Like clockwork, every other month when the tomato truck was in town, I used to wake up at 5 am with cramps on the cusp of becoming crippling.
If the tomato truck seems like a too-descriptive visual, then how’s shark week? It seems a little more subtle and might make you feel fierce.
Every other month only?
Yes. We have two ovaries, and each month only one releases an egg, and I guess one of my ovaries is a little angrier than the other. Apparently, this isn’t uncommon.
Right at 5 am, I knew I was in for a long day, where I’d suffer through coaching for two to three hours and then suffer even more during a half-assed, sluggish, low energy workout that felt like it was hurting me more than it was helping.
Tired of feeling this way for a day or two every two months, I decided to do some research into solutions to maximize training and energy levels and reduce cramps in natural ways.
Early Tomato Truck Days: Day 1 to Day 2-3
At this time, our progesterone and estrogen are at their lowest, meaning we feel more zapped of energy than normal, and sometimes feel bloated and definitely sluggish.
Tomato truck nutrition advice: Take more iron and vitamin B12
Foods high in iron include dark leafy green vegetables (spinach, broccoli), red meat, shellfish, and organ meats.
Vitamin B12 also plays a role in how energetic we feel. Some great foods for vitamin B12 include eggs, cheese, fish, and chicken.
Tomato truck exercise advice: Often our temptation is just to lay low and pop some Aleve every hour on the hour during this time, but research shows (and I have personally found) it’s better to do some sort of light exercise than nothing at all.
This study suggests some exercise might even help improve your cramps. That being said, be kind to your body at this time. In other words, don’t expect to PR and consider avoiding that high-intensity stuff. Just keep it light and easy and you’ll likely leave the gym feeling better than when you arrived.
That being said, this isn’t the case for the entire week. The follicular phase starts at the end of your period and moves until the end of ovulation (in case you skipped biology class in high school, this is when you’re most fertile).
This time is the time your pain tolerance and insulin sensitivity is at its peak, so your body is primed for muscle gains during this time. Toward the end of shark week, when you’re feeling more energetic again and the cramps are gone, ramp up the intensity in your workouts.
Ovulation: Day 11 to 14ish
Ovulation depends on the woman—no surprise, there are apps to find out when you’re ovulating—but it’s usually in the say 11 to 14 range. At this time, you’re most fertile because your body is releasing an egg and estrogen and progesterone levels are high, and likely so is your energy.
Ovulation nutrition advice: A lot of women tend to feel hungrier than usual during these days. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean your body needs more food than usual. I know for me, I tend to be a couple of pounds heavier during this time, probably because I tend to eat a little more than normal and many women experience water retention during this time.
Though you’re hungrier than you were the week before, your metabolism isn’t at its peak yet (that happens during the luteal phase). It’s best to stick to appropriate portion sizes of whole foods at this time, even though you might be craving more food.
Ovulation exercise advice: Ramp up the intensity. Go for a PR! (If you’re into that sort of thing.) Your body is at its physical peak, so enjoy it.
On the flip side, there’s evidence this time might also be when you’re at a higher risk of injury because as your estrogen and progesterone peak, your collagen metabolism is affected, as well as your neuromuscular control. Thus, your joints can become less stable, which often makes you more susceptible to injuries. Make sure you warm-up well and do some activation and stability drills for this.
Specifically, warm-up your core well. It will help keep you stable. Here are two great movements to get the core firing that you can do in your warm-up.
Deadbug variations—make sure you’re squeezing everything as hard as possible during these.
Shoulder taps and/or KB or DB plank drags. Again, build tension in your body as you’re doing this and try to stop your hips from shifting as much as you can.
End of Luteal Phase: Day 25 to 28ish
This is when your hormone levels start dropping again. Some of us even feel some pre-menstrual cramping, headaches, and bloating, as well as mood swings and fatigue at this time. Oh, the joys of being a woman!
Oddly, this is also the time your body peaks metabolically. I always find the few days leading up to my period I tend to be a couple of pounds lighter than normal, so that makes a whole lot of sense.
Because of this metabolic peak, we often have cravings for high carbohydrate and high-fat foods. So yeah, it’s not all in your head.
End of Cycle Nutrition Advice
Up your protein intake to stop the carb cravings and make you more satiated.
Some even suggest supplementing with tryptophan as it helps increase serotonin, which helps regulate mood, appetite, and digestion. If this is a particularly moody time for you, it might be worth considering. Also, if you tend to feel bloated at this time, try limiting salty foods.
End of Cycle Exercise Advice
During this time your body temperature tends to be higher than normal, which sometimes makes you feel more tired during intense workouts (especially conditioning workouts).
The important thing here is to stick to your workout routine and go as hard as your body seems to want to let you go. You know cramps are just around the corner, and then you’ll really need to back off, so keep training as hard as you can during this time.
One Final Tip
It works wonders for reducing cramps because it helps to relax your smooth muscles. A traditional muscle relaxant will also work, but if you’re into the more natural thing, go for a magnesium pill instead.