As a woman, you know hormonal swings, cravings, breakouts, bloating, and a stubborn scale all too well.
If you’re a regularly training, you may even notice a your energy, strength and/or endurance levels yo-yoing again and again.
Well, you’re not alone – it’s normal and it’s all related to our menstrual cycles (I’m speaking specifically to pre-menopausal women).
On the upside, you have days where you just CRUSH IT – you feel like super woman – ready to take on the world or lift a car…
SO here’s a bit of science about why, and tips for you to improve your training through your cycle.
Estrogen increases, while progesterone and body temperature stays the same. This phase is the time when the female body is primed to hit intense workouts that are of an anaerobic nature – this is the time to focus on progress. Increased insulin sensitivity, along with an increase in pain tolerance, can explain this capability.
Nutrition – During the follicular phase, you need to refuel with nutrient dense meals and increase carbs. Post-workout meals should be your highest carb meal, including good carbohydrate sources such as sweet potatoes, yams, rice, or starchy vegetables such as carrots, parsnips and beets.
The American Journal of Nutrition stated that basal metabolic rate decreases at the beginning of menstruation and reaches the lowest point a week before ovulation.
Doing more intense workouts and including metabolism-boosting post-workout meals in the follicular phase will help counteract this slower metabolism, says Shannon Clark in this T-nation article.
Train hard, but watch your form! This is the time to go for a PR; however, you’re also more prone to injury due to an increase in estrogen as it reaches its highest point, which can impact collagen metabolism and influence your neuromuscular control.
Nutrition – As progesterone surges, a slight decrease in serotonin can happen, and since carbs can boost serotonin, food cravings can often occur at this time. . . if you’re like me – you’re hungry all the time around this time!!! WHY? Your metabolism is starting to climb at this point, so if you’re feeling a little extra hungry, understand that this may very well be why.
Consider adding a few more calories to your diet to fuel this increase, but not from sweets …add in some nutrient dense calories from a balanced mix of proteins, carbs, and fats as your insulin sensitivity is starting to decline.
During ovulation, estrogen and overall strength is peaked, so heavier weight training is appropriate during this phase (rather than the more difficult cardiovascular anaerobic efforts of the follicular phase).
Clark also referenced a study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine that anterior cruciate ligament injury rates are four to eight times higher during this point in the cycle than in all other phases.
Therefore, consider supplementing with a tablespoon of collagen in your morning smoothie, place more emphasis on your warm-up, include recovery sessions, and be aware of fatigue and proper form.
During this phase, your body is not primed to workout at very high
intensities, the body will prefer fat as its primary fuel source instead of glycogen, and you might retain more water at this time due to PMS symptoms.
Thus, don’t be upset if you see a few extra pounds on the scale – if you’re staying on track with your food and not caving to the cravings – it’s just water weight.
Plan for a lack of motivation or low energy levels during this time, but don’t skip your workouts. You may want to focus more on utilizing lower-intensity training coupled with moderate intensity strength work.
Additionally, if you’re suffering from very high fatigue and discomfort during this time, a less intense workout might be the route to go as studies suggest it may help lessen the severity and duration of PMS symptoms. It is okay if you have days you seem a bit slower, or lift a bit lighter.
Just track your cycle and ensure you’re putting in the work during phase 1.
Nutrition – watch the carbs! It is normal to crave high carb foods during this time…sweets included. Your serotonin production will be lower, and that can promote a poor mood and irritability. Your instinct will be to eat more carbs as they cause a rapid release of serotonin, instantly providing a mood boost and natural high… only to crash later and hinder your hard work the other 3 weeks of the month.
So, this is a prime time to opt for a lower carb, lower calorie phase to kick-start fat burning. Further, some women feel nauseous during this phase and eat less and therefore welcome the lower calorie intake, it just depends upon how your body handles the hormonal shifts.
And… back to square 1 – after the luteal phase you will transition back to the menstrual phase, which will bring metabolism, insulin sensitivity, body temperature, and water retention back to a slightly more “normal” feeling.
Finally, outside of how these 3 phases and hormone changes impact your performance in the gym, you feeling a bit moody or fatigued, we all know the worst part about the process – BLOATING.
One morning, you may wake up impressed with the degree of definition your body is showing. The next morning, you might see what looks like a blanket of fat covering what used to be those defined muscles.
That’s not fat; it’s just excess water retention caused by female hormones, mainly estrogen. *Birth control with high doses of estrogen can impact this even more*
So, how do you beat the bloat or at least reduce it?
Utilize these 4 tips to help you decrease water retention:
In conclusion, if you want to maximize your performance during the ovulation stage and hit more PRs – I recommend tracking your cycles. I use an app called Life Period Tracker: PMS & Menstrual Calendar App. This app will help you track your period, symptoms, mood, fertility, weight, nutrition, sleep, fitness, medicine, women’s health exams and keep a journal (available in iTunes store).
Feel free to reach out to me with any questions! This is very real, I promise! If you start to pay attention you will see the difference in your workouts and understand why you have some awesome days and some that are harder than others!
I just hit a PR last week on day 13, and I felt like a rockstar – I want you to do the same!!! 🙂