Centr trainer Maricris Lapaix, wearing gym wear, sits back against a white-painted brick wall, leani
Guide
Centr Team

Your guide to cycle-based training & nutrition

Centr Team

“I don’t have the energy.” “I’m not in the mood.” “I’m so bloated.” “Ugggh...”

Any of this sound familiar? Hormones can impact just about every part of a woman’s life: mood, energy levels, appetite, sleep. So it makes sense to factor your hormones into your health and fitness choices, right?

We also know from our members that their needs and priorities change when they reach perimenopause and menopause – which is why we created a specialized guide for those stages, too.

If you’re ready to work with your body, rather than battling against it, let’s take a look at how to tune in and adapt to what your body is telling you.

Important: Hormonal fluctuations related to menstruation are highly individual. Talk to a doctor if you have concerns about your hormones or symptoms.

Centr trainers Ingrid Clay and Maricrix Lapaix stand in a graffitied laneway, high fiving with their hands overhead.
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Almost half of our female Centr members told us that they adjust their routine based on their menstrual cycle.

Women: the subject science ignored

Research is only just beginning to scratch the surface when it comes to understanding how your menstrual cycle impacts physical performance.

Historically, most biology research excluded women as both scientists and subjects. Women (even female rats) were not used as test subjects over beliefs their hormonal cycles – including menstruation – would lead to unpredictable results.

So while a quick internet search will throw up plenty of advice on how to train and eat for each stage of your menstrual cycle – cycle syncing 'has gone mainstream‘ in recent years – the reality is that the research is still far from definitive.

We’re not saying that making adjustments based on your cycle is of no benefit (we’ve got expert advice on doing just that below). But keep in mind there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

How to track your cycle for better results

Until the research catches up, tracking your own menstrual cycle – taking note of how you feel and perform – is your best bet for unlocking your ideal routine.

Using an app, notes on your phone or an old school pen and paper, start tracking:

  • When you begin and finish bleeding

  • Any PMS symptoms like cramps or aches

  • Your mood and emotions

  • Your energy levels

  • Your hunger and cravings

Centr trainer Alexz Parvi sits crossed legged under tree in a park, writing in her notebook.
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You can track your cycle using a variety of apps, or with the old-fashioned pen-and-paper method.

How to cope with fluctuating energy levels

Your hormone levels rise and fall during your menstrual cycle. (Unless you are taking a hormonal contraceptive – more on that below.)

Estrogen (oestrogen) levels, for example, peak during the follicular phase, which begins on the first day of menstruation and ends with ovulation. During the luteal phase, which begins after ovulation, estrogen release slows down and progesterone levels rise.

These hormonal shifts impact everything from your mood to your energy levels and body temperature. But the symptoms are far from consistent, which explains why some have to drag themselves out of bed when they get their period, while others experience a surge in energy.

Centr trainer Tahl Rinsky lies in  extended pigeon pose on a yoga mat.
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According to our survey, the most common way female Centrs members adjust for their cycle is switching up exercise based on their energy.

Feeling low? Fatigue is a common symptom for women at certain points in their cycle. It might not feel like it, but exercise can actually boost your energy levels by improving oxygen circulation, producing feel-good hormones like endorphins and sharpening your mind.

We recommend more mindful, lower-impact workout styles like yoga and Pilates – you can find both in our Centr Align program. You could also hit play on a stretching session or take a walk.

There’s another classic hack for boosting energy levels: food. “Listen to your body and add a small snack of 100-200 calories with fiber-rich carbohydrates and protein to balance energy levels,” says our sports dietitian Angie Asche.

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The hormonal swirl of your cycle means your energy will surge at certain points – that’s your cue to tackle those tough workouts.

What about if you're using contraception?

There are two main types of oral contraceptive pills: those which provide a steady supply of both synthetic progesterone and estrogen, and those that supply the body with synthetic progesterone only.

Long-acting reversible contraception (LARCs) methods such as hormonal IUDs and implants similarly supply the body with synthetic progesterone.

The steady supply of hormones means you may not have the same symptoms or fluctuations in nutritional needs. A 2020 study showed that taking the pill that contains combined synthetic hormones resulted in female athletes having one consistent level of performance.

Want to build muscle? A recent study indicated that taking the pill can impair muscle gains in young women, but the sample size was small, and more research is needed to make any definitive statements.

If you have any questions or concerns about your contraception, including its impact on your performance, we recommend making an appointment to discuss it with your doctor.

