I found it so refreshing to hear Dina Asher-Smith speak out about how her period impacted her 100m race at the recent European Championships. For something so commonplace, our menstrual cycle seems to be such a taboo subject in women’s sport.
Like Dina, I believe that the understanding around the impact of periods for women, whether they’re Olympic champions or Gemma Pearce Fitness members, is an area that needs more research and funding. But until that time comes (if indeed it does), what DO we know and how can we help ourselves?
Sometimes everything feels great, you smash your workout and feel amazing afterwards. And other times, your legs feel like lead weights and your co-ordination goes out the window! It’s true to say that our hormones can play havoc with how we feel before, during and after exercise.
Our oestrogen and progesterone hormone levels fluctuate depending on the stage we’re at in our menstrual cycle. By understanding this and adjusting our diet and our plans, we can make the best of our exercise routine.
Our cycle is made of two phases – the follicular phase, during the first half of our cycle and the luteal phase during the second half of our cycle. Each phase has different levels of hormones – lower levels during the follicular phase and higher levels during the luteal phase.
Our hormones have a big impact on our muscle development and how we use our energy. When these levels are lower during the first half of our cycle, our body can train harder as it can access stored carbohydrates and stay hydrated more easily.
During this follicular phase, our bodies crave iron so adding more iron-rich food like red meat, chickpeas and lentils to our diet is helpful. Oily fish, nuts and seeds are also useful to combat increased inflammation.
During the second half of our cycle, the luteal phase, our body is preparing for our next period, hormone levels are higher and our ability to build muscle through exercise is harder.
We need to access more carbohydrates from our diet rather than inside our body and it’s more difficult to stay well hydrated so we might feel hungrier and crave more carbs.
We can help our own understanding of our bodies by tracking our periods and cycle symptoms on an app. There are some good ones available now, like Clue or Flo, and fitness watches also have tools to keep track too. After a while, you can see patterns emerging which might help you decide when is best to exercise hard and when a gentle Pilates class is just the job.
Let’s be more like Dina and be open about our period problems, listen to our bodies and understand our fluctuating hormone levels. Most of all, we should enjoy our exercise, whether it’s hardcore Zumba or a simple stretch, we will certainly feel better for it.
Whatever you’re feeling, check out the wide range of exercise classes at www.gemmapearcefitness.co.uk