The Female Cycle: Diet and Training Tips to Help Your Life (and your cramps)

We’re doing it; we’re talking about PMS.

Men, feel free to sit this one out…

I don’t like the term PMS, though, and I know many other woman who concur.

From all the other options—on my period, on my rag, menstruating, the tomato truck is in town, I’m having my moon time or shark week—I’m liking Shark Week best. Seems the least disturbing of the terms, and it makes women sound fierce!

Yep, today we’re going deep into shark week—and the female cycle in general—in relation to diet and training. Why? Because when I ask female clients about their emotional experiences, as well as their food cravings and energy levels at various times of their cycle, they often stare at me blankly and admit they don’t think about it much. During their actual shark week, they might pick up on things going on in their body—as there’s a physical symptom that’s hard to ignore—but during the rest of their cycle, usually because there’s no visible signs as to what’s going on inside them, they’re oblivious.

Whether you’re currently in tune with your body or not, your cycle drastically affects your hormone levels, which influences you physically and emotionally more than you may have realized. Some small diet and exercise changes during these specific different times of the month can go a long way in helping you feel, sleep and perform better.

Let’s take a look:

Shark Week: (Day 1 to Day 5, 6 or 7, depending on the woman)

During this time, your hormones—progesterone and estrogen—are at their lowest. Because of this, you often feel zapped of energy, or just a little sluggish for a few days.

Diet Tip: Iron and Vitamin B12

Losing blood meanings losing iron (low iron = fatigue), so it’s best to up your iron intake during this time. You might want to up your intake a couple days before your shark week, even, to prepare for the upcoming blood loss.

This can mean eating more red meat and dark leafy greens, or getting on top of that iron supplement. Combining iron-riches foods with Vitamin C is also helpful as it helps your body absorb iron more effectively.

Vitamin B12 also affects our energy, as it, too, plays a role in producing red blood cells. Foods high in Vitamin B12 are animal products, like eggs, milk, cheese, fish and chicken. So if there’s a time to eat cheese, it might be during this week!

Shark Week Workout Tip: Keep Moving

Though it can be temping on those heavy cramping days—usually Day 1 and Day 2—to stay at home curled up in a ball pumping Advil and Aleve, it’s actually better to do something active, even if it just means going for a walk. Some research, like this study (, even suggests a link between exercise and reducing cramps, but it seems to vary from woman to woman. If nothing else, the endorphin rush from a low-intensity workout should help with energy levels in those first couple, heavy flow days.

Once the cramps are gone, push hard!

The follicular phase of your cycle in general—meaning from the start of shark week until the end of ovulation—is when you’re pain tolerance and your insulin sensitivity is the highest, meaning your body will be prone to using carbs as fuel for muscle gains. Thus, you can make big gains in the gym during shark week and beyond (until the end of the ovulation phase) even if you don’t feel at your best for the first day or two of shark week.

In general, think about the first 14 to 15 days of your cycle—the follicular phase and the ovulation phase—as being a time when you can push it harder at the gym and make valuable gains.

Ovulation (Day 11 to 14 ish, although, again, this depends on each women)

This is, of course, the time of the month where the new, mature egg gets released (aka your most fertile time of the month), and where estrogen and testosterone levels are high, and our energy levels, too.

Ovulation Phase Diet Tip:

During this stage of the cycle, your metabolism starts ramping up, so you might feel a bit more hungry than normal. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be eating a ton more, though. In fact, your metabolism won’t be at its highest until the luteal phase. So it’s best to stick to eating whole, unprocessed foods and appropriate portions sizes.

Also, take advantage of your abundance of energy to get creative and get food prepping to prepare some extra meals for the luteal phase, when your energy drops and you start having cravings for high-sugar foods.

Ovulation Phase Workout Tip:

From a hormonal standpoint, this is the time to go for a PR. You body is at its physical peak for the cycle. In other words, a great ego-boosting time.

However, some science ( also shows the ovulation phase may be a time you’re ironically also at higher risk of injury, because as your estrogen peaks, this can impact collagen metabolism, as well as your neuromuscular control. Because of this, joints are less stable and injuries can ensue if you’re not on top of warming up and prepping your body properly.

