Ladies, this one’s for you…

Hormones, Training and Fat Loss

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 Phases

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.  

The Hormones

There are 4 main hormones involved in your cycle but these are two that you need to understand:

Estrogen:

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. 

Progesterone:

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. 

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  • Calorie Deficit…

    You’ve probably heard the term Calorie Deficit. It’s almost like its the new topic topic for the fitness world but it has long been know that when it comes to losing fat, it is the only real way to go. 

    It’s not new, it’s not even that exciting (apart from the results it brings)… but if you are serious about your health and fitness journey and you are looking to decrease your body fat, you need to understand it.

    So… What is it?

    When we eat and drink we consume the energy stored within. This energy is measured as calories. 

    Your body can then either burn, store or absorb* those calories.

    Understanding how your body uses calories is key to understanding fat loss and fat gain. Put simply:

    If you eat more calories than you burn, you will store fat = Calorie Surplus

    If you burn more calories than you eat, you will burn fat = Calorie Deficit

    If you eat the same amount of calories as you burn, you stay the same = Calorie Balance

    *The calories that are absorbed are the ones that end up in the toilet, not the most pleasant thought but its a fact!

    OK, How does it help me?

    Obviously the bit most of us are really interested in is Calorie Deficit. It is the key to our success in our fat loss journey. In this blog I am going to try and help you understand how to determine how to achieve the right calorie deficit for you. 

    First, you need to understand that 1lb of fat has about 3,500 calories. 

    Let’s say you decide you want to lose 1lb of fat a week. You would need a daily calorie deficit of 500 calories a day to achieve a weekly deficit of 3,500.

    Now you need to determine your current daily calorie consumption. You do this by counting your calories every day for atleast one week. You can either use an app such as MyFitnessPal or write everything down everything you eat and drink and then look up the calorie content. 

    Let’s say, for example, you have maintained your weight by consuming 2000 calories a day. You are currently in Calorie Balance. You want to lose 1lb of fat a week so you would need to cut your daily intake to 1500 calories. 

    However, for some people, cutting their intake in this way may be too drastic and for others, too slow. If someone was maintaining their current weight at 1600 calories, to go down to 1100 calories a day would likely be too aggressive. On the contrary, if someone was maintaining their weight at 3000 calories, they would likely be able to achieve a faster fat loss with a bigger calorie deficit. 

    So, you could just pick a number for your deficit (like 500 calories a day) and stick to it.

    But, if you fall into one of the groups where maybe this doesn’t work as well for you, you could work on a percentage basis. 

    To do this, you find your maintenance calorie number and subtract 20%. 

    Let’s stick with the maintenance figure of 2000 per day. If we take 20% from this it would mean reducing the calorie intake by 400 calories to 1600 per day. 

    This method works well and many believe it is the best approach as it takes into account your actual energy needs, rather than using a set figure which might not be suitable for your needs and lifestyle. 

    So there you have it. Now you are armed with the information needed to get to work losing that fat. 

    Then what? 

    Once you have your calories right, and only then, can you start to look at the other areas of nutrition, like your macro balance; how those calories are made up between protein, carbs and fats. 

    I will just say one thing on this, I have tried a few different things over the last couple of years; high fat diet, high protein diet, low carb diet and the results from all of them were pretty much the same… as long as my calories were on point. My body composition (weight, fat% and muscle%) didn’t vary much from plan to plan and the thing that was always the same was my calorie intake. If my calories were on point, I got the results I wanted, if they weren’t I didn’t!

    My advice:

    1) Focus on real food. Avoid quick fixes, meal replacements and “detox” plans. These may work in the short term but you aren’t addressing the long term issues or changing your relationship with food. Do not be fooled – the only way they work is by seriously cutting your calorie intake. Also you may not be consuming enough calories for your energy needs and this can leave you open to all sorts of issues. You may drop a few inches or a dress size by having one or two shakes instead of meals a day but what happens when you reintroduce the food. You haven’t learnt anything and I can pretty much guarantee that weight will come back on, and then some unless you are really lucky! 

    2) Focus on foods with good flavour. If you are in this for the long term then you have to enjoy it. There is no point including foods you don’t really like just because you think you should. If you don’t like what you are eating, you won’t stick to it. Make the journey enjoyable for your taste buds, as well as your waist line.

    3) Focus on Calories. As this blog post has hopefully shown, once you have thought about real food with good flavours, you need to get the calorie intake right. You now know how to do this 🙂 Once you have the calorie intake right you can start to look a bit more in depth at the function of the food and if you can tweak this to your advantage. 

  • The Phases of Menopause
  • Recovery Training???
  • Power through your PMS
  • Can Herbal Adaptogens help Perimenopause? 
  • 75Hard… This is what discipline looks like
  • IM Training Blog w/c 07.03.22
  • IM Training Blog w/c 28.02.22
  • IM Training Blog w/c 21.02.22
  • IM Training Blog w/c 14.02.22
  • IM Training Blog w/c 07.02.22