Should You Work Out During Your Period?
June 18, 2019
+ Diet Tips to Help Your PMS Symptoms
Many women wonder if it is OK to work out during their period. Short answer: YES! In fact, it may even be more beneficial to stay active during this point in your cycle. There are plenty of reasons women shy away from their workouts during this time of the month—bloating, fatigue, cramps—but there’s really no reason to skip out on exercise just because you have your period.
The key is knowing your own body, because, let’s face it, every body is different. Some women report low energy levels during their period, while others have more energy than usual. This is due in part to changing hormone levels through the menstrual cycle. The week leading up to your period, hormone levels associated with menstruation drop, so on the first day of your period, estrogen and progesterone levels are at their lowest. This is when many women report feeling premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms—these, too, can be different for everyone, so keeping a fitness journal to track your menstrual cycle and energy levels might help you see when you have more or less energy during your cycle. Physical activity can help with PMS, even if your energy levels are low, because exercising gives you an endorphin high. Endorphins elevate your mood and are a natural painkiller, so when you get moving there is a higher chance that cramps, headaches, back pain or any of the other uncomfortable symptoms associated with your period will temporarily be alleviated.
So, what exactly is the best exercise to do when your period arrives? The one you feel like doing. Yes, that’s right, you’re allowed to listen to your body, give yourself a break and ease up on the intensity. The menstrual cycle has not been shown to affect your ability to exercise; rather, it impacts the intensity of exercise you choose to do. While some women find they are able to continue their regular fitness routine with minor adjustments, others find that their body doesn’t perform like it usually does and should consider cutting back on intense cardiovascular or endurance training. During this time of the month, increased fatigue could have an impact on your perceived rate of exertion, so what you’re normally used to might feel like too much.
If you feel unusually fatigued or nauseous or there is an increase in pain or discomfort, stop what you are doing and rest. This may be a good time to reduce your exercise intensity, relax your body and potentially relieve symptoms like cramping, breast tenderness and muscular fatigue and soreness. If these symptoms continue, stop completely. This is not a time to subscribe to the idea of “no pain, no gain.” Listen to your body. If you feel up to it, light aerobic exercises like walking, low-volume strength training, yoga or gentle stretching are great options to keep your body moving.
Being gentle with your body and moving it in ways that feel good will set you up for a better experience during your period, but exercise is only 20% of the equation. The other 80% is dependent on your diet. While you might experience more cravings during this time of the month, choosing whole, nutrient-dense foods instead of reaching for that bag of processed potato chips will make a huge difference in the physical symptoms you experience. A little “treat yourself” moment here and there is encouraged, but in the long run, healthier choices will be more beneficial—especially during your period.
Believe it or not, the foods you eat can help reduce period cramps, help you feel less swollen and bloated, and help with mood swings. Too much sugar and processed carbs—while tasting delicious! —will likely only make you feel more bloated and lethargic. But rather than avoid specific foods completely, try to focus on adding foods into your diet to make up for the nutrients you are losing due to menstrual bleeding. Here are a few great examples:
Iron: Women lose about 1 milligram of iron every day of their period, so it’s not surprising that iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in women. An inadequate amount of iron is associated with common PMS symptoms—including overall tiredness. Try adding iron-rich foods such as dark greens, beans, nuts, red meat and eggs.
Calcium: Low levels of calcium are associated with symptoms of PMS, like depression and irritability. Dairy products are great sources of calcium; if you don’t eat dairy, try dark leafy greens, like kale or spinach.
Magnesium: Fun fact: Foods rich in magnesium, like nuts, beans and tofu, are thought to reduce bloating in menstruating women.
Complex carbohydrates: Listen, we love the snack aisle as much as the next person, especially during that time of the month. But if there is one thing we aren’t fans of, it’s cramps. Choosing the pack of cookies or chips may seem like the solution, but having a piece of sprouted- or whole-grain bread with honey, almond butter or peanut butter will make you feel way better.
Vitamin E: Raise your hand if you want to reduce period pain! Yeah, us too! Vitamin E is our friend when it comes to decreasing the severity and duration of PMS pain. Avocados are great source—slice up half of one as a snack or whip up some guacamole.
Vitamin C and zinc: These nutrients help with iron absorbency, which is particularly crucial during your period. Try eating foods like broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, red berries, kiwi and bell peppers for an extra kick of C. And a great source of zinc is pumpkin seeds, which double as a tasty topping for salads, oatmeal and yogurt.
H2O: Being dehydrated is the easiest way to feel even worse when you’re on your period. Women with heavy periods lose extra fluids, so drink a little extra water during this time of the month to make up for it. Eight to ten, 8-ounce glasses of water throughout the day should do the trick (not all at once)!
During your period, it’s OK to take a break! If you are up for it, keep moving—just back off on the intensity, especially if you’re feeling fatigued. Make sure to honor your body and fuel it with the proper nutrients to make up for all of the ones you are losing. Lastly, remember that you’re a boss babe and we are all in this together—you got this!