Day approximately 25-28 (End of Luteal phase)

This is when the egg gets released, and your hormone levels decline again. Some women experience premenstrual cramping, headaches and bloating during this time, as well as mood swings and fatigue, especially in the last couple days of the luteal phase leading into shark week.

Even though you don’t feel great on day 27 and 28, metabolically your body is actually peaking. One study published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition discovered your metabolism is about 7.7 percent higher during the luteal phase.

Along with this metabolic peak, however, comes food cravings, especially cravings for sweet carbohydrates and fatty foods. These cravings aren’t just in your head. A 2016 study ( showed a relationship between leptin and estrogen levels with food cravings.

Diet Tip: Get to know YOUR body and Pound the Protein

To help offset the decrease in serotonin and stop those carb cravings, you can try supplementing with tryptophan, as well as increase your protein intake, as they both can help promote an increase in serotonin production. (Seratonin helps regulate mood, appetite and digestion, sleep, memory, and sexual desire and function, so basically if your serotonin is too low, it could be contributing to making you moodier or more anxious than normal).

If you’re unaware of your mood during this time, start writing down what you’re thinking and feeling for a couple months or so, as well as how you’re sleeping in the three days before shark week. When you become more aware of your mood, cravings, sleep, as well as any other physiological changes in your body, you’ll become better at dealing with them in the future.

For example, if you feel bloated the day before shark weeks starts for three months in a row, it might be worth considering limiting salty foods the last two days of the luteal phase, as salty foods make us thirsty, so we drink more and end up feeling even more bloated.

Or maybe you notice you have trouble sleeping for a few days during this time. Sometimes limiting your caffeine during those days, or eliminating your afternoon coffee, can help you sleep at night. Or maybe these are the three nights a month you take melatonin before bed.

Or maybe you realize you always get into a stupid argument with your spouse in the three days before shark week. Becoming aware of this might help you avoid bringing up any “big subjects” during this time.

The take home message: Take the time to get to know your body and mind during this time, and adjust accordingly.

Exercise Tip: Stick to your routine, but back off intensity

During this time, your body temperature is often higher than normal, so you’ll often feel more tired during conditioning workouts. This doesn’t mean you can’t workout; it just means you may want to reconsider how intensely you’re pushing yourself.

Though it’s tempting to fall off the horse if you’re feeling crampy and bloated for three days, this is probably the most important time to stick to your workout routine, even if you’re not able to put forth the same amount of intensity or effort.

Be gentle on yourself as you prepare for the next cycle to begin with a shark-like bang!


Losing weight is complicated….And unfair. What you need to know about calories and metabolism

It sounds like common sense: Reduce your calories and lose weight, increase your calories and gain weight.

The concept sounds so foolproof that it led to the commonly-held conclusion we have believed for decades: “Eat less, move more,” and you will shed pounds.

But this advice is flawed. It’s not that simple. Anyone who has found himself/herself trying to lose weight but failing to do so—by restricting calories and moving more—can attest to this.

Why? Well to start, the calories in, calories out theory doesn’t tell us anything about your age, gender, body composition or hormone levels, nor does it tell us about your macronutrient intake, your training style, your genetic makeup, or whether you’re taking any medications etc etc…

And it certainly doesn’t tell us about your metabolism: the process your body goes through to convert what you eat and drink into energy.

Metabolism aside for a moment, there are a few other warnings to note about calories:

A. Don’t trust labels:

Check out this Precision Nutrition article that explains that food labels can be off by as much as 20 to 25 percent (!

B. Consuming calories isn’t the same as absorbing them:

The amount of energy we eat in the form of calories isn’t always  equal to the amount of energy we absorb, store or use. This comes down to our metabolism, as well as the type of calories we’re eating, hence the idea that“calories aren’t created equal.”

In short, we absorb less energy from carbohydrates and fats that are minimally process and more energy from highly-processed carbohydrates because they’re easy to digest. Further, whether a food is cooked or raw also makes a difference in what we absorb from it.

