Ever wondered why some weeks feel like you have boundless energy resources whilst others are completely flat? Well your menstrual cycle might have something to do with that!
Firstly, whilst I am an expert in ballet I am in no way an expert on health. However I have always been incredibly interested in how nutrition can impact my students and optimise their technique and training. One of the reasons why I started the Balanced Ballerinas Podcast is because it gives me the opportunity to pick the brains of experts in relation to dance science and nutrition and expand my knowledge in these areas.
I’d like to thank Dr Stephanie Potreck who has run her trained eye over this information I’m about to share with you. Her assistance and feedback was crucial to avoid the spreading of misinformation. I hope this post inspires you to get to know your body better and visit www.ausdancersoverseas.com for more comprehensive guides and courses that support dancers.
In fact, Stephanie has been so kind to offer Balanced Ballerinas a 10% discount code for her courses (the code is: BB_MC_10 and available until 31st August 2021) and I highly recommend the ‘Female Dancers Health: No Period No Problem?’ course.
Now before we begin, for the average (averaged) cycle, ovulation is the mid-point, so that would be day 14. For those with longer cycles it is possible for ovulation to occur around day 21. It’s important to flag that whilst a standardised cycle is 28 days there can be variants of up to 14 days. For example, someone with a long cycle of 34/35 days may experience these phases two weeks later than someone with a shorter 24 day cycle.
Day one of your menstrual cycle is typically classified as the first day that your period arrives. Menstrual bleeding generally lasts between 3-7 days.
During this time of menstrual blood loss, it’s important to up your intake of iron. Personally I love a good grass-fed piece of steak! However other options could include a sprinkle of seeds on your morning porridge, a salad filled with dark leafy greens and tofu, legumes and beans. Iron absorption can also be increased by drinking some citrus (lemon or orange!) juice with your meal.
During this time you should be focussing on more restorative training. Think about going back to basics with a ‘beginner’ level class or some gentle stretching on the mat. Couple this with a nice long walk for the perfect feel good combination. You can definitely still attend more ‘advanced’ level classes, but remember to go easy on yourself as everything might feel a bit harder than usual.
The follicular phase comes about day 7-13 of your cycle and can feel wonderful! Oestrogen levels are rising, progesterone is humming away in the background and you’re probably in the best mood of your cycle. Dancers often report feeling strongest during this time and can push hard with their volume and intensity of training.
If you feel strong and can push hard in your training, you certainly want to stay on top of your nutrition and fuel well. Pushing hard often suppresses appetite, so make sure you eat enough to fuel the intense training session. Think nutrients (potatoes!), carbohydrates (pasta!) and healthy fats (avocado!). As always, eat intuitively and if your body is craving something, listen to it.
Now is the time to assess your weaknesses and focus on improvement. This is also a fabulous time to add an additional class to your schedule as you have the energy to cope. In fact, ask your teacher if he or she has a private lesson available!
When we reach ovulation roughly during day 14-21 of your cycle, interestingly it’s our Testosterone that peaks! This surge of Testosterone boosts your energy and confidence and can be the time when you feel the strongest.
Think complete nourishment! You want to be eating every colour of the rainbow and filling every bowl with lots of phytonutrients (fruits and vegetables!) whilst again listening to what your body is craving and having all the necessary fresh foods at the ready.
This is when you want to be aiming for some personal bests! Always wanted to try the ‘advanced’ class? Now is the time to challenge yourself, improve your weaknesses and focus on classes or steps that typically make you nervous during other phases of your cycle. You might just surprise yourself during this time!
Your luteal phase begins at the end of ovulation and lasts until the next menstrual period comes along. Progesterone takes centre stage for its pas de deux with Oestrogen and this is when you’ll feel a sense of calm followed by an urge to skip class and curl up on the couch. Healthy Oestrogen production is essential for down regulating inflammation, supporting the immune system and healthy brain and bones.
Support your Progesterone production with key nutrients such as Zinc (meat, seafood, nuts and seeds), Magnesium (dark leafy greens, nuts and dark chocolate), B6 (potatoes, oats and bananas) and Vitamin C (citrus fruits, berries and broccoli). Energy needs are increased during this phase and you’ll probably notice cravings and feeling hungrier in general.
This is not really the time to throw yourself in the deep end with new challenges. Instead opt for classes you’re really comfortable and confident with. You may experience PMS symptoms (breast tenderness, headache, back ache etc) during this time, so it’s also very important to tune in with your body, ask yourself how you’re feeling and do an adequate cool-down at the end of class with gentle stretching and feel good conditioning exercises.
I created this guide as exactly that – a simple guide. However as we all know, everyones bodies are so unique and what works for one might not necessarily work for another. I hope this information simply inspires thought and conversation about training or taking classes in line with your cycle or at least understanding why you feel differently from week to week…
I hope this information has been helpful to you and even though I am not a nutritionist or specialist in this area, I have collated this introduction to thinking deeper about our cycle and how it affects our training from responsible and quality resources. As guest of the podcast Dr Stephanie Potreck says, your period is a marker of health and the best free health check that arrives every month! I’d like to thank her for helping me with this guide.
Personally after doing all this research, I am going to take some of my own advice, track my cycle and energy levels for next six months and give you an update in the future! Stay tuned.
Grit & Grace,