Period pains: NHS give advice on helping cramps
Biohacking is a term you may have come across on TikTok or other social media platforms, and it is essential just changing your body and improving your health through small changes in your diet and lifestyle. Did you know you can improve the different symptoms you experience during your menstrual cycle by altering your habits ever so slightly? Express.co.uk chatted to Period Coach Lisa de Jong (@lisa_dejong_coach on Instagram), nutritionist at Lifesum Signe Svanfeldt, and Yoppie Founder Daniella Peri to find out how to ‘biohack your period’.
How to track your cycle
Knowing where you are in your menstrual cycle and feeding yourself the right food and supplements and exercising accordingly could change your life.
Period Coach Lisa de Jong said: “Tracking your cycle is about getting really curious around our needs and it can help to implement different self-care activities around the different phases of the cycle.”
The best way to know where you are in your cycle is to begin tracking the cycle from day one.
Lisa explained: “Day one is the first day of menstruation. Not really the days of spotting, if that happens, but rather the first day of flow. Cycles usually last from 28 to 35 days.
“You can use a journal or an app (there are lots nowadays) and that will keep track of where you are in your cycle.
“From there, you can then begin to track how you feel and what your needs and challenges are around the cycle and over time you get to know yourself through the lens of your own cycle.”
Lisa has created a useful menstrual cycle tracking journal which is available from Amazon.
Biohacking your period: Biohacking is easy when you know how
Biohacking your period: Track your cycle using an app or calendar
If you’re on hormonal birth control, this isn’t going to work in the same way for you.
Lisa said: “This can all work for women on hormonal birth control, but there won’t be the same ebb and flow.
“There can be a nuanced cycle and I would encourage women on hormones to track anyway and get to know their body around the month.
“Tracking the Moon can also be a good anchor for people on hormones or those who don’t have a cycle for various reasons. There can still be a subtle cyclicality to tap into.”
Biohacking your period: If you’re on hormonal birth control, use the Moon as a guide
What you eat can play a huge role in how you feel throughout your cycle, so it’s important to consider which stage you are in when planning your meals.
Signe, a nutritionist at Lifesum said: “Nutrition and daily diet impact wellbeing, and can help reduce and prevent many unwanted feelings during any stage of your menstrual cycle, both physical and mental.
“It’s also important to get enough energy during the days when you’re feeling tired, or having mood swings due to the menstrual cycle.
“The amount of energy varies depending on various factors, including sex, age, weight, height and activity level. It’s also important to get enough macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fat).
“Where the energy comes from is important. Eating nutrient-poor, energy-rich foods, including pastries, cookies, ice cream and crisps, will not provide sufficient nutrients and leave you hungry.
“Focus on nutrient-dense foods rich in vitamins and minerals and dietary fibre, including vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats.”
So what are you supposed to eat and do during each phase? The experts have explained it all.
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Biohacking your period: Try to eat a balanced diet throughout your whole cycle
During menstruation, your uterus is shedding its lining and you are bleeding as a result.
Lisa refers to the menstrual phase as your “inner winter” and said it is a low time hormonally.
During menstruation, Lisa recommended: “Take it gently, do less and nourish the body with healthy food and self-care.
“Some people like to take iron too during this time if there is a lot of fatigue but always consult your doctor with that because over supplementing on iron is dangerous.”
If you feel like exercising, do it! If not, don’t panic. A short stroll outdoors or some gentle stretching will do you good.
Biohacking your period: Up your iron intake during your period
Unfortunately, binge eating your favourite junk food while menstruating isn’t going to be helpful – even if it makes you feel good in the moment.
Signe said during menstruation you need to eat a balanced diet and make sure you’re getting enough iron. You can get iron in supplement form or eat it through red meat, beans, nuts, dried fruits and more delicious foods.
She said: “During menstruation, there can be high levels of iron loss due to heavy bleeding, which can lead to anaemia.
“Iron deficiency can lead to fatigue, shortness of breath and pale skin. A plant-based diet can make it even harder to absorb iron.”
On top of eating a balanced diet, Signe recommends eating fruit after a meal because vitamin C enhances the absorption of iron.
You should avoid drinking caffeine such as coffee, coke or tea after a meal because this inhibits the absorption of iron.
