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How to exercise around your period: ultrarunning champion with ‘rock star arms’ teaches women to sync workouts with their menstrual cycle


Bouncing back from those and after having a baby, she realised she had a natural ability for endurance racing. So she enlisted coaches and advisers to help her compete – and win.

App that helps women chart menstrual cycles has 65 million downloads

Now a qualified trainer herself, and a nutritionist, she has created the free Rockstar Fit App, which offers 200 workouts from Family Fit to Bodyweight Bootcamp – designed to help others develop “rock star arms”, among other benefits. Her social media handle is apt: @RockStarArms.


During the coronavirus pandemic, she was enlisted as a World Health Organization Facebook ambassador, asked to help people stay calm and get fit at home through online videos. Her posts generated more than 60 million views.

Her current focus is to help women understand how to train their bodies in sync with the hormonal ebbs and flows of their menstrual cycles.

“Training with your period is something I came to far too late in life, only a few years ago,” says Dau. “I tracked and monitored everything and then did some research to work it out.

“It has been so useful. My coach and I have adjusted my training accordingly – so on the week where I knew I should be able to go hard, I did extra-long runs, and scaled back the week that I would have less energy,” she says.

“If I have a scheduled race during my period, I know that I may need to fuel more to make up for the lack of energy.”

The cover of Dau’s book, which she co-wrote with Jason Karp. Photo: Amazon

In her recently published co-authored book, Run Like a Woman: Menstrual Cycle-Based Training For Optimal Performance, Dau details how hormonal changes have huge effects on the bodies of female runners because of the fluctuation in levels of oestrogen and progesterone.


“Variables such as oxygen consumption, body temperature, lung function, hydration, muscle glycogen storage, fat and carbohydrate metabolism, and exercise performance are all affected by the menstrual cycle,” she writes.

The first phase of the menstrual cycle, the follicular phase before an egg is released, begins with menstruation and usually lasts 14 days. Oestrogen rises and progesterone remains low.


The luteal phase begins after ovulation and typically lasts 14 days until your period, and this is when progesterone rises. If fertilisation does not occur, both oestrogen and progesterone levels decrease abruptly in the second half of the luteal phase.

That rapid progesterone drop causes water retention, leading to a feeling of being bloated. The phase ends with the start of the period, and the cycle starts again.

The intensity of training can also be planned according to the menstrual cycle

Natalie Dau

While it is not an exact science, cautions Dau, in general, endurance exercise performance is best during the oestrogen-dominant follicular phase – which is also associated with greater pain tolerance – and weaker during the progesterone-dominant luteal phase.


She recommends increasing your endurance training volume during the follicular phase – especially week two, when oestrogen is high.

Refrain from increasing, or slightly reduce, weekly volume during your period and at times of the month when oestrogen is low – the early and late luteal phases which fall early in week three and late in week four of the menstrual cycle.

Dau with her husband, Matthew France, and their daughter, Lilliana France. Photo: Natalie Dau
Avoid challenging workouts during your period, she says, especially if you do not feel well or if you have menstrual cramps.


“The intensity of training can also be planned according to the menstrual cycle. For example, if you have a 28-day cycle starting on Monday, and your period occurs on days one to three (Monday to Wednesday), plan the hard workout, like a long threshold run or intervals, in the second half of the week to avoid your period.

“If your period is only two to three days, you can do two workouts that week, scheduling them either on Thursday and Saturday, Friday and Sunday, or Thursday and Sunday.”

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Dau adds that “boxing is a great way to relieve aggression if you feel ready to kill someone” because of premenstrual syndrome, or PMS – a time before the period arrives when fluctuations in hormone levels may cause some women to become moody.

She also swims when she needs to “get her head straight when I can feel hormones kicking in”.

Dau has an almost entirely “clean” diet of whole food, but allows herself more carbohydrates when she has her period. Her average day starts with getting up early, around 4.30am or 5am for a 15km (9.3 mile) to 30km run, followed by two coffees, scrambled eggs and a slice of sourdough toast at around 7.30am.
Dau’s breakfast, after a run every day, includes scrambled eggs, sourdough toast and iced coffee with a dash of milk. Photo: Natalie Dau

Around midday, she will have a double portion of Greek yogurt and berries or grapefruit. At dinner, around 4pm or 4.30pm, she almost always eats fish or chicken with vegetables. Then she is in bed by 9.30pm.

“I am very boring with what I eat, but I know what works for me and how I feel,” she says.

When she needs extra carbohydrates or fat, she will have a rice cake with peanut butter or cottage cheese and celery. She does not count calories, but she ensures she has five portions of protein daily.

Dau was the first woman, and the fifth runner overall, to finish the 80km EcoTrail Putrajaya Race in Malaysia in July 2023. Photo: Natalie Dau

“On the weekend I treat myself with a few indulgences: I love the chocolate caramel buttons from Marks & Spencer or the odd gin and tonic.”

To become a high-level athlete you must be prepared to make sacrifices, she admits. Her social life was one of them.

“When you turn down enough invitations, you stop getting invited. But on the upside, you find like-minded people and you run with them or meet for breakfast, rather than having a night out.”

Dau swims when she needs to “get her head straight, when I can feel hormones kicking in”. Photo: Instagram/@rockstararms

“I am doing extra strength training three times a week, between 15 minutes and an hour, in addition to a daily run. I make sure I have enough protein intake and focus on recovery so I can be as prepared as possible,” she says.

“Either way I am ageing, so menopause or not, age will still impact my performance.”

She may start taking supplements at some point, but for now food is her only fuel.

“I think we all need to take responsibility for knowing our own bodies,” she says.

Natalie Dau is running a four-day “Next-Level Performance” retreat, to help people reach their peak physical performance, at Chiva-Som in Hua Hin, Thailand, from September 25 to 28. For more information, see www.chivasom.com.


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