Getting educated about your period can help you kick butt at the gym

Fellow Gigglers, if you’re like me, a bad period can ruin any chance for physical exertion. Usually I chalk my bad day at the gym (if I even manage to make it there) to “lady problems.” But according to the folks at Washington Post, a better understanding of our period can help us get off the couch, wipe away those tears (or smears of chocolate ice cream), and kick butt at the gym.

Our menstrual cycles are broken into two periods (pun intended): The follicular, low-hormone, phase (Days 1-14), which starts on the first day of the period; and the luteal, high-hormone, phase (Days 15-28), which starts with ovulation.

Though our actual period usually gets a bad rap (likely due to the underwear mishaps and general crankiness), according to Stacy Sims, an environmental exercise physiologist, nutrition scientist, and co-founder of Osmo Nutrition, the the follicular phase is actually when we generally have more energy!

As Sims states, “In this phase, it’s great to do high-intensity work, try to set PRs, push yourself harder.”

I know, I know: I’m just as surprised as you.

However, Mary Blanchard, chief of OB/GYN at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, cautions that women with a heavy flow might feel less powerful the third day of their period: “That’s when we might do a blood count to see if levels are pushing the border of anemia,” she says. (For those not in the know, anemia is when the red blood cell count drops, creating feelings of fatigue and weakness.)

Heavy flow or not, having your period during a workout can be a pain in the butt, especially if you’re out for an endurance run or hours-long-training. Where, for example, do you store supplies? How do you find a restroom if you’re in the middle of open countryside? In that practical regard, having your period can suck.

And yet, those concerns aside, the follicular phase is the jam, promoting low levels of female sex hormones while our level of testosterone remains the same– meaning our levels of testosterone are comparatively higher. And as elite runner and Emory University neuroendocrinology PhD student Kathleen Costo reminds us, “Testosterone can be beneficial for sports performance.” In other words, when you’re on your period is exactly when you should be attempting that extra-intense run or yoga workout.

Of course, many of us are on the pill, which complicates things (while subsequently making other situations so much easier). The pill “controls the hormonal milieu” according to Costo, meaning our hormone levels stay steady throughout the month.

And, of course, let us not forget the dreaded PMS, that week or so before the arrival of our period. For those of us not on the pill, the second half of the month, aka the luteal phase, is marked by high female hormone levels.

“In the mid-late luteal phase — five to seven days before your period starts — this is where women feel progressively worse – progesterone and estrogen interplay to cause a bit of metabolic mayhem,” Sims explains.

During the mid-late luteal phase, a woman’s core temperature goes up (causing a feeling of overheating); carbohydrate stores are not easily accessed (making it much harder to hit high-intensity intervals); and, of course, the dreaded moodiness occurs.

Mayhem may be an understatement.

“In this phase, it’s better to do more steady-state-endurance-focused work, body-weight or lighter resistance training,” Sims advises. She also recommends eating ten grams of protein before a workout and twenty grams within thirty minutes after the workout. For the elite athletes Sims helps train, she also suggests increasing magnesium, white willow bark, zinc and turmeric to “push back against the inflammation and fluid shifts caused by estrogen and progesterone.”

In the end, Sims just wants us to be aware of our bodies’ chemistry: “It your physiology, not your fitness, that can affect your performance across the monthly cycle.” And some of us may be affected more than others. She continues, “It’s important to remember that there is no such thing as a normal menstrual cycle. There is a lot of variability both physiologically and psychologically.”

For those of us who consider ourselves pretty darn affected by the mid-late luteal phase, there is be a benefit to exercising despite feeling bloated and cross: endorphins — a chemical compound that is associated with euphoria. While endorphins are far from a cure, they can help push back pain, bloating, and our inner grump. So, the next time I feel like hiding my sneakers under the bed and wallowing in front of some Netflix, I plan to take Sims’ advice and attempt, at the very least, a quick walk. Feel free to join me!

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(Image via Paramount)

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