C. Enter gut health:

Oh the importance of gut health, once again…

We absorb food differently depending on the types of bacteria we have in our gut, hence the whole probiotic craze we have been inundated with in recent years  (probiotics are known to help increase the good bacteria in your gut, which helps you absorb nutrients more effectively).

Back to the unfair truth about metabolism:

When it comes to metabolism, we aren’t created equal. And we’re definitely not created equal when we break down our metabolism into four categories:

  1. Resting metabolic rate, or RMR

We all differ in terms of the number of calories we burn when we’re simply just resting (breathing, thinking, sleeping etc…). Things that affect your RMP either positively or negatively include your genetic makeup, your body composition, your age etc, your fitness level, and on and on.

  1. Fitness and metabolism

Again, we all burn calories differently when we workout (kind of why you can’t trust what the rowing machine or bike is telling you about how many calories you just burned). This changes depending on how much exercise you do. In other words, more consistent fitness can help your metabolism speed up.

  1. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis

We talked about resting metabolism and working out metabolism. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis, on the other hand, is basically everything in between. It’s the energy you burn when you’re going about your daily life, sitting down, standing up, fidgeting, doing dishes, talking, laughing etc. Once again, this also varies from person-to-person.

  1. Thermic effect of eating

This is basically how many calories you burn just by eating (and digesting and processing your food). Once again, this varies considerably from person to person.

Before you start cursing the people you know who can seemingly eat whatever they want because their metabolisms are on fire, let’s consider ways you can improve your metabolism so your body becomes more effective at absorbing your food and using it as energy.

5 Simple Ways to amp up your metabolism

  1. Eat Protein

Protein helps improve your thermic effect of food, meaning you’ll burn more calories while you’re eating and digesting. Read more here (

  1. Drink more water

Some research shows drinking more water can help speed up your resting metabolism. Read more here (

  1. Workout more

We already covered this one, but exercise—especially lifting weights and high-intensity work—goes a long way in speeding up your metabolism—not just the calories you burn when you workout, but also your resting metabolism and your non-exercise activity thermogenesis. This study explains that high-intensity training can help your metabolism speed up for up to 14 hours after a workout: (

  1. Sleep, sleep, sleep

Sleep, and sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, have a huge impact on metabolism. Check out this for more (, and check out our Sleep Apnea series (link to June #4 and #5 blogs).

And even if you don’t have sleep apnea, just not getting enough sleep can alter glucose metabolism, as well as hormones involved in regulating metabolism, like leptin and ghrelin. There’s a reason they call it beauty sleep.

  1. Omega 3’s

There’s some evidence that taking a fish oil supplement rich in Omega-3 fatty acids can help speed your metabolism, largely because it is believed it helps decrease the chances of leptin resistance, which is linked to how your body burns fat.

More research needs to be done here, but even if fish oil doesn’t help your amp up your metabolism, there are many other well-known health benefits that come from taking Omega-3 fatty acids. Read more about why fish oil is important in our recent Fish Oil blog:

Your Fish Oil Guide to Better Heart and Brain Health

Give it a try for 30 days: Increase protein intake (and decrease carb intake), more water, consistent working out, go to bed earlier, and fish oil it up on a daily basis. Then report back.


The Great Old Booze Debate Continues

Alcoholism = bad.

One glass of wine a night = OK, even helpful?

That tends to be the general thinking about booze: Getting hammered all the nights of the week is bad, bad, bad for your liver, for cognitive function, for your heart, for performance at the gym, and on and on. Not to mention the headache the next morning. Meanwhile, many studies have shown that one glass of wine a night can actually be beneficial to your health: Even the Mayo Clinic says a glass of wine a day can have heart health benefits (

For years, many of us have adopted the moderation approach when it comes to alcohol, assuming that as long as we don’t become full-blown alcoholics, drinking with friends brings us happiness—IT REALLY DOES, and that has to count for something—and in a perfect world, if the studies are correct, our hearts might even become stronger from the antioxidants in wine.

But perhaps we have been living in a fantasy land, where we hoped this was the case and blindly believed it because we like alcohol.

