How to plan with your cycle, not against it
By Nell Adams
All of us experience our menstrual cycles differently. Symptoms we face over the course of the month are all affected by cyclical hormonal shifts in our bodies. Just think about cramps, fatigue, cravings, mood changes, nausea, headaches, and puffiness – hormones affect our entire bodies, not just a few parts. Hormones send signals for our organs to function, regulate development and growth, and –most infamously for many of us– can alter mood, energy, and metabolism. The good news is that these cyclical shifts do not have to be a challenge, but can actually help you stick to your exercise and meal plan for the longer term!
The benefits of planning for your cycle include:
• Your goals expand from a daily mentality to a more sustainable monthly vision. Looking at the entire menstrual cycle, not just the period part, gives a more holistic look at our cycles. If you feel healthy, nourished, and content throughout your whole cycle, you are much more likely to reach your personal goals.
• Your cravings and cramps serve as a guide for what your body needs. If you know what feels good for your body during each part of the cycle, you will be less likely to fall off track.
• You experience greater compassionate with yourself and understand why you certain times of the month might be more difficult than others. If you know when your energy levels dip and hunger levels rise, you can plan a better strategy catered to your individual needs.
Menstrual Cycle Overview (Day 1 to Day 28):
Day 1 – Day 12: Bam! Your period arrives.
• What’s happening? Hormones progesterone and estrogen drop, causing your period to flow.
• What kind of exercise? Light cardio, stretching, and yoga (avoid inversions!) will help your body recover and relieve tightness and tension from cramps.
• What do you need? Due to blood loss and low energy levels, you will want to boost up on iron and B12. Salt, coffee, sugar, and alcohol, are all foods that will contribute to feeling bloated and fatigued. For vegetarians and vegans, it is really always important to consume B12 fortified cereals or alternative milk in addition to B12 vitamins. People who are plant-based, like me, need to pay close attention to maintain B12 throughout the entire cycle because it is difficult to get B vitamins outside of animal products.
• Which foods? For iron, look to broccoli, beans, lentils, cashews, dark leafy greens, and whole grains. For a B12 fix, have some fish, fortified breakfast cereals, low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese, and eggs. Remember to stay hydrated. I like to drink lots of teas, such as Hibiscus, which is said to promote circulation and help with cramp pains.
Days 14 – 16: Ovulation, power up time!
• What’s happening? This is when estrogen rises and a new egg is produced. Testosterone also rises during this time.
• What kind of exercise? On these days you will feel the most energized. Plan more high-intensity workouts during this period such as heavier weights, HIIT training, and that boot camp class you’ve been wanting to try out.
• What will you need? As you put in hard work, remember to replenish those stores with a lot of protein, whole grains fruits, and vegetables. Cravings can be signals from your body that you lack a specific nutrient. Building up reserves of the basic vitamins and minerals (especially of ones that you are missing in your diet) supports our bodies so they do not begin looking for nutrient sources elsewhere. This means it is important to consistently take a multivitamin, not just during your period.
Days 17 – 28: Everybody’s favorite, PMS.
• What’s happening? During this period, hormones shift again to prepare for your period. This is when PMS symptoms creep back in. A recent study shows that the hormone leptin, which signals feeling full, might be altered by levels of estrogen throughout the cycle. That means that you have to mentally decide when you are full before your body ‘knows’.
• What kind of exercise? This is the majority of your cycle. Keep consistent with your regular routine of exercise at a daily recommendation of roughly 20-30 minutes of cardio daily.
• What will you need? Identify what you typically crave and try to keep the foods you crave in small quantities. Place fruits and healthier carbs, filling healthy fats like guacamole, in sight. If you want those, then you are hungry. If you start digging around for something specific, it is a craving. Thank your body for telling you what it wants, and then try to give a healthier option that it needs first.
• Which foods? Popcorn (without any butter or added ingredients) helps boost serotonin levels. Bananas are helpful for cramps, insomnia, and stomach pains. Omega 3 foods will help with inflammation, such as fish, chia seeds, eggs. Magnesium can come from pumpkin seeds. Lemons and whole grains are great options, too. During this time, try to avoid bubbly drinks to keep away bloating.
Sticking to your plan throughout the month
Remember, not everybody’s cycle is the same. Only you can come up with the best meal plan for each part of your cycle. This month, I want you to pay close attention to your own body. Record how you feel after you eat certain foods and let me know which foods nourish your bodies, spirit, and mind. See how your cravings and energy levels match up (or don’t!) to this general outline, then plan accordingly for your best life!
“Nell Adams is a writer, editor, and translator from New York with seven years of experience working closely between scientists and creatives to clearly communicate powerful ideas. After studying Science and Technology Studies at an Ivy League school, Nell obtained a Master’s degree in social sciences in the south of France. Before joining us in South Africa, Nell launched and edited platforms in the United States with a focus on wellness and social justice for people of color. Her writing on music, healing, and diaspora have been published by outlets across three continents. A vegan and world traveler, Nell prioritizes self-care and exercise wherever she goes. You can find her on Instagram at @ch_n_ll_ and on Twitter @nellienooks.”