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Diet and Nutrition

What you eat and when can have a huge impact on your training and sport performance. This is further influenced when we consider the menstrual cycle where you may experience changes in energy level, reduced recovery and also energy demands to maintain good hormone health and therefore optimise performance.

Diet considerations include adequate fuel, protein and support foods to reduce inflammation causing increased severity of menstrual related symptoms.

Fuelling training

Regardless of the phase of your menstrual cycle it is super important to fuel around training. 

  • Carbohydrate containing meal 4 hours before training
  • Carbohydrate containing snack 2 hours before training
  • High intensity (>45 mins) or long sessions (>75 mins) include carbohydrate during training
  • Carbohydrate within 30 mins of finishing training

Include carbohydrate meals and snacks across the day

During the luteal phase your body may struggle to supply the necessary energy from stored carbohydrate – fuelling before, during and after training becomes vital for training and competition.

You may have a lack of appetite or find carbohydrate foods difficult to manage around training. Liquid carbohydrate options could be an alternative: smoothies, milkshakes, energy drinks, fruit juices, milk-based drinks.

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3-4 hours Before Training1-2 hours Before TrainingDuring TrainingAfter Training
Carbohydrate within your meal Carbohydrate snack to top up or if it’s morning training then a smaller snack like this may be easierHigh intensity >45mins or Low intensity >75mins you will need some quick releasing carbohydrate Carbohydrate within 30minutes of finishing
Pasta, Rice,Bread, Potatoes, Couscous, Cereal, Oats, CrackersCereal bar, Banana Malt Loaf, Crumpets, Jam Sandwich, Scotch pancakesGels, Sweets, Malt loaf, Banana, Energy drinksMilkshake, Cereal, Yogurt & fruit, Sandwich, Main meal

Low energy

Changes in hormones levels before and during your period can result in low energy which can make training and sport performance feel challenging. This is combined with the natural shift in metabolism during the luteal phase with a predominant focus on fat at the fuel source…this is great for long duration low intensity exercise but to complete a HITT session or resistance training let alone sprint type competition events if can leave you struggling. 

No need to change your competition timings or move your training around – focus on your fuel. Having a quick release carbohydrate snack before and during your session can provide the energy boost to achieve your training and sport performance. Foods such as gels, sweets or a banana can be great for this.

Protein

Progesterone is high during the luteal phase. Progesterone can cause protein to be broken down which may slow down recovery and reduce training adaptations.

To prevent this, you can aim for 20g of protein every 3-4 hours. Try to include protein with every meal and snack.

10g Protein options:

  • ½ pint of milk
  • Handful of nuts
  • 1 small yogurt
  • 1tbsp hummus
  • 1tbsp cottage cheese
  • 2tbsp peanut butter

20g protein options:

  • Chicken breast
  • Fish fillet
  • ½ tin of fish
  • ½ of beans
  • 2tbsp soya mince
  • 4tbsp Quorn
  • 3 eggs

Try combining your carbohydrate and protein intake with these snacks to support fuel and recovery:

  • Chicken sandwich
  • Boiled eggs on toast
  • Peanut butter and a banana
  • Yogurt with fruit and honey

You can also try having a milky drink before bed on days of intense training. This will support overnight muscle recovery.

Hydration

Thirst is not a good indicator of hydration; it is a response to already being dehydrated and during exercise you may also lack sensitivity to this stimulus. Use your urine colour to check in on your hydration – aiming for a pale yellow, straw-like colour.

The NHS recommends drinking 2-2.5l of fluid per day.

Hydration can be boosted through food, not just drinking liquids. Fruits and vegetables are a great way to consume extra fluids, particularly after heavy training sessions or training in hot environments.

Try making your own ‘sports drink’ by adding a pinch of salt to a 500ml bottle of orange squash, this will help replace electrolytes lost from training.

Support foods

To help reduce inflammation in the body which can increase severity of menstrual related symptoms and the negative impact on training and sport performance, ensure at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables daily to increase anti-oxidant intake. Here are some ideas of how to increase your portions

Oily fish can meet your omega-3 requirements as these have been found to reduce inflammation as well, aim of 3-4 portions a week.

Wholegrains have also been associated with reduced inflammation and support bloating and bowel symptoms that may be affected by changes in hormones, these can make attending or concentrating on training and performance much harder.  Brown rice, bulgur wheat, quinoa, popcorn, wholegrain breakfast cereals. 

Vitamin D has been found to be low in those with increased menstrual symptoms. Ensure you are supplementing Vitamin D to prevent this becoming a potential contributing factor. 25-100 micrograms (1000-4000IU) from October to March.

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