You’re in the middle of training for a race or a new workout program to get back in shape, and that time of the months rolls around. Running on your period SUCKS. Ugh—the stomach cramps, fatigue, and cravings set in bad. And when that happens, the gym feels like the last place you want to go. Especially when you could be in bed with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s watching Clueless (twice).
Yet, it is possible to kick the urge to wallow, and to maintain your workouts and healthy eating during Aunt Flo's visit.“When PMS symptoms of bloating and cramping overtake you when prepping for a race or workout, start by adjusting your eating," says Bonnie Balk, RD and health expert for Maple Holistics. It's the quickest way to reset your internal clock (and mental game!) to get back into working out. Here are a few nutrition-boosters to keep you motivated, high in energy and excited to sweat out the “icky” feeling that’s weighing you down. (Hell, working out might actually make you feel better. )
Running On Your Period — It's Doable. Here's How.
Eat Some Good Carbs Throughout the Day
"To ensure you have sufficient energy for your exercise routine, pace your carb-intake on the days prior to your run [or race],” says Balk. By spacing out your carb-loading over the course of a few days, you'll prevent feeling (more) sluggish from carb-loading all at once. Mowing down a ton of pasta will only derail your training and make it harder to perform. And when you do have your period, maintain this—don’t go overboard on carbs each meal but rather eat quality complex carbs with fiber in smaller doses.
Eat Magnesium-Rich Foods
“There is an association between PMS symptoms and poor dietary habits, including low levels of magnesium [where] people with low magnesium levels are seen to have fatigue, muscle cramps, and imbalanced blood sugar levels,” she says.
To prevent these symptoms from occurring, boost up the magnesium in your diet with leafy greens, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, and beans. These are all rich in magnesium, which will keep energy up and fight those cramps. You can take it further by taking a bath with Epsom salts, too, full of magnesium to help relax the muscles.
Add in More Iron
When you’re on your period, increasing your iron intake is super important, as it provides more energy. (Not to mention, your iron levels will already be at a low point due to hormone fluctuations.) “If you normally have low iron levels, particularly during a menstrual cycle, inform your doctor and have blood work taken. Low iron levels can lead to less energy, fatigue, and shortness of breath,” Balk explains, all of which compromise your training. Consider taking an iron supplement, and increase the consumption of iron-rich foods, such as green leafy vegetables, lentils, nuts, and seeds.
Swap Out Coffee
Although you may embrace a hot cup of coffee religiously each morning, it may make PMS worse. “As a stimulant drug, caffeine raises blood pressure and heart rate, and can lead to irritability, tiredness, and cramps,” says Balk. If you’re a coffee person consider going caffeine-free when you’re training or working out during your period. “Also try low calorie, refreshing drinks such as flavored seltzer or all-natural coconut water,” she says, which can boost hydration and offer electrolytes to help you get through workouts and recover faster.
Have More Calcium
“When you experience PMS symptoms such as water retention, food cravings, and pain, consider boosting the calcium in your diet,” Balk says. Research shows that a diet high in calcium can reduce anxiety, depression, emotional changes, and water retention—which is pretty darn helpful during that time of the month. “To increase motivation and energy to workout, increase calcium-rich foods in your meal plan. Foods high in calcium include plain yogurt, nuts, and leafy greens,” she says.
Cut Back on the Saltshaker
To reduce extra bloating and weight gain, cut out salty foods from your diet when you’re gearing up for, or going through, your period. “High salty foods cause fluid retention, resulting in increased bloat, and excess weight,” Balk says. “The main foods to avoid include processed foods, deli meats, canned soups, and packaged snack foods.” Try cooking at home more often, and ditch the saltshaker.
Also, beware sauces and salad dressings, which carry sneakily high amounts of sodium. Consider making your own or just use olive oil and lemon. Choose whole grains, fresh fruits, veggies, and lean protein for a low sodium diet to manage symptoms and feel lighter during workouts.