Yoga, hula hooping, light weight training… we’re told that exercise is great for when you’re on your period – and with good reason! Exercise balances your mood; beats bloating and helps ease menstrual cramps. But is the age-old myth true? Do we actually burn more calories while we’re on our period?
Do you burn more calories on your period?
Yes, and no…
During our period, our hormone levels reach their lowest points. Oestrogen and progesterone levels decrease, meaning our recovery rate during exercise is faster. This makes an extra set of reps or a post-work run much easier to handle, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll do the extra work or burn the extra calories.
If we don’t burn more calories, why do we feel hungrier?
Our menstrual cycles affect every area of our lives, including our metabolism. It turns out our bodies require 100 – 300 more calories during our luteal phase (the week before our period is due). This is because our Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR – the number of daily calories needed to stay alive) during this time increases by 10-20%. It’s no wonder why we want to double up on the doses of pasta or slice that extra slither of cake…
While you don’t burn more calories when you’re on your period, exercising around the different phases of your menstrual cycle does affect your body during workouts.
Here’s how to make the most out of your training throughout your menstrual cycle, and what to be aware of.
How to optimise your exercise for your menstrual cycle
Phase 1: Menstrual Phase
Duration: 3-7 Days
Maybe the thought of spin classes or star jumps makes you groan, but your period – the menstrual phase – is the best time to do HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). Your oestrogen and progesterone levels drop in the menstrual phase, which means HIIT will be the most effective exercise for burning fat. Not that we think you ever need an excuse but what better time to indulge on pasta and potatoes to keep you going throughout the day? Carbs are key for avoiding burn out.
Yoga can be great for easing period pains, but do take it easy. Avoid extreme stretching as ligaments and tendons are looser due to changing hormones in your body during this part of your cycle.
Phase 2: Follicular Phase
Duration: 7-10 Days
After your period, you’ll soon be feeling physically ship-shape again, thanks to your oestrogen increasing. Oestrogen helps with muscle building, higher tolerance for pain, faster recovery and more stamina. Make the most of the follicular phase and push yourself – swing some kettle bells and pump some iron; it’s time to make some new personal bests!
Phase 3: Ovulatory Phase
Duration: 3-4 Days
Right before you begin to experience PMS, your oestrogen is at its peak – the perfect time to get a sweat on. With your body fully prepared for fat burning, now is the prime time for medium weights and higher reps.
Feeling more energised means you might be feeling more social too. Why not book yourself onto some group exercise classes and let the social butterfly in you spread its wings?
Don’t forget to warm up for longer, stretch properly, and rest well. Your muscles are vulnerable – especially when you’ve worked hard – so you’ll need time to recover and avoid injury.
Phase 4: Luteal Phase
Duration: 10-14 Days
The hunger, the headaches, the bigger and sorer boobs…. welcome to the luteal phase. We all know that PMS time when our body starts preparing us for our periods again.
You might feel tired, bloated and a loss in motivation to hit the gym. Your base body temperature rises in the luteal phase, which can make working out feel uncomfortable with the extra body heat.
Fight the feeling of saying no and opt for more gentle exercise like swimming, yoga, or a morning jog… if you’re really struggling to bring yourself to it, even walking will be good for your mind and body.
Tips for dealing with period hunger
If one of your biggest PMS symptoms is hunger, don’t fight it! Follow these tips to handle the food cravings when they hit.
- Plan your meals and snacks to avoid reaching for the unhealthy treats
- Exercise can help reduce bloating and mood swings
- Eat smaller but more frequent meals to keep the hunger at bay
- Cut down on the caffeine (but not entirely!) as the crashes can make you crave the sugary stuff
- Just eat it! What a better time to treat yourself than when you’re PMSing, right?
Make sure you keep track of your cycle using a period tracker app to so you know where you are in your phases and adjust your workout routine accordingly!