The female hormone cycle, training & diet
How can you manipulate your training & diet around your cycle to get the most out of it and ensure optimal health?
For females it is not just as easy as getting an exercise programme and sticking with it, we have to deal with fluctuating hormones throughout the month & unfortunately it effects some females more than others – but as long as we are aware of it we can try to work around it regarding our nutrition & diet to make the most of this.
Your cycle in a nutshell
•Days 1 – 14 is the Menstrual & Follicular phase due to the menstruation occuring & the follicle that releases the egg is developing here
•Day 1 is the start of menstruation (Menstrual phase)
•Estrogen levels start off low on day 1 and increases slowly towards day 14 while progesterone levels are also still low
•Then (roughly) on day 14 Ovulation occurs when the follicle ruptures and the egg is released - this day can differ from one individual to another - everyone's cycle is different and it will depend if you have regular or irregular cycles
•Estrogen levels peak here and progesterone begins to increase (this is a natural process as the body is actually preparing itself for a pregnancy to occur and progesterone plays a big role in maintaining a pregnancy - therefor this hormone has to be high at the time of conception) - This is considered the 1st half of our cycle
•Days 15-28 are the Luteal phase – where the follicle turns into the hormone secreting structure the Corpus Luteum which secretes progesterone even more – making this the dominant hormone at this time.
•This is also when baseline body temperature increases (reason why you may wake up some nights hotter than normal or just feel warmer in general during this time)
•If the egg is not fertilized – the Corpus luteum dissipates causing both oestogen & progesterone levels to fall and menstruation begins again for the start of a new cycle (restarting at day 1) - This is considered the 2nd half of our cycle
What does this mean for our training & diet?
During the 1st half of cycle (Follicular phase) phase we are estrogen dominant – and that means we are also more insulin sensitive, thus making us more likely to gain more lean muscle and store less fat. During this time there is also a higher pain threshold – so this is good time to concentrate on heavy strength training and hypertrophy weight training. Meaning you can push your intensity a bit - even if this is the last thing you feel like during your period - your body can actually cope with it.
If you are eating sufficient carbohydrates & following a training programme your body will utilize them efficiently during this phase so you can get away with more carbohydrates in your diet as your strength and energy levels will be at a peak (and no - not the pizza & Mc Donalds kind of carbs)
Enter the Luteal phase the increasing levels of progesterone makes our body more insulin resistant and unfortunately means you will be more likely to store fat. It is also the rising progesterone levels that causes the sluggish feeling you might be experiencing during this time of your cycle. If you feel you cant push the big weights – back off a little, lower weights and concentrate on rep range or fat burning workouts such as super-sets or little rest between sets to keep the heart rate up.
If fat loss is your goal then this is the time to be careful of the amount of carbohydrates you eat and compensate with a higher amount of healthy fats in your diet.
How can this help PMS symptoms?
Ah the good old PMS - we've all been there. While this is very individualised and may not be an issue for all females – some females do have horrendous symptoms which can be helped by good food choices like healthy fats and optimum levels of protein, as well as fiber and vegetables. Furthermore, ensuring you are getting in a sufficient amount of magnesium can also go a long way in alleviating PMS symptoms.
A few more tips....
When our daily intake of refined sugar & trans fats are low as well as keeping the body hydrated our body functions better, not only physically but mentally as well!
A lot of women get really hungry in the days leading up to menstruation – try to keep a constant level of energy in your system by spacing out meals evenly during the day and having a mix of all 3 macros at night
The healthy fats should help with satiety
Another tip for cravings – mix a tablespoon of high quality cocoa powder with water to drink. Or mix it with unflavored BCAA powder - both of these will help raise serotonin and dopamine levels which drop the week before your period (Hello there PMS)