Although talking about periods is still considered taboo in some circles, it really shouldn’t be, especially when it comes to training. Knowing the ins and outs of your personal cycle and how that affects your training is incredibly important for feeling well and reaching your goals. While every woman is different, some are impacted to the point where there needs to be improvisions and adjustments to their workouts. Some women feel cramps, fatigue, and weakness, while others feel no impacts at all (you all are truly blessed). As someone that has always had an insanely heavy and long-lasting period despite being a very small and tiny woman, I can attest to having to make adjustments throughout my day to get what I can out of my own training. I’m hoping that sharing some of the things that work for me can help you all out as well!
When you start your period, your hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone all drop and remain low until your period wanes, at which point estrogen and progesterone starts to rise back up (see Hormone Imbalance, Menstrual Cycles & Hormone Testing from “Women In Balance”). The lower levels of these hormones, particularly testosterone, at the very beginning of your period is why many women notice a dip in performance. Around ovulation (roughly two weeks from the start of your period), testosterone spikes. Many women notice a peak in their performance and strength during ovulation due to this rise in testosterone, especially those that focus on strength training. If you notice a peak during that time frame, let your coach know so they can capitalize on that and give you your toughest workouts when you feel the best!
Speaking of communication, if you are comfortable talking about your period to your trainer or coach I HIGHLY recommend it. Any coach worth their salt understands the implications that it can have on training and can listen and empathize in a mature way. The biggest things to discuss are when you tend to get your period, your specific symptoms, and how you tend to feel at different points during your cycle. In addition to your coach, there are some things that you can do yourself to mitigate your symptoms and enhance your performance!
Eat Plenty of Iron
Blood loss can result in a dip in the mineral iron. Low iron can make you fatigued and sluggish, similar to the symptoms of anemia. If you tend to have very heavy periods, you are even more susceptible to low iron levels! Make sure that you are consuming plenty of iron-rich foods, such as leafy greens and red meat, and/or take an over the counter supplement.
Scale Back Training as Needed
This where your coach can come in! If you are one of those women that is heavily impacted by their period in a negative way, you may need to scale back training. This does not mean skip your workouts; it means making adjustments according to what your body can handle. Pushing your body to the point where you are unable to have high-quality reps or sets is counterintuitive to your progress, so it's better to scale back and focus on quality. Specific methods for this vary based on the individual’s period, but your coach can help you navigate your specific methods to get the most from your workouts. An added bonus; as contradictory as it sounds, light exercise also helps manage cramps! The movement and blood flow can help relax your cramps and make the pain less severe throughout the day. Here's a podcast Coach Jonny did on deloading: Ep. 69: Deloading...You're Probably Not Doing It Right.
Get Lots of Sleep
While this is important regardless of whether you are on your period or not, getting extra sleep during your heaviest days of your period can make your fatigue levels more manageable. Sleep can help manage other symptoms like mood swings as well. Try going to be slightly earlier or taking an extra nap (if you have time). Here's another episode of Straight Shot Radio on getting better sleep! Ep. 33: Sleep Hygiene
Take Extra Caffeine
While there is truly no substitute for high-quality sleep and nutrition and I don’t recommend going crazy with caffeine, having an extra boost can get you through your workouts or physical tasks throughout the day. If you have extra caffeine, just ensure you are also consuming plenty of food and water throughout the day as well. If my worst period day falls on the same day I happen to have a heavy lifting day, I will have an extra cup of coffee in the morning (and modify my workout as needed and mentioned above). For those of you that want to know more about the ins and outs of caffeine, check out my previous blog on the topic! Caffeine and Exercise Performance
Take Extra Time to Warm-up
This is an overlooked tactic that can really go a long way. Taking that extra time to ease into a workout can help remedy cramps, warm up achy joints, and wake you up. Many women tend to experience low back pain during their period as well. If this sounds like you, make sure you focus on warming up your hips, spinal rotation, and core musculature (such as obliques, abs, glutes, and low back muscles). For those of you that are pressed with time and only have about half an hour to workout, I would honestly rather you cut into your main exercise time with a solid warmup than sacrifice the quality of your workout with a fast warmup. This blog on Prehab movements will give you some ideas for extended warm-ups! What Is "Prehab"?
Drink Plenty of Water
Hydration is so important for athletic performance. When you are on your period, keeping your fluids high can feel like a huge chore, especially since periods promote bloating and water retention. Trust me, it is not a fun time. However, drinking plenty of water goes a long way in managing cramps, energy levels, and even mental clarity! Bring extra water to the gym or your home gym, consume a cup or more with each meal, and have plenty when you first wake up. For those of you interested in the details behind hydration and its effects on exercise, check out one of the first blogs I wrote on here! Better Hydration, Better Performance, Better Health!
If you feel like your period gets in the way of your training and are having trouble finding helpful resources, try out some or all of these methods! Trust me, I know first hand how miserable that time of the month can be. Managing your symptoms as best you can will go a long way in keeping you on track towards the much bigger picture of your overall health and wellness.