How to cope when you want to eat everything

Angie says it is completely normal to feel hungrier at different points of your cycle.

“Resting energy expenditure increases anywhere from 2-11.5 percent during the luteal phase,” she says. “This could explain why you may feel hungrier or have ‘cravings’.”

Angie recommends reaching for a snack that provides plenty of fiber and protein to keep you satisfied.

A  quadrant of images of high-protein snacks from the Centr menu.
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Try one of our favorite high-protein snacks to satisfy cravings.

Using exercise and food to help painful cramps

During menstruation, your uterus contracts to expel the uterine lining, which can cause cramps and dysmenorrhea (painful periods). While it might make you want to curl up and hide, exercise can help with the pain – so keep moving if you can.

There are also food choices that can help.

"Omega-3 fatty acids provide an anti-inflammatory effect on the body, and studies have shown that supplementation can help to reduce dysmenorrhea symptoms,” says Angie.

A serve of Centr's Honey Miso Salmon with broccolini on the side sits on a grey plate, ready for eating.
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Make this Honey Miso Salmon part of your regular rotation during period week for a dose of omega-3s.

Angie also advises that magnesium can help manage cramps and PMS symptoms, with a recent study found 300mg a day improved cramps, abdominal pain, irritability and depression.

Do you have to give up coffee during your period? While you might have heard caffeine can make cramps worse, Angie says that studies have found mixed results.

“However, there may be a link between high sugar consumption and period pain, and given so many caffeinated drinks are high in sugar, it’s a good idea to keep your intake low to reduce your symptoms.”

How movement and food can help with mood

It’s not just physical energy levels that can impact your motivation to train. Your mood may be highly variable during your cycle.

You’re feeling flat or irritable, research shows that cardio exercise is an effective way to boost your mood.

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Alexz’s HILIT Booster workouts are designed to turn your mood around in under 15 minutes.

The types of food you eat can also impact your mood.

“Certain nutrients can help reduce irritability, depression and other symptoms bought on by hormonal changes,” Angie says.

“Calcium and magnesium, in particular, have been shown to reduce mood disorders during PMS. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to improve mood, as well.”

Your gut microbiome can affect your mood and cognitive function, too – so it’s important to make sure you’re eating enough fiber. If you feel hungrier at different points of your cycle, a fiber-rich diet will also help you feel full.

Important: If you’re experiencing extreme mood fluctuations that negatively impact your life, be sure to consult a doctor.

A serve of Centr's Black Bean Fajita Bowl rests on a grey linen napkin.
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The beans, avocado and quinoa in this Tex-Mex Black Bean Fajita Bowl are all great sources of mood-supporting magnesium.

Getting enough iron for strength, energy & recovery

Iron deficiency is one of the most common deficiencies Angie sees in her practice. In fact, more than a third of women under 50 are iron deficient.

Women at highest risk of iron deficiency are those who:

  • have heavy menstrual bleeding

  • sweat heavily

  • are vegetarian or vegan

  • have low total calorie consumption

  • have gastrointestinal conditions such as celiac disease or IBS

  • do a lot of aerobic training, eg. endurance athletes

“Iron is essential for oxygen transport, energy production, muscle function, cognition, a healthy immune system and your body’s ability to adapt to training,” explains Angie.

“If you have low levels of iron, this can lead to decreased performance – in both endurance and strength training – early fatigue during workouts and an overall decrease in power. You may get sick more frequently, have lower levels of focus and alertness during your training, and experience poor recovery.”

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Combining iron-rich foods with vitamin C – like the combo of lemon and chickpeas on this plant-based sandwich – helps your body to absorb the mineral.

The first step to combating iron deficiency is through your diet. Angie recommends:

  • Consuming more iron-rich foods like beef, fish, eggs and poultry, as well as fortified grains, oatmeal, nuts, legumes and tofu.
  • When you eat iron-rich foods, add some vitamin C to enhance absorption. For instance, have a glass of orange juice with your meat dish, add berries to a spinach salad or smoothie, or have bell peppers (capsicum) with fish.
  • Limiting coffee, calcium-rich foods and phytates (found in grains, legumes and nuts) when consuming iron, as they can inhibit absorption
  • Cooking your meals in a cast iron skillet, as this can increase the iron content of your food.

If you’re concerned about ongoing iron deficiency, consult a sports dietitian or doctor.

Got more questions about women’s fitness?

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