A recent post I wrote on SportsDietitian.com
When you think about it, women’s hormones are pretty powerful. They continuously change throughout our life and our menstrual cycles to influence our body’s health, needs, other processes relying on hormones, and how we use food as fuel.
As they eb and flow (like a rollercoaster sometimes!), they can affect how we use food and respond to it.
If you’re like me, you probably weren’t taught much in sex-ed about what our hormones actually do and why; so let’s dive in today to explore a little more about two key hormones - oestrogen and progesterone - and how they play a crucial role in our health, wellbeing, how we respond to and use food as fuel, and our sporting performance.
If you’re a coach, teacher, or supporter of women – then this is for you too! It’s really important to understand your athletes and those around you, so keep on reading.
THE MENSTRUAL CYCLE
Naturally there will be parts of our cycle (more so on natural cycles and IUDs than OCP) that we feel more energetic, alert and happy – that's typically our second week of our period or our follicular phase. Then there will be parts where we naturally feel more fatigued, irritable and flat… the luteal phase.
While we can’t change these things from happening, there are some ways we can mitigate the symptoms and enhance the feel-good parts of it with food, lifestyle and exercise.
FIRST HALF OF YOUR CYCLE
During your bleed, eat plenty of nuts, seeds, eggs, lean meats, tofu, beans and legumes – these are filled with iron and protein which are important for energy during this phase
Include foods with unsaturated fats such as avocado, nuts, seeds, salmon, tuna, sardines and oils like extra virgin olive, macadamia and avocado oil: These help reduce inflammation and support your immune system
You may notice you feel hungrier or get more cravings during your period or the first half of your cycle... This is because oestrogen levels are low and oestrogen is more efficient at using carbohydrates for energy (especially if you’re active). So eating quality carbohydrates like whole grain breads, brown rice, fruits and veggies in all meals and snacks is helpful. Plus combining it with protein will help keep you fuller for longer and reduce cravings
SECOND HALF OF YOUR CYCLE
As your hormones rise, this increase protein breakdown and slightly reduces how much carbohydrate you use for energy. So focusing on slightly more protein in meals, and slightly less carbohydrates can help you feel more energetic and less “heavy” and “bloated”. You unsaturated fats above will also help
Your core body temperature rises slightly around and after ovulation, so to stay cool, keep up your fluids and hydration: Take a water bottle with you everywhere, eat plenty of fruits and veggies, milk and yoghurt which are all naturally hydrating
Use the plate model for meals to get a balance of nutrients your body needs to stay energised and fuelled – this is particularly important as your cravings start to increase just before your period
If you bloat or get quite fatigued just before you period: Focus on quality carbohydrates and plenty of colour. Eat smaller meals more regularly and keep up hydration.
You may be wondering how do I know where I am in my cycle? Tracking is a great place to start. If you start tracking when you get your period, how long it lasts for and then symptoms across your cycle, you’ll start to understand how your body works and responds - because every woman is slightly different, and you’ll have different symptoms and feelings at different stages of your life.
Start by tracking:
Hunger and cravings
Bloating and or constipation
Night sweats or discomfort while sleeping
After three months of tracking, this will start to give you an idea of patterns and what will work best for you. Happy training and eating (and tracking), Christie