If you menstruate, you’ll notice how different your body feels during different stages of your cycle.
No, your period isn’t the only week when your body goes through the motions -every single week of the menstrual cycle brings something new, for better or worse.
Yup, as you are no doubt well aware of, our periods and menstrual cycles can dictate how we feel throughout the month, affecting our mood, concentration levels, and physical strength.
It can feel a bit debilitating to know that our moods are rarely ever constant and our bodies don’t really look or feel the same but, knowing more about your menstrual cycle can empower you (and make the rubbish days a bit more manageable).
Want a more bearable period? According to the pros, by tapping into and working with your natural biology, you can help maximise energy levels and boost mental capacity and overall well-being in the longer term.
Ruby Raut, menstrual lifestyle expert at period product brand, WUKA, says that we quite often overlook the benefits of our cycle because of the unfun symptoms we can experience.
“Skin issues, bloating, lethargy, and irritability are well-known symptoms of PMS,” says Ruat. “However, there are many overlooked benefits that come with having hormones fluctuate throughout the month.
“Extra surges of strength in the gym, glowing skin, and motivation to do absolutely everything on the to-do list are also all ‘symptoms’ you likely enjoy as a result of hormonal fluctuations throughout your menstrual cycle. The key thing is knowing what is happening within your body and when.”
Ready to hack your period like a pro and feel a bit better all month round? Here’s how to do it for yourself.
Hack your cycle
The best way to hack your cycle? Track it. Knowledge is power and each cycle is unique.
The menstrual cycle is split into two phases, starting with menstruation happening in the follicular phase that lasts until ovulation, followed by the luteal phase lasting until the next period starts.
Varying cycles and hormone levels mean each phase will have a different length for each menstruating person, which is why tracking is so necessary.
You can track your cycle manually or with the help of a digital app that provides helpful prompts and personalised recommendations based on your own health data. There are a few different methodologies for cycle tracking, but in general body temperature taken with a thermometer will let you know where you are up to in your cycle, with the body temperature rising during ovulation.
Cycle tracking isn’t just for birth control or conception support. The multitude of symptoms that come with the menstrual cycle can be difficult to manage, especially when you are trying to reach goals set for yourself, so simply knowing what is happening and when means you can prepare for them and most importantly give yourself grace and understanding during each phase.
Hack your exercise
Nearly all of us want to be fit but many people who menstruate don’t consider the impact of where they are in their cycle when working towards their gym goals.
The follicular stage of your cycle, from menstruation until ovulation, is when oestrogen levels are increasing. This is the hormone that contributes to energy and strength levels, through increasing cortisol and testosterone, meaning it’s the perfect time to hit the weights section and work on your strength.
Try upping the KGs or simply hitting an extra repetition of each exercise. It’s also worth trying compound moves that work for multiple muscle groups at once, such as squats, deadlifts, and chest presses.
After ovulation, you enter the luteal phase, when oestrogen levels drop dramatically and the hormone progesterone increases in the lead-up to your period.
During this phase, energy levels can be lower, so intense strength training and HIIT workouts are more difficult. In fact, the ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality may do more harm than good in this phase; persisting and attempting to push on through may make recovery harder when your energy levels do return.
Instead, interspersing weight training with mobility exercises, cardio, and lower-intensity training such as Pilates and yoga will keep you stay active without leaving you feeling exhausted and at greater risk of injury.
Hack your skincare
Who doesn’t want their skin to glow? However, the goal should be to have healthy skin, not the poreless visage of a Barbie doll.
Hormones are one of the biggest factors in how your skin looks, so syncing your skincare with your menstrual cycle means you can optimise the products you use for better skin.
For the majority, being blessed with naturally clear skin happens during ovulation. During this phase, your body naturally suppresses the immune system to protect the egg, resulting in clearer, less sensitive skin.
So, a simple cleanser and moisturiser will be enough to keep your skin in tip-top condition during this time and is the perfect opportunity to give your skin a break from more heavy-duty products.
As you approach your period, your skin may produce more oil, so it’s important to incorporate lighter, water-based products that ensure your skin continues to get the hydration it needs without the potential pimple-causing effects of heavier oil-based products.
Double cleansing at night - which consists of using an oil-based cleanser first and then washing your face again with a water-based product - during this phase and when you are menstruating will ensure excess oil and bacteria - a key cause of breakouts - are removed.
Hack your nutrition
Iron-rich foods are ideal to consume whilst on your period as the mineral plays a key role in the production of new blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body.
During your period, you can lose up to 50-80ml of blood, and iron is key to replenishing the blood lost. Great sources of iron include red meat, chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, quinoa, green leafy veg such as kale, and - there is a ‘treat’ that boosts our iron intake - dark chocolate.
To minimise painful symptoms like headaches and cramps, reduce your intake of fatty and salty foods, like crisps or chips, as these increase water retention, which can cause bloating and dehydration.
A bowl of popcorn, or a fruit snack with nut butter is a tasty alternative and great for stabilising blood sugar levels too.
Hack your mood
Higher oestrogen levels in the first half of the month will give you mental as well as physical energy. Take advantage of this time and use your mental energy to deal with difficult conversations you may need to have, inwardly reflect and confront any characteristics you need to work on or make those hard decisions that may impact your personal or even professional life.
On the flip side, high progesterone levels in the second half of your cycle mean more mood stability and natural tranquility. This is the perfect time to work on your inner zen, rooted in the certainty that your hormones have your back!
Never feel ashamed or embarrassed by mood changes during your cycle. Periods and hormone changes are a natural and healthy bodily function, so communicate openly with those close to you and prioritise self-care.