How to Eat and Train in the Pre Menstrual Phase
The Pre Menstrual Phase can be a very frustrating time if you do not know how to use it. It is marked by an energy that is both active and withdrawn. Knowing this it makes sense why this time gets a bad rap. Women who are typically outgoing and generous now have a shorter rope socially and would rather be left alone with their projects.
I liken it to the night before you leave on a long vacation. You have been working so hard finishing up tasks to be abel to go away for a week or two and while you pack, little but important tasks keep popping up. If someone was to interrupt you, you’d be pretty annoyed.
In our culture, we have a tendency to blame bad mood on PMS as a way for explaining away a woman's “unusual” lack of agreeableness. For some reason, we cannot accept that women get cross, just like men. Do not be gaslit into thinking this is true. When asked what women were upset about during PMS, they give legitimate reasons for being upset. Remember that your period does not make stuff up. The likelihood of said issue being a problem is quite high. It’s just that your tolerance for ignoring it is greatly diminished.
Let’s talk about some of the tactics we can use to make this time easier. Remember we are working with a hypothetical cycle that is 28 days long and cut into four phases. This will make a Pre Menstrual Phase of one week. This week has an energy of slowing down. Imagine the last 100 yards or so of a long run. You have to keep running through but you know the end is coming.
Soups and stew are fantastic foods right now. Anything warm and soft is good for you. Indulge in homemade favorites, but stay away from sugars as they will make cramps much worse. My favorite thing to eat is a black bean and beef stew seasoned with paprika and cacao powder. It's dark and rich and has a calming effect on my tummy when poured over white rice or potatoes. Other options are bowls or oatmeal or buckwheat. Stay away from lots of raw foods that are cold and require a lot of chewing.
After ovulation and in the luteal phase, women tend to burn around 200 more calories a day. Rarely do women adjust their nutrition to reflect this change and by the second week of the luteal phase, our Pre Menstrual Phase, we are in a caloric deficit of at least 1000 calories. Now do you see where “cravings” come from?
To stay on track and not be taken over by binge eating, add more lean protein to your diet. Just by adding a bit more to your plate, you can keep your mood and cravings in check. It is also a good idea to take some magnesium supplements. If you are someone who craves chocolate, this is usually a sign of a magnesium deficiency.
Women do not build muscle as well in the back half of their cycle as they do in the front. And this late in the cycle, you may not be feeling that strong anyway. So skip the strength reps and focus on training in the higher rep ranges of 8-12 or 15-20. We are just going for maintaining our muscles. You can absolutely push yourself but in all likelihood, you will have more endurance than sheer force.
If you are an endurance athlete, down expect your greatest performance this week. Skip the long and challenging runs. Keep runs at about 80% of your normal distance and try to keep it interesting with breath play or some speed drills.
If you are a weightlifter this is a great time to include some cardio. Opt for more CrossFit style (also called a MetCon, short for metabolic conditioning) workouts that include a combo of stretch and cardio. Think squats and kettlebell swings. Deadlifts and burpees, filling the rest period of that superset with a minute of jump rope or airbike.
Keep your workouts brisk and break a sweat to increase serotonin and dopamine. You will want some during this time and it will improve your fitness greatly.
Work hard, but not until exhaustion
I like to work at 90% capacity or 80% of the time. That means I give a good effort for a shorter time than my normal workout. Being flexible is key - but you also don't want to let some bad mojo drag you down. If you are not working hard enough, a bit of the grumpies might set in. Figure out a way of making this easier. Instead of writing your own program, grab some off the internet somewhere or modify an old workout with some bouts of running.
Don’t gas yourself in the gym this week as it may take away from the energy and motivation you have to do other projects and commitments. Just downshift and throttle back a bit.
A great thing to add to your routine in the Pre Menstrual Phase is some recovery work. A good strategy is to just cur the training time a bit short and fill it in with mobility, foam rolling, and other kinds of self-massage. Hitting up those hatha and yang yoga classes are a good move right now as they are challenging but will get you stretched and released.
Just keep showing up
It’s very easy to skip workouts right now because we are not feeling it or not motivated. The best idea is to just show up to the gym with your workout cloth on and listen to your body. She will tell you what she can handle right now. Yoga, light weightlifting, easy MetCon, and even long walk are all great options. But if you stay home because you feel crappy, you will only feel more crappy. Keep in mind that you are about to get your period so rest is right around the corner. And if you are doing this right, you will have one or two blissful days off right when you need them most.