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How to Adjust Your Training & Diet Around Your Cycle
The menstrual cycle is more than just the period - in fact, the period is just the first phase of the cycle. It's often divided into 2 distinct phases - the follicular phase & the luteal phase.
The follicular phase runs from day 1 of the period until ovulation (when an egg is released at around day 14), & the Luteal phase runs from when the egg is released until the period starts again.
The cycle can last anywhere from 20-35 days, with the average being around 28 days. The length not only varies across individuals, but can vary from month-to-month within individuals.
Which Hormones are Involved?
The two main hormones at play during the menstrual cycle are Oestrogen & Progesterone.
Oestrogen increases blood glucose usage, pain tolerance, helps build muscle, & increases joint laxity. Meanwhile Progesterone increases heart rate, temperature, breathing rate, fat storage, glycogen storage in the liver, & decreases your ability to recover from exercise.
How Are They Impacted?
During the follicular stage we see a gradual rise in estrogen, while progesterone stays fairly low. Once the luteal phase begins, oestrogen drops off significantly, before eventually rebounding & returning to baseline level again at the end of the cycle.
We also see a significant rise in Progesterone during the luteal phase, which often leads to PMS symptoms (mood swings, irritability, tiredness, bloating, stomach pain, appetite changes).
How Does the Menstrual Cycle Affect Exercise?
It's important to understand that the stage you're at within your cycle does not have a significant impact on your strength levels!
That being said, you can 100% use your awareness of your cycle to your advantage to optimise training performance.
The follicular phase, for instance, is often a great time to push yourself harder (higher training volume, load, intensity) due to the elevated oestrogen levels. Higher oestrogen often leads to spikes in motivation & confidence, whilst also increasing your ability to recover from exercise & your ability to tolerate pain.
Meanwhile, it's likely a good idea to reduce the intensity of your exercise slightly during the luteal phase. This is because higher progesterone levels reduce your ability to recover, energy stores aren’t quite as readily available, & PMS symptoms can sometimes have a big impact.
For this reason, it may make sense to lighten the load slightly & aim for higher reps during the luteal phase. I'd also suggest opting for steady-state cardio as opposed to any high intensity cardio.
Adjusting Your Diet Around Your Cycle
It's therefore important to ensure your protein intake remains high during this period (to ensure satiety), to eat regularly (at least every 3 hours), & to opt for brown, starchy carbs, lean meats and starchy veg – such as sweet potatoes and squashes – for your meals. Be cautious not to go crazy with sugary snacks &, as always, try to steer clear of processed foods.
It's also not uncommon to experience constipation or bloating during the luteal phase - to help combat these, drink plenty of water, eat little & often, & chew your food well!
Should You Track Your Cycle?
Tracking your cycle is well-worth doing, if you aren't already!
As you've now learned, your cycle has implications on both your training & diet, meaning that being aware of what stage you're at can help you to tweak your approach to see optimal results.
By tracking you can be more conscious of any hormonal changes & the potential impacts on your mood, energy levels, & appetite. Essentially, tracking allows you to be more in touch with your body & to take greater control of your health - who doesn't want that?!
Lastly, here are 3 menstrual cycle tracking apps that I've seen recommend online:
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