The menstrual cycle has a huge influence on a female's metabolic state and training results. It is useful for clients and especially coaches to understand and be aware of the different outcomes and effects that training can have depending on what stage of the cycle a woman is experiencing.
The FOLLICULAR PHASE is a phase when women should focus on progress and it is characterised by a higher tolerance for pain and increasing levels of endurance. It begins immediately after you finish menstruating, lasting from day zero to 14. This phase is characterised by increasing estrogen, normal progesterone, and an average body temperature. Insulin sensitivity is higher during the follicular phase and the body will be more prone to using carbs to fuel muscle gains. From there, you move into OVULATION, which takes place around day 14. When this occurs, your estrogen level peaks and progesterone starts to increase. You'll also notice you start to feel warmer. During ovulation, high estrogen levels can make women more prone to injury.
From day 15 to 28 of your cycle, you'll enter the LUTEAL PHASE where estrogen is declining, progesterone is increasing, and your body temperature remains higher than baseline. This is when you find you maybe experiencing 'weakness' or un-comfortability and exhaustion quicker in activity. Water weight and PMS symptoms are likely .During the luteal phase, the female body will rely more on fat as a fuel source.
Lets look a bit more in to each stage.
Week 0-14 is when your hypothalamus informs your pituitary gland to send FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) to your ovaries to start preparing to release another egg and Oestrogen levels start to increase.
When it comes to your workout sessions, the follicular phase – including the ovulation period – is when you should focus on progress
The Follicular phase is characterised by a higher tolerance for pain, the highest maximum voluntary force generation capacity, as well as increasing levels of endurance. Your body will also be more prone to utilizing muscle glycogen to fuel exercise during this stage, making high-carb workout nutrition critical.
Insulin sensitivity levels will be higher during this phase, so focus on higher carb phases or re-feeds during intense, carb-depleting workouts. Your body will be more prone to using those carbs to fuel muscle gains. Intense workouts, coupled with metabolism-enhancing re-feeds, will also help to counteract the decline in your resting metabolic rate that takes place during this time. One study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition noted that basal metabolic rate decreased during menstruation and then proceeded to decline to its lowest point one week before ovulation took place.
LUTEAL PHASE - with your body temperature higher than normal, you'll experience higher cardiovascular strain and a decrease in time to exhaustion. In addition to this, you may be retaining excess water weight due to PMS, making it more uncomfortable to perform very intense sprint-like activities.
Your body will also rely more heavily on fat as a fuel source during the luteal phase instead of muscle glycogen. Doing workouts that can utilise fat as fuel is a wise move.
This all points to utilising lower-intensity cardio training coupled with moderate intensity strength work. For those suffering from very high fatigue and discomfort, yoga may be the route to go as studies suggest it may help lessen the severity and duration of PMS symptoms.
Metabolically, your body will be at its peak during this time. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests your metabolism will be humming along about 7.7% higher than normal, and you'll also experience a greater thermic effect from food as your body will burn more calories digesting than it normally does. One thing you want to watch out for in this phase, however, is your craving for high carbohydrate foods. Your serotonin production will be lower, and that can promote a poor mood and irritability. Your instinct will be to eat more carbs as they cause a rapid release of serotonin, instantly providing a mood boost and natural high.
OVULATION - During ovulation, your strength levels will still be high and you may notice the highest sheer force generation capacity during this phase. If you want to set a PR, now is the time to try. One study published in the Journal of Physiology noted that ovulating women showed an 11% increase in both quadriceps as well as handgrip strength.
Take note, you may also be at a higher risk of injury. As estrogen skyrockets to its highest point during this phase, it can impact collagen metabolism and also influence your neuromuscular control. It was noted in the American Journal of Sports Medicine that anterior cruciate ligament injury rates are four to eight times higher during this point in the cycle than in all other phases. So train hard at this time, but be especially careful about using good form and being mindful of fatigue build-up.
Your metabolism will also be starting to climb at this point, so if you're feeling a little extra hungry, understand that this may very well be why. Consider adding a few more calories to your diet to fuel this increase, but get those calories from a balanced mix of proteins, carbs, and fats as your insulin sensitivity is starting to decline.
MENSTRUATION - The final in our phases of the regular period cycle. Finally, as menstruation gets underway, you'll start feeling more like your normal self. PMS symptoms will subside, your body temperature will return to more normal levels, and your water retention will clear.
This makes it a good time to begin transitioning back to more intense workouts as you move into the follicular phase. Your metabolism will be on its way down and insulin sensitivity will be increasing, so transition back to a more moderate calorie, mixed diet that's neither high carb or low carb. Then as you move back to the follicular phase, you can start implementing your higher-carb re-feed periods in hopes of building more lean muscle mass.
It is important as a coach to understand this cycle as it affects weight and performance, not to mention emotional health. Programming is always personal and working with a lot of women including my own self, it is vital that you get the most out of your training. Get in touch for more information on female specific training, athletic training and or rehabilitation and general well being.