Do you feel like your body is at the mercy of your menstrual cycle?
Is it even possible to take charge of your hormones and not miss out on training due to the cramps, bloating and the headaches (not to mention the mood swings) during specific phases of your cycle?
Sadly, there are some unfortunate consequences to our biology, but if you know what to expect during your cycle you can actually use certain stages of your period to your advantage.
All the common symptoms you experience are caused by changes in your hormonal levels. Aside from the trademark psychological symptoms, these hormonal fluctuations also influence training capacity, metabolic rate and energy levels.
By understanding what’s happening to your body, you can make better decisions around how to train and eat to get the best results. You’ll also know exactly what to expect, so you can roll with the punches.
Stage 1: Days 1-13
Known as the Follicular Phase, this marks the start of your cycle immediately after you have finished your period.
WHAT TO EXPECT: Hormone levels are generally low and stable, while oestrogen levels are on the rise. This is the ideal opportunity to boost the intensity of your workouts as you’ll have more energy and will generally experience better sleep, so you’ll be well rested.
Stage 2: Days 14-21
This is the Ovulation Phase. While it’s impossible to know exactly when you’ll start ovulating, the general consensus is that it occurs around day 14.
WHAT TO EXPECT: During this phase your oestrogen levels will peak and you’ll tend to feel bloated and lethargic. It’s not a great physical state in which to train, despite the fact that your strength levels should be at their highest. If you don’t feel great, a day or two off should see you right again, without resulting in any loss of fitness or strength. Be sure to focus on clean eating, though.
Stage 3: Days 21-28
The final Luteal Phase precedes the Menstruation Phase, which is when your period starts. This is when the full-blown symptoms of lethargy, bloating, irritability and a general sense of discomfort occur. This happens due to the high levels of powerful hormones circulating your body, in the form of progesterone and oestrogen.
WHAT TO EXPECT: Higher levels of these hormones cause a rise in your body temperature, and your body also become less carb sensitive, which means your body is less efficient at converting energy from stored glycogen and circulating glucose. These hormones can also impact on your nervous system, thereby amplifying sensations of tiredness. It’s better to keep training intensity levels low during this phase.
It’s also the time when cravings tend to hit the hardest. Women generally experience carb, sugar and salt cravings before the menstruation phase begins. This happens because oestrogen and progesterone influence our appetite and the regulation of fat cells. Because of the relationship between these hormones and hunger, you may find that you crave specific foods at certain times during your period.
What can you do?
If you’re trying to lose weight or improve your conditioning by following a calorie-restricted diet, cravings can prove challenging. You just need to keep making educated choices, keeping in mind those periods when your insulin and carb sensitivity are lowered.
It is best to stick to natural, non-processed forms of fibrous carbs during these periods and avoid sugar and other high-GI sources. Make sure you’re stocked with good (and tasty) alternatives during these phases so that it doesn’t feel like the wheels are completely falling off.
Author: Tanja Schmitz
Founder and Editor of Fitness Magazine. You’ll find her behind her computer or on her bike, dreaming up new ways to improve or create content for you.