HOW THE MENSTRUAL CYCLE AFFECTS YOUR TRAINING
The point of this articles is to help my lovely ladies and male trainers understand a little bit more about the female monthly cycle, how it can affect their training and what changes should be made to the training program and nutrition to achieve the best results.
I am focusing here on girls that are NOT taking the contraceptive pill. Girls tha use birth control pills don’t experience any of these different hormone fluctuations that other girls do, or at least not to the same extent. So if you do take birth control, this article may not be as helpful to you.
Now, let’s begin with how the menstrual cycle works, and the hormonal changes through the month.
Follicular Phase: It starts as soon as you finish menstruating. It is the beginning of your cycle, and it last 14 days.
Follicles start to mature in one of your ovaries and in 10 to 14 days, an egg develops from one of these follicles.
At this stage, you have a normal body temperature, normal level of progesterone and an increased level of estrogen.
On the 14thday of your follicular phase, the developed egg is released from your ovaries and is ready to be fertized. At this stage, your estrogen, progesterone, also your body temperature increase. This is the ovulation phase, and it lasts for about 24 hours.
(No, that doesn’t mean you cannot get pregnant on the other days. In fact, you can get pregnant six days before ovulation and six days after ovulation, so do be careful).
Luteal Phase: From day 15 to 28 of your cycle. At this stage, you progesterone levels and body temperature keep increasing while estrogen levels decrease.
If fertilization doesn’t occur, the egg will dissolve or die within 24 hours and menstruation follows to begin the whole cycle again.
The chart below summarizes the information above.
Now, let’s talk about what you should do at each phase to get the best out of your workout.
The Follicular Phase is the GAME TIME for women.
Your body is stronger, it has an increased level of endurance and a higher tolerance to pain, so at this stage you are a machine and should be focusing on progress at the gym.
Your insulin sensitivity will also be higher and your body will be using more carbohydrates as a primary fuel for exercises. So make sure at this stage you have a high-carb diet before and after workouts, as your body will be using those carbs very efficiently.
Try reaching your personal best during ovulation time. This is the best time to do it as your strength levels are at peak.
Be very careful, though, because during this stage, with your estrogen levels that high, neuromuscular control and collagen metabolism are affected. Your joints become looser and more prone to injury.
Don’t freak out! You should still try your best at this time, just be aware of using good form and do not go beyond your limits if your body is telling you to stop.
Now in the Luteal Phase, that’s when you may have those difficult workouts, when everything is very heavy and annoying. You’re constantly fighting with your body, your heart pumps quickly, you tire faster, and mentally, you will just want to get out of the gym as soon as possible.
This is due to the fact that your body temperature is higher than normal and you are probably retaining more water weight, which can add up to an extra 5kg to your usual weight, in worst cases, making it very uncomfortable to perform any type of exercise.
At this time of the month, you will also have low levels of serotonin, which will make you moody and – wait for it ladies! – HUNGRY! You will be craaving carbohydrate foods that make you feel better.
However, as your training intensity will be lower, you won’t be needing that many carbs. A positive note to remember is that your body at this time, is more efficient at using FAT as a source of energy, so try not to give in to your cravings and your body may start going after those stubborn fat supplies you’ve been trying to get rid of.
Basically, the perfect combination would be backing off the intensity of your training and adhering to a low carb diet.
The good thing is, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, your metabolic rate is increased at this time, suggesting that your body will be burning more calories, digesting more food than it normally does. And if you follow those basic nutritional tips I mentioned before, you can actually use this “bad phase” to your benefit and burn heaps of fat!
Last but not least, as the Menstruation phase comes along and you start feeling more like yourself, your water retention will clear, your body temperature will decrease and that is a great time to slowly transition to your normal weights, higher intensity and higher carbohydrate foods for your follicular phase that will begin again.
That’s it! Easy!
Hope this article gives my girls a brief insight into how to perform periodization according to your menstrual cycle.
Use each one of your phases to your benefit. And remember, not every girl is the same. Some of you may experience these hormonal changes more intensely than others. Some may not experience it at all.
It’s little pieces of information like this that over the long term can have a huge impact on our overall results. By learning to manage and sustain our best performance levels and knowing how and when to capitalize on opportunities, our paths and our goals become clearer and more focused.