It's a topic that isn't really talked about a lot in the online fitness world. How does your period and menstrual cycle affect your training?
We've all had those days when you come on your period and feel completely exhausted, but should we be taking the 'no pain no gain' attitude and pushing through?
It's something we were really interested to learn more on, so we sat down with the incredible fountain of knowledge that is Nikki Hill
My name is Nikki and I am a Naturopath, Clinical Nutritionist and Medical Herbalist. I specialise in women’s hormonal health and help women have better periods and feel good all month using herbal medicine, tailored nutritional and lifestyle advice.
One thing I am a big advocate for is exercise as it helps move lymph and excrete toxins through sweat plus it releases your feel good hormones dopamine and serotonin which help to improve mood, combat stress and improve sleep – all important for hormonal balance.
The three types of exercise I recommend for women are weight-bearing exercises to help build muscle (and improve insulin sensitivity), relaxation and stretch exercises such as yoga or pilates (this helps flexibility and relax our mind) and some type of cardio whether that be a HIIT session, a run, dance, game of tennis etc.
I believe a mix of these three exercises per week is a great way of keeping fit and healthy and hormones in balance.
But depending on where we are in our cycle, our hormones can have an effect on our overall performance, mood and weight.
Understanding our menstrual cycle can be so useful on how we exercise, and the types of exercise we do.
For instance, during the first 2 weeks of your cycle (the follicular phase), oestrogen is rising and this can make us more energetic and playful. This is the time we may want to try something new (a dynamic yoga posture for instance), and will often feel our best and smash all our workouts.
Leading up to ovulation, we get a spike in testosterone and women may find that they hit a PB during this time! This is also the time we’re most fertile in our cycle.
After ovulation, we enter the second phase of our cycle (the luteal phase); oestrogen starts to decline and progesterone increases. Progesterone is a wonderful hormone with lots of amazing health benefits. But primarily though it is our pregnancy hormone – it is there in case we fall pregnant that month. It is therefore our protective hormone and will want us to slow down (to nourish the growing foetus) and our performance levels may dip.
If you continue to power through and push yourself in the second half of your cycle you are more like to cause injury, plus due to the stress (exercise is a stress on the body) cortisol will increase and this hormone blocks progesterone receptors.
Adequate levels of progesterone are paramount to keep oestrogen at bay. But if you don't have enough progesterone, you can become oestrogen dominant, which causes a cascade of hormonal issues – PMS, mood swings, breast tenderness, bloating, headaches, fatigue, anxiety, sugar cravings and will hinder weight loss.
Ideally in the second half of your cycle you should reduce the intensity, and weight and incorporate more yin style restorative yoga classes, and lower impact workouts into your plan. It is also the perfect opportunity to work on technique, build flexibility and core strength so when you go for your PB next month you’ll smash it again!
The first half is the time to lift heavy and set PBs (especially leading up to ovulation), and the second half to do lower impact exercises.
If you are wanting to take note on the amount you are lifting and/or track your measurements, it would therefore be more accurate to compare week 1 of your cycle to week 1 of next cycle, week 2 of this cycle to week 2 of your next cycle, etc rather than week by week. It is really important for you and your PT to both understand this so they can adapt exercises accordingly. A personal trainer called James Smith did a fab TED talk on this.
During menstruation, especially the first couple of days, I recommend to REST as much as possible and not do any exercise.
Obviously if your period comes on a day when you’re working and in meetings all day, you can still put a little self-care into your diary around this time. Prepping meals the week before so you have food in the freezer you can easily defrost and cook for dinner when you get home; or asking your partner to cook a meal for you that evening; enjoying a bath and going to bed earlier. All these little practices will help you have a much better period. I for one, welcome this time!!
Saying all that, some girls do find exercising during their period helps boost their mood, decreases period pain and/or increases their energy levels. If this is case, then great. But if you find it leaves you feeling worse or drained –
then give yourself permission to rest, guilt free – your body will thank you for it.
If you do suffer menstrual issues such as heavy bleeding, period cramps or PMS, I have formulated products to help. Feel free to get in touch with me, and I’d be happy to help.
My favourite hormone balancing remedies are:
Magnesium – you can take this as a supplement. I love Wild Nutrition Magnesium or have an Epsom salt bath – add a couple of handfuls to bath water. Magnesium helps decrease period pain and ease mood swings and headaches. It also helps relax muscles and aids recovery.
B complex – this is great if you suffer PMS, bloating, fatigue, stress or mood swings.
Female Harmony tea – is a wonderful hormone balancing tea that nourishes your hormones and tastes delicious.
Ashwagandha tincture – is a great herb to help nourish your nervous system and help combat stress. It is especially useful if you suffer anxiety or poor sleep.
Deep comfort body oil – is an essential oil blend that helps decrease period pain and PMS. You can pour into the bath or rub on belly or lower back during your period.
I hope this has been helpful.
Thank you so much to Nikki for some super useful info and if you want to know more about Nikki, ask her a question or show her some support we've popped all her links here:
Instagram : nikkihillapothecary