things can really work well here. You’ll probably find it also makes your workouts a little easier as you should feel slightly less lethargic with the increase in cals.
So over a 12 month period you’d essentially be in a calorie deficit for 6 months and a maintenance phase for 6 months. Trying to stick in a calorie deficit all the time can be hard and if you go a little crazy during weeks 3 & 4, you probably feel a little guilty and like you’ve undone all your hard work which can be bad for you mentally. Taking this approach will probably make it easier for you to lose weight as it allows you to be more consistent and not have to worry too much about trying to stick within a deficit. Remember it’s normal for your hunger levels to increase at certain times during your cycle!
Should you exercise on your period if you suffer with bad pains?
Yes! If you’re suffering badly with pain try taking some paracetamol before heading to the gym. Exercise can actually help relieve period pain, however you often feel tired when you’re on so weight training can be a little tricky. You might want to try some gentle cardio such as biking or walking instead.
If you have any questions after reading this feel free to drop me a DM!
Tai MM, et al (1997) thermal effect of food during each phase of the menstrual cycle
Davidsen L, et al (2007), impact of the menstrual cycle on determinants of energy balance: a putative role in weight loss attempts
Solomon SJ, et al (1982), menstrual cycle and basal metabolic rate in women