Running While on your Period
Your opinion of running while having your period could either fall into 2 camps; it’s either the best idea or worst idea ever. Some ladies feel down in the dumps during the first few days of their period while others feel like a workout warrior from the minute they start bleeding.
However, there are a few positive things that may happen if you decide to run while on your period. The first being, a positive change in mood. When blood starts flowing more around your body as you start running, not only will this improve and enhance circulation but endorphins will start to perk up. These happy, or mood-boosting hormones, typically activate while running or with any form of exercise. Exercise also helps to increase the feel-good chemical dopamine which can reduce cramps and fight off feelings of fatigue and sluggishness. Because both dopamine and endorphins are “natural” painkillers, getting out and running may end up being your solution to ending PMS related cramps.
We all know that exercise can enhance mood but it is also known to reduce stress. Stress has a direct effect on the severity of menstrual cramps. By utilizing exercise as a strategy towards stress relief, it’s possible that cramps will also become alleviated along the way.
Another perk of running during your period is temperature regulation. During your period, your body temperature is actually cooler than normal thanks to the drop in hormones. So if it’s especially hot outside, it’s possible you can tolerate these temperatures better. And this lovely “cooling” effect may even allow you to take on longer periods of exercise without getting too warm and too fatigued.
Anything you can do during your period to increase blood flow will subsequently help to reduce inflammation and cramps. When there is more blood flow to your organs, muscles and tissues, more oxygen and nutrient rich blood helps to heal, protect and repair the body.
Let’s chat about hormones. During menstruation, your sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone) are at their lowest. Low levels of hormones allow carbohydrates, your body's preferred fuel source while running, to be more accessible for utilization and breakdown during your period. That means that behind the sleepy and sluggish facade that comes with menstruation, you may have a greater ability to push through hard (yet short) bursts of exercises. Because hormones aren’t so called “in the way” of carbohydrate and glycogen utilization during your period, you may be able to get through your running with more ease than you think.
If you need some research on your side, a study found that women have fewer painful cramps during menstruation if they regularly exercise. In fact, in another study, regardless of intensity, women who exercised for about 45-60 minutes each time, 3x/week or more, may experience a clinically significant reduction in menstruation pain intensity. Given the general health benefits of exercise and the relatively low risk of side effects, women may even consider using exercise to manage menstrual pain.
What we can all agree upon is that a period shouldn’t stand in the way of a few good days of training or even race day. When it comes to physical activity, something is always better than nothing. I want to mention that there is no research that indicates that you shouldn't exercise during your period. You can reap the benefits of exercising during your period with any level or intensity of exercise. However, only you know your body best! If you have a splintering headache or are having more blood loss than normal, take a beat from training and kick back with a bath, a heating pad and a couch. You do you!
The best foods to eat during your period and why
We know that running (and moving in general) can offer a host of benefits such as enhanced mood, stress management and emotional balance. Beyond that, there are some nutrients and foods to help squash menstrual pain and integrate into your diet.
B-vitaminsYou may be familiar with B-vitamins like biotin and folic acid but there are two other B-vitamins to cozy up to. And that’s thiamine (vitamin B-1) and pyridoxine (vitamin B-6) because both have been shown to help with PMS. These water soluble vitamins can basically bring you back to life when PMS is around and actually motivate you to get in your running session. That’s because these vitamins break down and metabolize carbohydrates which allows the brain to release more mood boosting neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine. This mechanism helps to fight PMS related anxiety, fatigue and moodiness. Plus, the vitamins can expand blood vessels and improve circulation which in turn can squash cramps. Some thiamine rich foods include oats, whole grains, oranges, flaxseeds and nuts while foods like lentils, bananas and watermelon are all great sources of pyridoxine.
MagnesiumIf you suffer from severe cramps during PMS, you may feel like there are techno beats sounding off inside your body. Thankfully, foods rich in magnesium can help to relax these muscle contractions coming from the uterus during PMS. These foods include chickpeas, peanuts, almonds, brown rice and sweet potato. Plus, if you have menstrual migraines, it’s wise to kick up your magnesium intake to help relieve any throbbing that’s getting in the way of you and the pavement! Don’t forget to up the hydration with Flow water to fight against menstrual migraines and menstrual cramps. Flow water contains naturally occurring electrolytes (including magnesium!) and essential minerals that can help hydration and squash PMS related pain.
Spicy foodsApproximately day 1-5 of your cycle is a time when you are up against the natural inflammatory process of your period. You want to eat as many anti-inflammatory foods as possible and steer clear of foods that could potentially aggravate or worsen the inflammation during menstruation. Unfortunately, spicy foods can aggravate period symptoms and all the GI troubles, like diarrhea, gas and bloating that accompany it. By activating nerves in your gut, spicy foods may actually heighten these unpleasant symptoms. Because spicy foods and capsaicin (the active component of a chili pepper) may often provoke acid reflux or even abdominal discomfort, it’s typically not recommended to indulge in jalapeno smothered nachos or a spicy arrabbiata tomato sauce during your period. Plus, these troublesome side effects make going for a nice run outside a lot less tempting when you aren’t feeling 100%. As always, each person metabolizes and processes spicy foods differently so if you are on the sensitive side, simply hold off from the spice for a few days!
Refined sugarsAlbeit delicious, refined sugars from sweetened iced teas, sodas and juice are not the best choices when it comes to managing period related woes. The sugar often worsens bloating which can make you feel even more sluggish and tired. Sugar can also intensify cramps, making it harder to leave your couch and get outside and run. Instead, hydrate with Flow to better relieve your period troubles by providing the body with helpful minerals and naturally occurring electrolytes.
Salty foodsIt may seem obvious but salty foods are not the way to go on your period and especially while training. Salty foods like chips, pretzels, bread, salad dressings, and sauces could all aggravate period symptoms because they increase water retention. The more water your body retains during your period, the more pressure is created against your uterus and ovaries and the worse your cramps could be. Plus, the more salt in your diet, the greater chances of dehydration and the more likely you may develop a grueling headache, further worsening your chances of setting out to train. Rather, mindfully hydrate with Flow to offset any sodium imbalances that could be worsening your period symptoms. Remember, the water you choose to gulp is just as important as the food you eat so choose wisely!
By: Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, MS, RD, CDN is a nationally recognized registered dietitian, women’s health expert, author of “The Better Period Food Solution.” Her website is www.tracynutrition.com and follow her at @thehappiestnutritionist on Instagram.