Well, your bubble is about to burst: A new study says no amount of alcohol is safe for your health. The study, published in The Lancet in August (, looked at alcohol consumption in 195 countries between 1990 and 2016 and discovered that alcohol is the leading risk factor for disease and premature death in men and women between the ages of 15 and 49 (accounting for one in 10 deaths). Alcohol was also found to be associated with 2.8 million deaths a year, according to the study. The conclusion: The only safe amount of booze is zero drops.

Whether you believe this study, or other studies that say some booze is good for your health, let’s take a moment to look at what happens in your body when you drink booze—in the context of how it might affect your performance at the gym—and then you can decide for yourself what amount of alcohol you think is helping your life.

Alcohol and Training:

Booze in the blood:

Basically, alcohol kills your oxygen-carrying red blood cells (aka hemoglobin), which essentially means that you become less efficient at carrying oxygen to your cells. And the more you drink, the worse it gets, to the point that you can wind up with anaemia. Not only can you NOT donate blood if you’re anemic, but it can lead to a host of other health concerns, such as shortness of breath, fatigue, lightheadedness—all because you’re not effectively taking up oxygen. Can’t imagine this condition would help you during a conditioning workout, or even a heavy set of back squats.

A Daiquiri and Dehydration:

You have probably heard alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it can lead to dehydration because your kidneys start producing more urine. Being properly hydrated helps maintain proper oxygen circulation in your body, which is critical for performance. And if you workout after drinking, it can dehydrate you even more as you can add sweat on top of more pee, leaving your body depleted of H2O.

Rum and Eggnog and Energy:

In short, booze interferes with the way your body makes energy. When you metabolize alcohol (meaning when you break it down in your body), it stops your liver from producing as much glucose as it should, so you end up with low blood sugar levels. Working out requires high levels of glucose; without enough glucose, performance suffers because your body is then forced to use fat instead of glucose as energy, meaning you’ll feel more sluggish and won’t be able to workout at the intensity you otherwise would be able to.

A Radler and Recovery:

Booze is bad for recovery. Period. This is especially true after an injury because alcohol causes your blood vessels to open up more than usual, and this increased blood flow can cause increased swelling or bleeding if you are injured.

Mohito and Muscle:

As a longer term affect, drinking can affect your ability to gain muscle mass. Essentially, it disrupts your sleep patterns and growth hormones, which are important for muscle growth. It can also reduce testosterone levels, another important hormone that helps you build muscle. Heavy drinking can even poison muscle fibres, so much so that they stop adapting to training the way they should.

Heineken and the Heart:

Heavy drinking can lead to unusual heart rhythms. And working out only increases the danger of having an irregular heartbeat.

Finally thought: If you have a glass of wine twice a week and feel great at the gym, by all means, keep on it. But if your performance doesn’t seem to be improving as much as you expect it should, and you find yourself boozing every other night, it might be worth considering taking a month off drinking and see what happens to your performance…


Feeling a plateau: Maybe you need some personalized direc-tion in your training

Athlete A: A client who has been here for three months on a 1RM deadlift day:

 He steps up to the bar, looks a bit perturbed by the ‘heavy’ weight, shrugs and then proceeds to bend down and pick the bar up with easy-to-see speed and ease.

 His reaction: “Holy shit, that was heavy!”

 Then he casually trots off and prepares for the conditioning, fully recovered within a matter of seconds.

 Athlete B: A client who has been here for 5 years on a 1 RM deadlift day:

After pacing for 30 seconds as he mentally prepares, he steps up to the bar, takes a few deep breaths, tightens his belt, lets out a grunt or two, braces hard, speaks a few motivational words to himself, and then pries the bar off the ground taking no less than 8 gruelling seconds to stand up with it and lock out the rep. Hamstrings quivering, lightheadedness overtakes his body.

 His reaction: “Holy shit, I wasn’t sure I had that.” Then he sits down and tries to recover in time for the conditioning.

The thing is, when you first start training, like Athlete A, you can pretty much show up every day and get a PR. Easily. Generally, this is because you’re working well below your true strength capacity, which is what we want in order to keep you technically sound and injury-free. The reason your body doesn’t want to lift more is because your nervous system isn’t ready for more weight or intensity (nor is your mind). In other words, when you put what feels like a lot of weight on the bar, you might think it’s too heavy for your muscles to handle, but it’s really just your nervous system (and your mind) freaking out because you have never felt that much weight on your body before.

