Many women report GI distress as a symptom of their menstrual cycle. Studies show evidence of a longer GI digestion time in the luteal phase which may contribute to this. Premenstrual prostaglandin production is also associated with an inflammatory response characterised by pain and reduced absorption in the gut.
So we ask, what may help?
Keeping a Food Diary
If you suffer from GI stress, try keeping a food diary throughout the month alongside symptoms in order to highlight any foods or certain situations that are more likely to cause your GI distress. If you document it, you may be able to highlight which foods are to be avoided and routines which better suit your gut in future.
Increase your fibre intake
GI transit/digestion time can be reduced by increasing dietary fibre intake, although this is not recommended directly prior to exercise!
Studies have found that dietary fibre supplements* are successful in reducing GI transit times and that average colonic transit time is inversely proportional to dietary fibre intake.
Timing of pre-training fuel
Leaving more time than usual between fuelling and exercise during the phase 4 & 1 may help reduce GI symptoms during exercise as it allows more time for digestion.
Composition of pre-training fuel
It is advised to slightly reduce fats, proteins and fibre in your pre-training fuel during times when GI distress is worse. Good options include a white bagel/toast with honey or white pasta with a tomato-based sauce. Anecdotally, it may also help to avoid red meat, processed foods and dairy-based products as these can contribute to GI distress.
Reduce caffeine intake
Caffeine is known to contribute to GI distress as it is a stimulant that can increase gut motility and stimulate the production of stomach acid. Reducing your intake during times of GI stress can help get the gut back on track.
Periods of fasting can actually exacerbate GI distress as it can lead to build ups of gas in the gastrointestinal tract. Therefore, eating little and often may be better for your symptoms.
For those suffering general GI distress (not menstrual cycle specific), probiotics may often be recommended to improve the gut microbiota activity. Taking probiotics can change the structure and improve the diversity of the gut microbiota which can improve digestion and ease GI distress.
These may therefore also help with menstrual cycle related GI issues. Fermented products enriched with Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus strains may be most effective and examples include certain yogurts, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha and kefir.
Dehydration can exacerbate GI distress as fluid loss through sweat can compromise splanchnic circulation. Aim to sip fluids before, during, and after exercise, adding an electrolyte if your sweat rate is high!
Lifestyle management overview:
· Keep a food diary
· Increase fibre intake
· Timing of pre-training fuel
· Composition of pre-training fuel
· Regular fuelling
· Regular hydration
The FitrWoman app is a fantastic way to track your cycle and symptoms to help understand when GI symptoms may occur. By tracking your menstrual cycle you may be able to spot a trend when it comes to certain symptoms occurring in certain phases of your cycle. You can then proactively attempt to manage these whether that be through your diet, lifestyle changes or the type of exercise you undertake.
*Always consult a medical professional if you are considering a particular medication or supplement to help with symptoms.