I’m sure you’ve heard it before but, there is nothing men can do that women can’t do while wearing a pair of heels. However, there is something women can do that men can’t. Menstruate. Not only does our cycle give us the invaluable power of bringing life into this world, we can use it to our benefit when it comes to health and fitness. Let’s talk about how our cycle can affect our lives, training, and diet.
First, let’s talk about what exactly our cycle is. From puberty to menopause, women will go through a 28 day cycle comprising two phases that are essential for pregnancy. Over the course of 28 days, our bodies go through hormonal changes to successfully fertilize and implant an egg to the uterine wall. To prepare for pregnancy, our uterine wall thickens, but if pregnancy doesn’t occur, then the wall is expelled through bleeding. The two phases that make up the menstrual cycle are the follicular and luteal phases. The follicular phase is the first half of your cycle and the luteal phase is the second half of your cycle. Day one of the cycle and the first day of the follicular phase is our first day of bleeding, which typically lasts 3-5 days (if you’re lucky! Girl, once mine lasted for upwards of 50 days… I’m good now. If that happens to you, have a doctor check that out LOL). The follicular phase will usually last from day 1 to 14, ovulation occurs on approximately day 14, and then the luteal phase will last from day 15 to 28.
The two main hormones that we are going to discuss are estrogen and progesterone. First let's talk about estrogen. Early in the follicular phase (when bleeding begins), both hormones are at relatively low levels. Estrogen levels then climb upward late into this phase, then around the end of week 2, estrogen reaches its peak directly before ovulation. This rise in estrogen provides us with increased pain tolerance and increased muscle recovery. Estrogen will then decline in the early luteal phase, rise slightly mid luteal phase, then dramatically decline at the end of the luteal phase leading up to the onset of bleeding. Now, let's get into progesterone. Progesterone lays pretty low throughout the duration of the follicular phase. After ovulation, progesterone will spike to its peak then decline in sync with estrogen as the luteal phase comes to a close.
How can it affect our training and how can it be used to our benefit? Well, depending on where we are at in our cycle and the hormones that are coursing through our bodies at the time, women can experience differences in muscle strength and gain. Research shows that women are strongest during the follicular phase and can optimize muscle gain in this phase. The week of our period and the following week is the optimal time for heavy, strength focused training and the time in which we can tolerate the most volume. During the luteal phase, you may notice that you aren’t able to lift the same amount of weight as the weeks prior, during the follicular phase, or simply do not have the energy to do so. An example of how you can set up your programming in response to your cycle can be the following → week one: strength focused, heavy training (5-8 reps), week two: higher volume resistance training (10-15 reps), week three: match week two in terms of volume and weight (10-15 reps), week four: deload or focus on recovery work using high volume and lighter weight.
How can it affect our diet and how can we be eating to our benefit? Eating with our cycles in mind can help balance hormones, ease cramps, and regulate our cycle. Some things that can be beneficial to eat before your period (during the luteal phase before bleeding commences and you’re feeling the effects of PMS) are magnesium, fiber, vitamin D, calcium, vitamin B6, and zinc. Magnesium can help fight fatigue and cramping. Fiber can help with bloating and constipation. Fiber is going to help regulate gut health, which, in turn, is going to help regulate bowel movements to help prevent bloating and constipation. Make sure you are staying hydrated so that you can help flush your system of the fiber or you may end up becoming more constipated. Vitamin D, calcium, and vitamin B6 can help you boost your mood. Vitamin D specifically is critical in reproductive health and mood regulation. Vitamin B6 is helpful in managing PMS by increasing dopamine and serotonin to combat mood swings. Zinc is helpful with hormonal support. A lack of zinc can disrupt normal ovulation and throw off your cycle. Some things to eat during your period (during the onset of the follicular phase when you are actually experiencing bleeding) are iron, vitamin B12, and omega 3 fatty acids. Iron and B12 can help with the fatigue that you might experience. Omega 3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory effects which can relieve cramping pain. Another helpful tip for during your period is maintaining your food intake by eating consistently every 3 to 4 hours. This is going to help manage blood sugar levels and help you avoid spikes in cortisol which will cause mood swings.
Even though all of our periods end up being a bit different and sometimes irregular, I hope you found this educational and helpful! Feel free to reach out with any questions or additional topics you’d like me to talk about in our blogs!