Curious about PCOS workout nutrition? Whether you’re a triathlete, an occasional jogger or a yogi, what you eat before and after exercise can make a difference to your movement. It isn’t necessary to crunch the numbers to calculate exact macronutrient intake but having some gentle guidance can help fuel your movement and aid recovery.
Ensuring you’re listening to your body and responding to hunger cues will make sure you have enough energy to support training and aid recovery. Although, if you participate in intense movement like endurance sports then you may need to listen to ‘practical hunger’ – the concept of eating despite a lack of hunger cues to improve performance and/or recovery.
What is PCOS?
PCOS is a common endocrine condition that affects approximately 1 in 10 people with ovaries in the UK. It can be diagnosed via blood tests, ultrasound scans and clinical assessments.
Symptoms of PCOS vary from person to person but may include acne, oily skin, irregular periods, difficulty getting pregnant, hirsutism and/or alopecia. PCOS cannot be cured so management of symptoms using medication, supplements and lifestyle changes is usually advised.
PCOS workout nutrition
1-4 hours before exercise try to consume a meal or snack high in carbohydrates. You may want to consume something slightly lower in fat or fibre as they can cause gastrointestinal issues, but everyone is different – experiment and find out what works for you.
A high carbohydrate snack or meal will raise blood sugar, top up muscle and liver glycogen levels and aid performance. Because people with PCOS tend to have insulin resistance, it may be suitable to pair carbohydrates with protein to suitably fuel yourself before the gym without raising blood sugar levels too high.
Examples of a good pre-workout snack or meal include a nut-dense cereal bar, a slice of toast with nut butter or a jacket potato with beans.
Can I take a pre-workout if I have PCOS?
Although this is a commonly asked question, there is little evidence surrounding PCOS and pre-workouts. Pre-workouts are a group of supplements commonly used 30-60 minutes before movement to boost energy levels.
Pre-workouts usually contain ingredients like caffeine, creatine, beta-alanine and BCAAs. In people with PCOS, too much caffeine is generally discouraged because of its impact on sleep, fertility and stress levels. People with PCOS tend to have higher levels of stress and caffeine can stimulate the production of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol can impact ovulation so people with PCOS should be cautious of consuming too much caffeine.
Having a pre-workout supplement every so often probably won’t impact your symptoms of PCOS too much, but relying on pre-workout should be cautioned.
During exercise that lasts less than 45 minutes, it is unlikely that you will need to consume anything but listen to your cues and adapt your nutrition to your body. Longer sessions may require some fuelling during exercise, again, try to consume something primarily carbohydrate-based to supplement endogenous stores.
Depending on the exercise, gels may be suitable, but some sports and tournaments may allow for breaks for refuelling. Again, foods like bananas, cereal bars and fruit sweets can give a good carbohydrate and energy boost.
Following movement, to promote recovery, a meal or snack with a combination of carbohydrates and proteins will replenish glycogen stores, repair damaged muscle fibres and support new muscle tissue formation. Unless you’re planning on exercising again within 24 hours, there is no urgency to consume food straight after training. Try to be guided by your hunger cues and eat your post-movement meal or snack when you’re ready for it.
If you consume enough energy, carbohydrates and proteins over the 24 hours, your muscles will recover before the next movement session. If you train intensely or plan to move again in less than 8 hours, then eating a high carbohydrate and high protein meal within two hours is probably a good idea. Post-workout meals include oats, eggs on toast, cow’s milk (often called the ‘perfect’ recovery drink), curry with rice or a fruit and yoghurt smoothie.
What about hydration?
It is also important to remember hydration! Although there is no specific link between water and PCOS, staying hydrated is linked to a variety of functions in the body. Being hydrated contributes to optimal health and exercise performance, regardless of PCOS status. Ensuring you’re adequately hydrated before, during and after movement can improve performance.
As a general rule, sip water during a workout in small amounts if it is practical to do so. A variety of different factors impact how much water you need to drink including exercise intensity, body size, your environment and sweat levels.
>> Read more | Drinks for PCOS: the ultimate PCOS beverage guide
Key takeaways: PCOS workout nutrition
Although fixating on macronutrients and measuring out every gram of protein isn’t required, having some knowledge of PCOS workout nutrition is advised to promote recovery and aid your workouts.
Founder and Editor | Registered Associate Nutritionist
Founder of Be The Collective LTD [The PCOS Collective & The Endo Collective] Alex Okell ANutr is a London-based reproductive health nutritionist with experience in research, private practice and digital media. She holds a Master’s degree in Nutrition from King’s College London and has co-authored papers with the University of Cambridge, King’s College London, The Food Foundation and the Food Standards Agency. Alex offers 1:1 PCOS support in our virtual PCOS clinic.