For dancers, the ups and downs of a menstrual cycle can be inconvenient, to say the least. But learning how the monthly hormone fluctuations affect you can help you understand your mood, energy and appetite, and even your focus, coordination and confidence in the studio. It also makes your cycle that much easier to manage—and even embrace.
Week 1: Menses—Purge & Restart
You may feel unusually tired. Photo via Unsplash
What's Happening: Your period lasts three to seven days, during which time you will lose 50 to 100ml of menstrual fluid. The uterus contracts to expel the broken-down uterine lining; estrogen and progesterone levels are at their lowest ebb. After a couple of days, estrogen levels start rising.
How It Affects Dancers: At first you might have some abdominal cramping from the uterine contractions. Some women experience fluid retention, bloating, constipation or diarrhea. You may feel unusually tired, especially if you have low iron.
What You Can Do: Dr. Selina Shah, a physician and former professional dancer, recommends taking a low dose of anti-
inflammatories for the cramps and avoiding caffeine, which may exacerbate the pain. The old heat-pack remedy on the stomach or lower back can ease discomfort when you're not dancing. A few small studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids can reduce period pain—but check with your doctor first.
Luckily for dancers, exercise can help fight fluid retention, digestion and mood issues, says Shah.
Week 2: Ovulation—Power Days
You may see a surge in your competitive side. Photo by Stephan Valentin/Unsplash
What's Happening: Estrogen levels rise as an egg in one ovary slowly matures. As estrogen peaks at the end of week two, it triggers ovulation—the release of the mature egg into the fallopian tube. If unfertilized, the egg lasts 6 to 24 hours before it disintegrates. There's a small spike in testosterone. The uterine wall thickens.
How It Affects Dancers: When estrogen levels are up, so is your mood. It also buoys your energy, confidence, coordination and focus. You may be less hungry as estrogen can suppress appetite. With that testosterone spike, you might notice a surge in your competitive side.
What You Can Do: Around ovulation, women often feel at their best both physically and creatively, so this might be the time to schedule an audition or start a creative project. Your verbal skills also peak, so engage with people you want to influence.
However, high estrogen can cause some women anxiety and shortness of breath. Shah recommends trying breathing techniques and meditation to help relax.
Week 3: Postovulation—Quieting Phase
Exercise can perk up your system. Photo via Thinkstock
What's Happening: Progesterone begins to rise and estrogen starts to drop. The uterine wall continues to thicken.
How It Affects Dancers: This is when the first PMS symptoms, such as feeling down and teary, begin to appear. You may also notice you have less energy.
What You Can Do: Luckily for dancers, exercise is one of the best PMS remedies, perking up the whole system. Plenty of sleep helps with mood, says Shah, and meditation is a helpful practice to find calm and balance.
She advises eating small meals and snacks often to deal with fatigue, since processing a little food stimulates the metabolism and gives you an energy boost. Healthy complex carbohydrates and lean protein can help you feel satiated.
Week 4: Premenstrual—The Reflective Stage
You may feel more reflective during this stage. Photo by Nsey Benajah/Unsplash
What's Happening: Estrogen levels briefly plateau, then keep falling; progesterone starts to drop. At their lowest levels, they trigger the wall of the uterus to start breaking down and the cycle begins again.
How It Affects Dancers: PMS symptoms such as tender, enlarged breasts, backache, headache, and fatigue may increase along with food cravings. These are all signs that your body is functioning exactly as it should.
What You Can Do: Shah suggests wearing a more supportive bra for these few days, taking an anti-inflammatory for aches and pains, and getting plenty of sleep. It's fine to satisfy food cravings in moderation, but the secret to lasting energy is making sure you have a well-balanced diet.