Period Power – Harness the Power of the Cycle
Woman = A Unique Physiology
By examining the hormone cycle, we can discover ways to make you faster, stronger, and more resilient to injury.
Due to having a hormonal cycle, women require slightly different fueling strategies during exercise. In general, women find it harder to lose body-fat and respond better or worse to training modalities. As a result, there may be additional factors that they need to consider more than men including sodium, hydration and heat management. Performance may also be impacted at different times of the month.
Women generally have smaller hearts and lungs which means a lower heart volume, maximum heart rate and diastolic pressure resulting in 30% less cardiac output. As such, they may be more susceptible to dehydration in hot environments.
Men have significantly higher testosterone which increases the production of red blood cells. Increased red blood cells help absorb and carry oxygen to working muscles. Because of this significant difference, women have a 15-25% lower VO2Max. In more simple terms, this means that women require a higher heart rate and more oxygen for the same workload as men.
Men can generate force quicker which makes them more explosive. However, women tend to be able to handle higher training volume than men. This may be related to the protective effects of estrogen. Women recover faster than men after high volume training sessions but may recover slower from explosive high-intensity sessions. Joint laxity may increase the risk of injury during progesterone elevations.
The healthy body-fat percentage for women range between 12-30%. Women tend to fare better on higher fat, lower carbohydrate diets and are less hungry on higher-fat diets.
Know your cycle
Becoming more aware of your cycle is the best place to start. It will give you a baseline to measure any changes against and identify if your athletic performance is conflicting with your body’s natural patterns. Does this sound familiar – having a great training week then suddenly everything feels heavy and horrible? Maybe you can find the reason why if you look into and understand your body.
The 28-day cycle is a statistical average. In reality, this can vary quite a lot. Some women are under this at around 25 days, while others can go over 31 days.
Estrogen – what makes us women
Estrogen is anti-catabolic and aids in muscle repair. Estrogen promotes glucose uptake in type I muscle fibres and prevents protein catabolism. Progesterone cancels out both of these positive effects. Progesterone also seems to inhibit the motor cortex, reducing the brain’s ability to recruit your muscles. Worst of all, progesterone can act as a testosterone antagonist, blocking it from exerting its anabolic effects.
In conclusion, estrogen seems to be beneficial for muscle growth, whereas progesterone seems to be bad. The ratio between these two influences the results of our training sessions.
Menstrual cycle estradiol progesterone.
The Follicular Phase: Ingest Carbs and Train Harder
This phase is from day 0 to 14days.
There is a rise in follicle-stimulating hormone (FHS), and a number of ovarian follicles are stimulated to “mature” eggs for release. Around day 12, estrogen, FHS, and luteinizing hormone (LH) spike causing ovulation and an egg is released.
The Follicular Phase is identified with a higher-than-normal tolerance for pain, as well as greater force-generation capacity during lifting and training.
At this time your body uses more carbohydrates as a fuel source. This all means that you can focus on more intense resistance and power training that will deplete your muscle glycogen stores.
Ultimately, you can train through tough pain and go stronger for longer.
The Ovulation Phase: Attempt Your Personal Best
This phase is around day 14.
In The Ovulation Phase, your relative strength levels will remain elevated and your ability to generate force will be sustained. This would be the ideal time for you to attempt personal records. That being said, there is also an elevated risk of injury during this phase.
During the Ovulation phase, the concentration of estrogen elevates, which can interfere with collagen synthesis and neuromuscular control. The American Journal of Sports Medicine reported that ACL injuries were 4 to 8 times higher than at other times during the cycle.
You may also experience a slight increase in appetite that goes hand-in-hand with your increased metabolic activity. It would be a wise decision to add balanced proteins, carbs, and fats. Your insulin sensitivity is declining, so you have to listen to your body and respond with the best fuel source.
The Luteal Phase: Reduce Exercise Intensity and Lose Fat
This phase is from day 15 to 28.
During this phase, progesterone increases surpassing estrogen to prepare the uterus lining for egg implantation. Estrogen and progesterone peak 5 days before menstruation.
The Luteal Phase is an uphill battle when it comes to your athletic intensity and your output may not match overall performance. During this phase, your body will tend to have a higher-than-normal temperature, and this can alter the cardiovascular output. You will be less efficient during exercise and will fatigue sooner than usual.
At this phase, your premenstrual syndrome (PMS) begins. This usually will decrease your ability to comfortably participate in high-intensity-interval training due to excessive water retention. You may want to consider changing your training to more low impact exercise or taking the time to work on stretching/range of motion work.
This phase your body will be using fat as a relative fuel source. You will be craving carbohydrates and your serotonin production will be reduced. This can increase irritability and you may find that eating carbs helps, since it promotes serotonin release. Just make sure not to overdo it! Find the best and lowest-calorie options for this craving to keep you satiated and promote fat burning.
Menstruation: Transition Back to Higher-Intensity Workouts
If a fertilized egg is not implanted, progesterone levels fall, uterus lining is shed and the cycle repeats.
Water retention and PMS symptoms decrease as the body normalizes and you can resume higher intensity and strength-training as you are moving back towards The Follicular Phase again.
During your transition back to The Follicular Phase you should consider an increase in carbohydrates. It will aid in providing enough energy for lean muscle mass development and reduce non-lean mass gains.
Your body goes from a predominantly carbohydrate to fat utilization as a fuel source depending on where in the cycle you are.
There are peak times of metabolic activity where you should try for that new personal best, as well as there is a reduction phase where it is wise to de-load and let your body recover.
The old saying of ‘Listen to your body’ couldn’t be more true. Harness the power of your period and utilize this to your advantage. It will only assist you in your training and in your everyday life.