Five years later, PRs are had to come by. Your nervous system and mind have adapted to intensity, load and volume, and you’re generally working much closer to your current strength capacity. As a result, if your technique is slightly off, if you didn’t sleep well, if you’re hungover etc, you likely aren’t going to hit your 1RM deadlift.

If you’re in your training infancy, enjoy it! And if you’re at a place where performance gains are fewer and further between, or if you have been on a legitimate plateau for a few months now, here’s some food for thought brought to you by world-renowned strength coach Charles Poliquin’s blog ( (although the article I’m going to talk about was written by Benjamin Hardy, the author of Willpower Doesn’t Work) (

In this article, ( Hardy talks about how, similar to diet, people with different genetics and body types need different things.

 Again, in your first three years of training, if you’re squatting, pressing, deadlifting, pushing and pulling on a regular basis you’re going to improve. You likely don’t need a personalized program, nor do you need to consider training for your genetic makeup. However, if you’re an experienced client here and feel you might be needing something different or more, this food for thought is for you:

In the Poliquin blog, Hardy references a theory put forth by Anatoly Bondarchuk, a former hammer thrower from the Soviet Union.

Bondarchuk believed different people respond differently to different training programs. In short, there are three kind of responders, he said: Intensity responders, variety responders and volume responders. Pretty easy to understand: Intensity responders adapt well to more intensity in their training program, variety responders’ bodies do well when there’s tons of variety, and volume responders need lots of volume to see results.

Although just a theory, it’s something to consider if nothing else. If you have been here for five-plus years and haven’t PR’ed in three months, maybe your body needs more volume?

Another theory Hardy put forth is that everyone has a dominant neurotransmitter: We’re either dopamine dominant, acetylcholine dominant, GABA dominant or Seratonin dominant.

 A bit about each neurotransmitter:

Dopamine: A neurotransmitter responsible for transmitting signals in between the nerve cells of the brain.

 Acetylcholine: It carries signals from motor neurons to the body’s skeletal muscles.

GABA: It sends chemical messages through the brain and the nervous system, and is involved in regulating communication between brain cells.

 Seratonin: It helps regulate mood, appetite, digestion, sleep, memory and sexual drive and function. Low levels have been associated with depression.

There’s a theory put forth by Dr. Eric Braverman that our personalities are based on your dominant neurotransmitter.. It’s called the Braverman personality test and you can take it HERE: (

Going a step further, in Hardy’s article, he combines Bonarchuk’s theory about there being three different kind of responders with the Braverman personality test. Together, they can tell you what kind of athlete you are, and what type of training you’ll likely be most responsive to. Pretty cool stuff, right?

You can read a more detailed explanation in that article, but here’s the Cole’s Notes if you’re in a rush:

  • Dopamine dominant people tend to do well at explosive and power-based sports. They do well with lots of intensity: Low reps, lots of sets! (i.e. intensity responders).
  • Acetylcholine people have great attention spans and focus and excel in team sports. They also require lots of variation in volume, according to Hardy. (i.e. variety responders).
  • Meanwhile, GABA dominant folks have tons of patience and do well at physical activities that require calmness and patience. No surprise, these are the volume whores. A workout with 40 rounds? These guys love them! (i.e. volume responders).
  • And Seratonin dominant people make great monks: They’re content and happy in most situations.

Of course, figuring this all out is more of an art than a science, but it’s certainly insightful and can help point you in the right direction in terms of what might be missing from your training right now.

With all this in mind, here’s the thing: If you have been here for five years, have been coming regularly to group classes and are now plateau-ing, it could be that you just need a little extra “homework,” so to speak—a little more personalized attention or training direction—to get you to reach your next performance goal (It could also just be you need your technique cleaned up on various lifts and gymnastics movements, of course, or that you need to clean up your diet).

