Updated: Sep 25
Where you are at in your cycle matters! And if you have been working out long enough, I can bet that you have felt the difference in energy levels, performance and recovery throughout the month. Let’s find out why.
A woman's menstrual cycle is made up of four phases phases; the menstrual, follicular, ovulation, and luteal phases.
First comes the menstrual phase, when a woman gets her period i.e the shedding of the uterine lining. this causes the levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone to drop. This typically lasts 3-7 days but can vary between individuals. This also kicks off the follicular phase, which begins on day one of your period and continues until ovulation, a total of about 16 days. During this phase, the pituitary gland releases follicle stimulating hormone (FSH).
During the ovulation phase, luteinizing hormone (LH) is released in response to the follicular phase’s rising estrogen levels. Wondering if you’re ovulating? One sign is a slight rise in body temperature, which happens around day 14 of your cycle.
Finally, we enter the luteal phase. This is where we see a rise in progesterone and a slight bump in estrogen levels, followed by a drop in both hormones and the restart of the cycle. The luteal phase is when we experience those lovely PMS symptoms like bloating, headache, back ache, weight changes, food cravings, and trouble sleeping. This phase lasts 11-17 days.
Optimize our cycle with exercise:
Follicular phase: As estrogen increases in this phase, it boosts your mood, energy, and mental clarity. This phase is characterized by a gradual increase in energy and motivation, making it an excellent time for those more intense workouts. This is a great time for cardio exercises for improved endurance and strength training for muscle building.
Ovulation phase: Ovulation typically occurs around the halfway mark of your cycle.Estrogen reaches its peak just before ovulation, enhancing energy, focus, and exercise performance.
This phase is associated with increased libido, making it a good time for both physical and intimate activities.Your body is primed for vigorous workouts and optimal physical performance. This is the time to go hard on high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and challenging workouts. You may experience increased strength, stamina, and faster recovery.
Luteal phase: Progesterone can cause mood swings, bloating, and reduced energy levels in some individuals. Your basal body temperature slightly increases, indicating a shift in your metabolism. As progesterone increases, it's a good idea to opt for moderate-intensity workouts and relaxation exercises to manage symptoms. It’s important to reduce stress during this phase.
Menstrual phase: During this phase, hormone levels are at their lowest, which can result in fatigue, mood swings, and lower energy levels. Your body is primarily focused on menstrual bleeding and recovery. During this phase it is appropriate to scale back on workouts with less intensity. Activities like yoga, gentle stretching, or walking are optimal in the phase. This is the best time for self care and rest.
Changes in macronutrient needs
The way our bodies metabolize macronutrients can change through our cycle.
Pre- ovulation (i.e the follicular phase) insulin sensitivity is at its highest due to higher circulating estrogen levels. In this phase you can optimize this with strength training and adequate healthy carbohydrate intake
Consider upping your protein intake during your luteal phase, especially if in a bigger or higher intensity training cycle. To simplify knowing what to eat depending on where you are at in your cycle, consuming at least one gram of protein per pound of ideal bodyweight.
There was a previous theory that fax oxidation peaked right after ovulation phase but new data shows that is not the case. Regardless, it is well known that fat is what helps to regulate hormone production in the brain so it is a vital nutrient. Through the phases of the menstrual cycle you should be getting daily intake of health sources of fats like nuts, olive oil, wild caught salmon, avocado, etc.
Understanding how your body works through the menstrual cycle gives you a better understanding of how and why your workouts do not feel consistent 100% of the time. Utilizing these tips, you can give your body the rest it needs when needed, and really push yourself when you are in a phase that allows it. Aside from all the cycles and fluctuations, ultimately you must find what works best for you.
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