Biohacking your period: HotTea Mama’s caffeine-free Over the Moon tea is a great replacement
Instead of your regular tea, try drinking HotTea Mama‘s caffeine-free Over the Moon tea during your period.
This tea was made specifically for “those women for whom premenstrual stress and tension, irregular periods and conditions linked to fertility, like endometriosis and PCOS, can be a monthly challenge.”
The brand’s tea expert Bethan Thomas said: “Select herbs have been used traditionally for millennia to help women soothe cramps, reduce bloating, improve sleep and regulate periods.”
Raspberry Leaf, Chamomile Flowers, Gingko, Spearmint, Dandelion Root and Rose Petals are the ingredients, and each one helps to regulate your period.
Bethan explained that Raspberry Leaf can support women’s uterine health, the anti-inflammatory benefits of Chamomile Flowers and Ginkgo can reduce menstrual cramping and anxiety, and Spearmint has been shown to reduce PCOS in some animal studies.
Dandelion Root helps to reduce bloating, while the Rose Petals simply provide a soothing fragrance.
Follicular or pre-ovulation phase
After menstruation is the pre-ovulation phase, which Lisa refers to as the “inner spring”.
During this phase, oestrogen starts to pick up and you’ll have more energy again.
Lisa said: “It’s good to get back into cardio and resistance training here, start creative projects and socialise again.”
Signe said: “During this phase, it’s common to feel more alert and have more energy, so it is a great time to incorporate light and fresh foods, including salads, vegetables, nut/seed mix, buckwheat, plus fermented foods, which support gut health, including probiotic yoghurt or sauerkraut.”
According to Daniella Peri from Yoppie, high-intensity workouts should be prioritised above other workouts during the follicular phase.
She explained: “This is simply because of the rise in our estrogen levels, meaning we have more energy and believe it or not, we have a higher pain tolerance. Carbohydrates are actually used more efficiently during the follicular phase, providing us with the tools we need in order to work out at higher intensities.”
Biohacking your period: Exercise during the pre-ovulation phase and during ovulation will help
The ovulation phase or “inner summer” is when oestrogen is highest.
Lisa said: “It’s great to push the exercise a bit more here, connect with people, get out into the world, take risks, do fun things and say yes to life.”
Signe added that if the levels of oestrogen are excessive, our feelings can be impacted.
She explained: “Some feel more alert during this period, while others can experience a stomach ache.
“For this stage, it’s important to eat a varied and balanced diet. Focus on eating a diet rich in vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and healthy unsaturated fats.”
Fancy working out during ovulation? This phase is when we’re best primed for strength-based exercise.
Daniella explained: “This is because while we ovulate, our bodies experience their highest energy levels. Our endurance levels are also elevated so working on our overall strength is beneficial at this time.”
Biohacking your period: Take Vitamin B and Magnesium during your premenstrual phase
Luteal or premenstrual phase
The premenstrual phase or ‘“inner autumn”, as Lisa calls it, is still a high energy time at the start but then the energy descends and the mood can be impacted.
She said: “If this happens, begin to take a magnesium supplement and vitamin B supplement before menstruation to help support the nervous system.”
During this phase, both experts noted that it is common to crave carbs and comfort food.
Signe said: “In this phase, it’s common to feel tired, with glucose levels unusually higher or lower than normal. Ensure you eat complex carbs that provide fibre and vitamins to balance moods and curb cravings, including whole-grain bread and pasta.”
Avoid or cut back on caffeine and alcohol and always have healthy snack options at the ready.
Signe recommends keeping “a large batch of hummus and veggie sticks” for when energy levels drop at home, and a homemade fruit and nut bar in your bag when you’re on the go (there are plenty of recipes for things like this on the Lifesum app).
During this time, Lisa advises eating lots of fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, dates, and ensuring you’re getting enough carbs and protein. She said: “Our calorie requirement as women is higher during this phase. Who knew!”
Our bodies are least primed for exercise during the luteal phase, according to Daniella. She said: “Our progesterone levels are up and our body temperature is at its highest, meaning it’s even more important to stay hydrated.
“Some women also experience increased body mass due to fluid retention which can cause a sluggish feeling. If you absolutely have to exercise during this stage a good place to start would be yoga and if you do continue to work out, remember lots of rest days are also vital to avoid overworking your body.”