If weight loss or maintenance is a part of your fitness goal, it can sometimes seem like your menstrual cycle gets in the way. You’re feeling good and making progress, when all of a sudden, you get your period. Maybe you feel bloated, or sluggish or hungry all the time. It’s like all the progress you’ve made comes undone in just a few days.
But a change in appetite or energy doesn’t mean a step backward, says Registered Dietician Vanessa Rissetto.
Intentional weight loss or maintenance isn’t part of everyone’s fitness journey. If it’s part of yours, working with your body’s rhythms can be an empowering way to chart your path forward. Vanessa and P.volve Integrative Health Coach and Lead Trainer Alexia Acebo sat down to talk about how you can optimize your menstrual cycle and diet to work with your goals.
Working with your energy levels in each phase of your cycle
In a 28-day cycle, the follicular phase happens between days 7 to 12, and with it comes lots of energy. This is a great time to do higher-intensity workouts, Vanessa suggests, like circuit-training because your body is working really efficiently.
“This is a time where we have all of our nutrient-dense meals, we’re eating enough fiber, we’re having green vegetables at lunch and dinner, making sure we’re getting in enough carbs, and hitting the exercise really hard.” By maximizing the higher energy levels experienced in the follicular phase, you’re better set up for the often slower luteal phase.
In the luteal phase, from days 17 to 28, your body is asking you to take things a bit slower before any potential PMS symptoms which exercise can have an impact on. “That might be a time when you want to lower the carb intake,” says Vanessa. She suggests prioritizing fruits and vegetables as a source of carbohydrates, and eating fewer complex carbohydrates like rice, beans, and root vegetables as part of your diet.
As for workouts, this is a great time to focus on muscle-building and resistance-based activities, like yoga and strength-training. Strength training can increase your resting metabolic rate, which helps you burn calories more efficiently.
And if you feel tired during the luteal phase, take a nap! Your body is doing hard work, whether you realize it or not.
Using food as fuel throughout your cycle
Vanessa doesn't endorse dieting, which can feel like a temporary solution with an end-date. Rather, lifestyle changes and developing sustainable eating habits are the key to optimizing your health goals. This looks like eating nutrient dense meals with lots of vegetables, having fruit throughout the day, and eating ample amounts of protein and fiber.
A sustainable diet for the menstrual cycle
Creating habits you can stick with is key when it comes to weight loss or maintenance and restricting how much and what you eat isn’t going to make it any easier. If you spend all day restricting your food, by 5 p.m. if you haven’t eaten all day, you’re going to be hungry!
And if you do have a craving, sometimes it’s better to give your body what it’s asking for rather than trying to find substitutions that are less satisfying. If what you really want is a cookie, but you make yourself a plate of nuts and berries instead, you might still find yourself jonesing for a cookie at the end of the day.
“Studies show us that people eat around what they want to eat, and they end up actually ingesting more calories than if they ate the 400 calorie cookie,” says Vanessa. When you make sure that you’re eating regularly, and you’re eating enough protein, fat and fiber at every meal, then that one cookie or half-cup of ice cream is enough. A single cookie won’t show up on the scale.
The last two weeks of your cycle, the luteal phase, can cause lethargy and bloating. Food can combat that, too—making sure you have enough protein in your diet will be key for boosting energy levels, and even changing the kind of greens you’re eating can help. Broccoli, for example, might make you feel more bloated, so swap it out for dandelion greens, which alleviate bloating. Although you might be craving more sugar during this time—hello, dark chocolate!—it can actually cause cramping, so keeping sugar consumption low will be helpful.
A diet and workout program for a better menstrual cycle
For more on how to work with your menstrual cycle to optimize your fitness goals and overall well-being, check out P.volve’s new program Phase & Function. You’ll receive a personalized plan with phase-specific workouts, meal plans, and mindset shifts that work with each phase of your cycle.