But if you think this is you, talk to your coach. From personal training to an individual program, or just 20 minutes of extra homework to do after class: We can help point you in the right direction on your fitness journey.


Beyond the Sandwich: Back to School Lunch-Making

As if making lunches every day for three kids isn’t time-consuming enough, what’s even worse is when they complain about what you made them, or when they bring home uneaten lunches…

Since September is just around the corner, I figured it was a good time to provide some time-saving lunch-making tips, and some lunch ideas, to help the parents in our community get your kids embracing healthy eating this year.

Batch Prep

You probably knew this tip was coming, since we often push you to meal prep, so it’s no surprise that when it comes to lunches for kids, batch-cooking meal prep remains at the very top of our list!

It really does save a lot of time and hassle if you prepare at least some of your kids’ lunches for the following week on the weekend before. Since kids generally like variety—unless you lucked out with a kid who’s happy to eat a ham and cheese sandwich every single day of the year—this doesn’t mean you need to feed them the same thing for five days in a row. Throwing some prepared meals in the freezer on Sunday means you might have one or two meals for the upcoming week, and you can save two more for the following two weeks.

Lunch idea that’s great to batch prepare: Batch prepare smoothies, poor them into individual containers and stick them into the freezer. Smoothies are also a great way to get fresh fruits and vegetables into your kids’ lunch in a way they’ll enjoy.

Prep with your kids

Kids are less likely to complain about what you packed them for lunch if they get to play a role in the preparation process. This can mean taking them shopping with you, or getting them to be your sous-chef as you cook and bake.

Healthy baked lunch idea: Healthy Banana bread. I included this recipe in a recent blog, but it really is amazing (and perfect for freezing, of course). Healthy apple sauce and granola bar recipes can also be found in that recent blog (link to July 2018 #11 blog).

Healthy Banana bread


  • 4-6 bananas
  • 4 cups crushed walnuts (best to do this in the food processor so it’s almost more like the texture of flour)
  • Splash of maple syrup or dark chocolate chips
  • 1 cup almond butter
  • 4 eggs

Combine all ingredients and mix until smooth. Bake at 375 F for 45 minutes.

  1. Trick them with leftovers!

Although as adults we generally love leftovers, when we were kids, we certainly didn’t appreciate them. I remember when I used to ask my mom what was for dinner, and she replied, “leftovers,” it was going to be a bad day for me. But it’s pretty easy to refurbish leftovers and create something new and almost unrecognizable from the dinner the night before!

Lunch idea example: Let’s say you had meatballs and mashed potatoes for dinner. Chop the meatballs up and warm them up with some tomato sauce, throw in some crispy broccoli, sprinkle parmesan cheese on top, and send your kid to school with a hot lunch.

  1. Consider shelf life:

Let’s say you’re making a dip for your kids’ vegetables. (We all know kids are more likely to eat their veggies is they’re smothered in dip!)

If you choose to make guacemole—a great, healthy vegetable dip—chances are it will only be good for that day, and may even look brown by lunch time. Homemade humous might be a better idea. Or….

Guacamole Mousse: Because of the lime and the coconut milk in this recipe, the guacamole mousse keeps its colour and taste for a few days.

Ingredients for a giant bowl of guacamole mousse:

  • 6-8 avocados
  • Juice from 3 whole limes or lemons
  • Salt and pepper and garlic powder to taste
  • Fresh basil or cilantro (optional)
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk

Throw it all in the food processor until it becomes the texture of a mousse. Keep refrigerated.

  1. Lunch Share!

Get to know the parents in your kids’ class at school and find someone you know cares about nutrition, and then form a lunch share!

For example, Mondays and Wednesdays, you make lunch for your child and theirs, Tuesdays and Thursdays, they’re on lunch duty for yours. The great part is your kids are always less likely to complain when another parent makes their lunch…

“Tommy’s mom makes the best grilled cheese sandwiches. Make them like his mom…”

(Just hope Tommy doesn’t get sick and miss school, leaving your kid lunchless!).

I’ll leave you with one more recipe: Healthy candy! (Gelatin Gummies: Check out the recipe on Stupid Easy Paleo here: (

Good luck lunching, parents.