Periods – not much fun. All that tiredness, bloating, breast tenderness, skin breakouts, cramps, mood swings, hanger – did we mention the mood swings and the hanger?
Yes, it’s a constant struggle but, the good news is, it’s actually not all doom and gloom. What you eat and the exercise you do can reduce your symptoms and leave you feeling better than if you spent an entire week in bed mainlining Ben & Jerry’s (although if that’s all you feel like doing, no judgement). We spoke to nutritionist Kristen Stavridis for her expert advice on how altering your lifestyle just a bit could be the key to getting control back and balancing those pesky hormones once and for all…
What to eat for your cycle
Days 1-5 : Menstruation
“The first five days or so (depending on the individual) of our menstrual cycle marks the time where blood loss occurs, therefore putting us more at risk for lower iron levels,” says Kristen. “It is crucial for young girls in particular, even more so if you are vegetarian or vegan, to get enough iron rich foods into your diet or supplement if needs be. It is important to ensure your intake of Vitamin C is sufficient too as this enables iron to be absorbed into the body more easily.”
Listen to your body and do gentle exercise such as walking and yoga, rather than pushing yourself too hard, especially if you’re suffering from cramps. However, if your symptoms are minimal, your hormones right now could actually mean you boss it in the gym. “Oestrogen promotes endurance performance, therefore your body will be performing at its peak, and you might find you are more tolerant to pain so those HIIT classes or bootcamp could feel that bit easier,” says PureGym fitness coach, Monika Chmielewska.
Iron rich foods: red meat, spinach, dark leafy greens, legumes and fortified milks
Vitamin C: oranges, red and green peppers, pineapple, strawberries, chilli peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, mango
Days 5-13 : Follicular Phase
“Your energy levels rise slightly after bleeding stops,” says Kristen. “Your body is preparing for ovulation so hormones like FSH begin to slowly increase to tell the body to prepare to release an egg. Studies have shown that in this phase that women may show greater output when strength training and be able to endure longer exercise sessions. It is therefore important to fuel your body correctly by consuming enough healthy carbohydrates.”
Monica suggests taking advantage of this energy boost by focusing on total-body strength training and says now’s also a great time to attempt a PB.
Good carbs: Oats, brown rice, fruits, fibrous veggies, lentils and strawberries
Protein rich: Eggs, yoghurt, fish and seafood, soya, pistachio nuts, chicken and turkey
Day 14-16: Ovulation
“As an egg is released, the female body may again see hormone levels being changed,” explains Kristen. “Oestrogen and testosterone levels rise, and this may lead to a change in our appetite levels. Many women have reported feeling less hungry around these days, so it is important to get more quality foods in over quantity. Fresh foods as well as protein rich foods are good at keeping energy levels sustained. Fibre rich foods are also important around this time as it helps the body rid itself of toxins and the increased levels of hormones produced.”
Fibre-rich: Flaxseed, oats, nuts, seeds and wholegrain bread and cereal
Fresh foods: Potatoes, avocado, broccoli and raspberries
Days 17-28: Luteal and premenstrual phase
“The few days before our period, the change in hormones can leave us feeling a little more sluggish and hungrier,” explains Kristen. “We may crave unhealthy, fatty foods as our body prepares for the next period. Some women may experience cramping even the week before their period. Magnesium is a great nutrient to help relieve or prevent painful cramps and symptoms. To help control appetite, B vitamins have also been shown to play a role by producing serotonin (plays a role in hunger control).”
This is also a time for recovery and self care as relaxin levels are at their peak, meaning your risk of injury is higher. So make sure you warm up and cool down properly after workouts, and yoga, pilates and swimming are all a good idea if you feel up to it.
Magnesium rich: nuts, seeds, mushrooms, chickpeas, seafood such as salmon or tuna, spinach, kale and asparagus
B vitamins: wholegrains, meat, eggs and dairy products, barley