There’s something we don’t often talk about but it can have a major effect on our training and our results and that thing is our menstrual cycle.
Do you really know what happens during your 28 day cycle? Do you understand which hormones are spiking when and what that means for your body and your performance?
I am about to break it down for you so that, being armed with knowledge, you have a better chance of hitting your goals, or you might at least stop you beating yourself up when you don’t (as long as you’ve done the work!)
Here are the things you need to know:
The day count of the menstrual cycle begins on the first day of menstruation (the first day of your period).
The cycle has been assumed to be 28 days, which is the average amount for most women.
The entire duration of the cycle is broken down into 4 main phases:
Menstrual phase (From day 1 to 5)
Follicular phase (From day 1 to 13)
Ovulation phase (Day 14)
Luteal phase (Day 15 to 28)
I am not here to give you a biology lesson or talk to you about eggs, ovaries and fallopian tubes. In relation to your training, performance and body composition the phases are the important bit.
There are 4 main hormones involved in your cycle but these are two that you need to understand:
This hormone gets a really bad rep and it’s not really fair. The general consensus is that this hormone is responsible for all the crap we can experience but this just isn’t true.
The truth is that it reduces your appetite, improves insulin sensitivity and can protect you against muscle soreness. This is great news for your diet and your training.
Estrogen is the dominant hormone during the follicular phase and this is when we are at our most productive.
This is actually where you should be directing your anger. It is the dominant hormone during the luteal phase and generally this is when we can find things a struggle.
This is because it can raise our metabolic rate, meaning we usually need between 100 to 300 calories more a day but, thanks to the fact that it makes us insulin resistant (meaning we may not handle carbs as well the in phase and that our sugar cravings are likely to increase) it is common for women to eat around 500 extra calories a day!
How to use this knowledge
Some women will not be affected at all. If you are one of these, count yourselves lucky!
Others will find that they are hugely affected and for you ladies, being aware of what phase you are in may help you manage things better.
If you do find yourself affected by your cycle you may find that, as well as throwing your diet out of balance, your coordination, balance and general ability can also suffer during the luteal phase.
I know that personally, my lifting suffers. In the first two weeks of my cycle I can hit my 1 rep max and if I’m going to get a new PB, it will usually be during this phase. In the last two weeks I can often struggle to get about 80% of my usual lifts. Now that I’m aware though, I don’t beat myself up.
Instead I actually use this info to plan my diet and training around my cycle. I slightly reduce my carbohydrate intake in the luteal phase. I plan my heavy resistance work during the follicular phase and I load more metabolic conditioning type workouts during the luteal phase to increase my calorie burn. All of these actions enhance the positives of my estrogen spike and help to balance out the negatives of my progesterone spike.
The other main consideration is a biggie….
When to measure your progress
If you are tracking your progress with either photos, body measurements or body composition stats (% of fat and muscle) then it makes total sense to ensure that you are in same stage of your cycle when checking yourself. If you take your first measurements in week 1 but then take your next set when you are in week 3 or 4 you could find that you don’t get an accurate reflection of your progress. This may not be because you haven’t done the work or got your diet on point but purely because of your menstrual cycle. Make sure, where possible, you take your stats at the same point every time.
I know sometimes it can suck to be a woman but hopefully this little bit of knowledge can empower you to take back a little bit of control. It has definitely helped me and some of my clients.