It seems to be more and more of a popular topic as of late – and I think it’s because I’m coaching more women on a 1-1 basis now, it is much easier for me to tell where women are in their cycle due to how hard they’re finding a session.
Whether you’re a runner, cyclist, weight lifter, swimmer – we, as women will always have our menstrual cycle (unless you’re of course on any hormonal contraceptive which suppresses your monthly bleed). So we need to take into account how our menstrual cycle is going to affect our performance whilst working out, which we’ll be able to look at from the diagram below.
This picture is a representation of our monthly cycle. How are hormones are designed to fluctuate on a monthly basis.
From Day 1 (first day we bleed) to around Day 14, when we ovulate is called the Follicular Phase. The Follicular Phase is where the follicles in ovaries are starting to mature.
Think of small follicles entering a race to get to that ovulation point. This stage takes approximately two weeks (however can be smaller or longer than this time – anywhere from 7 – 21 days).
Then we have ovulation which lasts approximately one day on Day 14.
And finally, we have our Luteal Phase which should be exactly two weeks and not last any longer than this.
If all these fluctuations happen as it should, our menstrual cycle should be anywhere between 21 to 35 days, depending on what is your normality on a month to month basis.
It takes 90-100 days for our follicles to mature all the way up to the point of ovulation – that is why period health is a long term project and not something which can be adjusted over night unfortunately. A protocol to help your period is at least a 12 week protocol to follow.
So, as women how should our bodies be performing at each of these different phases?
We should ALWAYS plan in some recovery time when training. It is easy to want to just keep pushing through with training but this of course can have adverse effects on the rest of your training throughout the rest of the month.
Day 1-3 (from day 1 of when you bleed) – should be recovery days. This is where all of our sex hormones are at our lowest, meaning we are not getting the support hormonally to go out and run a marathon or lift heavy weights in the gym.
Day 3-14: As we go through the follicular phase and our sex hormones start to rise this is when we should be starting to push ourselves. Lifting more, running for longer, trying out different intensities with our training. This should be our ‘push/perform’ time of our cycle – and also nutritionally this is where we can increase the amount of calories, carbohydrates and fats in our diets. Oestrogen supports fat burning so we can afford to increase those calories and push harder in the gym!
Day 15-25: Is where we might find we plateau that little bit more as our oestrogen levels start to decrease. What seemed so easy the week before, now seems like it is the hardest thing you’ve ever done!
At this point concentrate on increasing your protein quantity and quality to help recover from the intense exercise you would have done in the first two weeks, increase your recovery time – so make sure you’re sleeping well and if you get time to take a sauna and relaxing baths then do it! It is important to tune into your own intuition at this point – if you’re feeling good with training then keep pushing it, if things feel sluggish then wind things down.
Day 25-28: It is natural to feel much more fatigued at this point. Our sex hormones are coming to the lowest point, getting ready for Day 1’s bleed so if you feel you need more rest over this period of time then take it!
It is always important to find balance with your training. Making sure to push yourself on those days which you feel good, but also listening to those days when things feel harder, not to put so much pressure on yourself just because you might not be doing quite so much as last week.
if you’re an active women, the biggest piece of advice I can give you is make sure you’re eating enough nutrient dense quality calories! I know far too many women who are completely under eating in comparison to how much they’re exercising. You cannot expect a car to run with no diesel, so you must treat your bodies in the same way. After all, food is fuel!
It is important for women to have a balance of all macronutrients and not just completely eliminating a food group such as low fat diets.
It’s really frustrating when hearing nutritional clients who come to me for the first time, who have been told they need to reduce their fat content. Our hormones are made from cholesterol – we NEED good quality fats in our diets in order for our hormonal fluctuations to happen when necessary.
Avocado, quality cold pressed oils, oily fish and nuts and seeds are all prime food examples we need to make sure we have in our diets, especially if active.
If you need help with programming your training around your menstrual cycle – do not hesitate to get in contact!