This is something all women should be aware of as a way of understanding why things change throughout the month, when it comes to our fitness program. Hormonal changes do cause a number of changes when we workout; whether we are at our strongest or struggle with finishing a cardio session. And there is a reason why many women crave sugar just before their period, it’s not just a psychological thing.
There are two phases in the Menstrual cycle, the follicular phase (days 1-14; when period starts) and the luteal phase (days 15-28; after period ends and leading up to the next cycle). Here’s what the research says about the Menstrual Cycle:
- Estrogen is at its highest mid-week (middle of your period). With higher estrogen levels, comes increased strength. So focus on heavier lifts that week, compound movements, working on your PRs.
- Insulin sensitivity is at its peak during the follicular phase. Your body will metabolize carbs better and shuttle it in to your working muscles (and liver if it needs to be replenished) at a more efficient rate. Thus, less will be converted to fat if you’re not using the ingested carbs for immediate fuel. But in the luteal phase, you are more insulin resistant and need to be careful of how much you eat, otherwise more will get stored as fat.
3. Core Body Temperature is higher -> burn more calories, and crave more sugar -> consume more calories.
On average, women tend to eat about 305 calories more during the luteal phase than the follicular because of these changes (Pliner et al). Estrogen is lower in the follicular phase and it has a direct correlation with serotonin (the ‘feel good’ hormone; you get when you eat carbs, are exposed to the sun, have intimacy). Hence, why many women will turn to chocolate or other carb-sugar rich snacks to boost their serotonin levels.
4. Slower reaction time, more ‘clumsy’ before ovulation. Lalitha et al showed a strong correlation with a slower reaction time and higher BMI (body mass index); which can be a measure connected with higher water and salt from progestogen’s effects. It’s because we have the excess water and salt retention from progesterone (late luteal phase) that causes the slowed reaction time. Water and salt directly affect the sensorimotor connections, hence we get clumsy and hurt ourselves way too much during this phase.
5. Gastrointestinal disturbances occur in late luteal phase -> follicular phase. The high progesterone in the luteal phase usually slow GI emptying and can cause constipation or reduced BMs (bowel movements). Davies et al showed that during menses (follicular phase) BMs increased and in some women, caused diarrhea during the first few days of the cycle.
6. With increased core temperature, you also have better oxygen capacity for endurance related training. In the luteal phase, right after and the days leading up to your next cycle, ‘you have better oxygen capacity to achieve better cardiovascular benefits (Reilly et al). ie. Focus on your HIIT sessions, go for the longer runs, if you race plan a race during that phase if you can, do more super sets and higher paced training in the gym, etc.
How to maximize your training – Some Tips:
- During your cycle:
Focus on heavier lifts, eat to fuel your workouts and grow.
2. After your cycle:
Do more HIIT for cardio, keep your rest breaks in the gym shorter; maximize your workload in less time to burn more calories.
Hope this gives you some insight into what we can do to maximize our gym efforts to look and feel awesome 🙂
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