I have worked with hundreds of women during my personal training career, I have also watched the female members of the family struggle from symptoms of their menstrual cycle I could never understand.
I felt I needed to investigate this topic, so I can have a deeper understanding of how to tackle the effects of the cycle on my clients’ workouts and lifestyle in general. If you are a man as well, you may want to read on too if you have a significant other, a daughter or a mother who could use this information.
So, let’s start with talking through the different phases of the female hormonal cycle, mainly focused around the oestrogen and progesterone hormones, how they act during each phase and how your body may feel. Keep in mind we are talking about pre-menopausal women who are not on birth control and are generally healthy.
A female hormonal cycle is about 28 days and to keep this article simple we will work with that number. Just keep in mind it can be different for you.
Follicular Phase (Day 1-14)
Day 1 of your cycle is when your period starts. That is also the day when your body “resets” in terms of hormonal activity. You could also say the follicular phase is when your hormones are less active, progesterone is nowhere to be seen and oestrogen slowly starts increasing. Your body can deal with more pain and your endurance levels will increase while your body temperature is at baseline.
In brief, this is the phase when you want to hit the gym hard, lift heavy, go for high intensity cardio sessions and generally push your limits. In terms of nutrients, your body will be more prone to use carbs as fuel, so feel free to eat a higher carb diet these two weeks, just keep a tab on calorie intake as your metabolism is at a slower stage.
The Ovulation (Around day 14)
Your strength levels peak during ovulation which makes it the perfect time to hit PRs. If your fitness goals include any type of performance goal, testing how far you have come is best done on these days.
Keep in mind though, that your oestrogen levels will skyrocket here which can affect collagen metabolism in your body. In other words, you will be more prone to injuries, so using correct form on every physical activity you do is essential. Also look out for signs of overtraining and take an extra rest day if you feel fatigued.
The Luteal Phase (Day 14-28)
The second two weeks of your cycle are the “busy” days for your hormones. Progesterone levels will start rising so will your core body temperature and your metabolism while oestrogen will go through a decline and a rise again. You may feel hungrier than normal. Realising that’s your normal on those weeks can help you tweak your diet in line with your fitness goals so you can get there faster. Your insulin sensitivity levels will decrease however, which means your carb tolerance drops too. Try to keep your macronutrients balanced.
A lower intensity training approach in your workouts to target your “fat burning” heart rate zone will work better in this phase. With increased body temperature, high intensity workouts will literally feel like hell and your performance in the weight room will decline too.
Focus on steady cardio instead and drop the weights for strength training too. Since your body uses more fat as fuel at this stage and your metabolism is peaking, you can use it to your advantage and kick-start a fat loss journey by keeping your calorie and carb intake under control.
The Period (Transition)
The duration can be anywhere between 4-7 days. As the first day passes, your hormonal system hits the reset button. In the few days before and on the first few days you probably want to take it easy, depending on how strong your symptoms are.
Focus on light cardio like walking or hiking and stretching on these days until you feel that your body temperature had dropped back to baseline and the feeling of “heaviness” subsided. You can then start it all over again and hit HIIT and heavier lifts and eat more carbs for muscle gains.
Even though men have a hormonal cycle too, women will experience a variety of symptoms while men not so much. If you have never considered planning your workouts and food around your cycle before, you may want to start tracking now so you can make the most out of your hormones.
Body temperature, period calendar, mood calendar, workout and food log are all great tools to help you understand how your hormones affect each aspect of your life. Eventually you’ll see a pattern. Once you can identify what happens when, you will be able to plan your meals, your workouts, your rest days and everything accordingly and achieve a very efficient lifestyle.
Have any questions on the topic or just interested in finding out more about how you can start working towards your fitness goals? Feel free to get in touch!
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My name is Calumn, founder of CD Fitness Coaching. You’ll find me in and around the gym and helping like minded people get the results they deserve. I enjoy everything from keeping fit, yoga, snowboarding, coffee and making people happy. If you would like to be a part of the bigger community join my Facebook group, Healthy Living With CD Fitness Coaching is a must.