If you have ever wondered why some weeks you’re totally killing it in the gym and with adherence to nutrition, then others you feel weak and as though you could demolish the whole confectionary isle, you are not alone. As women who train, this is something we all encounter and it can be difficult to work with at times; the mental, metabolic and hormonal fluctuations that occur throughout the menstrual cycle can be debilitating for some.
While we recognize that every woman is different when it comes to her cycle, we can use science to help us better understand how our eating and training schedules should work throughout the month. In today’s blog I am going to show you how to understand and work with your cycle, instead of against it, to obtain the best possible results in and out of the gym.
There are three main phases in the menstrual cycle that we need to be aware of – the follicular phase, ovulation and the luteal phase.
Let’s take a look at each phase and what it entails.
1. The Follicular Phase (day 1 -11)
The follicular phase starts on the first day of menstruation (your period) and ends when ovulation begins.
During days 1-5 of menstruation you may experience low energy levels, which may lead to you wanting to perform lighter sessions. Listen to your body and go for a moderate weight with a higher rep range. Alternatively, use this time to do restorative sessions such as yoga, Pilates, LISS cardio, or technique and mobilization sessions.
During the course of days 6-16, there is a transition through the Late Follicular Phase and Ovulation, which typically occurs mid cycle. Your estrogen is starting to rise, bringing with it a rise in energy. The late follicular phase is perfect time to bump up the intensity of your training and add in some progression. During this phase, you may notice a higher pain threshold, increased agility and muscular endurance. Estrogen also helps from a recovery standpoint as the hormone release of estrogen has anti-inflammatory effects. During this phase, your blood glucose levels are more stable so you’re more likely to adhere to diet. You also metabolise carbs more efficiently during this phase.
2. Ovulation (day 12-14)
Like the Follicular Phase during Ovulation (around day 14) is when you may experience peaks in performance. If you’re looking to hit some PB’s, now is the time. Unfortunately, however, hunger and sugar cravings accompany the performance progression due to the slight increase in metabolic rate. Stabilise cravings by ensuring you’re eating enough protein, micronutrients and healthy fats.
3. The Luteal Phase (days 15-28)
The Luteal phase is the hardest on women. This is where massive declines of energy occur, irritability increases, cravings are through the roof and you can be left feeling flat both mentally and physically.
In terms of nutrition there is an impaired carbohydrate tolerance during this phase, so try to avoid giving in to those cravings when possible.
This is also the phase of the cycle where you are more likely to store water, so don’t be alarmed if the scales change this week or if you look and feel bloated.
Sleep is often interrupted during this phase as well which can make symptoms worse so make sure that you have your night time routine and sleep routine down pat.
Whilst the menstrual cycle has the ability to make fat loss a little harder for women, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Using this information as a guide will help you make the most out of your training and nutrition during your cycle while reducing the confusion and stress that often comes with it.
Your cycle isn’t something that needs to be feared; if you can understand it, you can work with it. Remember that you are always in control; so focus on those factors such as getting enough sleep, eating the right foods, reducing stress and putting maximum effort in to the training sessions that are outside of the luteal phase. Do what you can to be successful, stay consistent as much as you can, and the results will come. Progress over perfection.