In Today’s blog I am going to show you how to understand and work within your cycle to obtain the best possible results out of your training and diet.
While the menstrual cycle can make fat loss a little harder for women, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Using this information as a guide will help you make the most out of your training and nutrition during your cycle while reducing the confusion and stress that often comes with it.
Also note that there will be always be inter-personal variability; some women won’t notice the impact of their cycle as much as others. Always listen to your body; we are all unique individuals. so treat yourself as such. Learn how your body responds and adapt accordingly.
There are three main menstrual phases that we need to be aware of – the follicular phase, ovulation and the luteal phase.
Let’s break them down phase by phase and discuss what you may experience in each section of the cycle.
- The Follicular Phase (day 1 -11)
The follicular phase starts on the first day of menstruation (your period) and ends with ovulation.
Days 1-5 during menstruation, low energy levels may push you to perform lighter sessions- listen to your body. This is a good time to move moderate weight with a higher rep range and spend time on technique. Or, take on some restorative sessions such as yoga, Pilates, LISS cardio, or mobilization sessions. As your period comes to an end you will start to experience increases in energy levels – this is because Estrogen is starting to rise.
Days 6-16 is the transition through the Late Follicular Phase and Ovulation, which typically occurs mid cycle (around day 14 or 2 weeks before menstruation). Your estrogen is starting to rise, bringing with it large increases in energy. The late follicular phase is perfect for intense training and progression. During this time, you may have a higher pain threshold, increased agility and loading as well as muscular endurance, which quickly declines as you hit the Ovulation Phase. You will be highly anabolic throughout this phase, so keep weight and intensity high, with shorter rest between sets.
Estrogen will be exerting anti-inflammatory effects and have a positive effect on recovery for training.
During this phase, your blood glucose levels are more stable and your body may shift into a more carbohydrate based energy system, allowing and warranting higher carb days. This is supported with increased insulin sensitivity, allowing you to metabolize and utilize carbohydrates to a greater extent.
Due to the surge in estrogen, appetite will be reduced significantly in the 3-4 days prior to ovulation. This same surge can cause water retention, especially if a woman is on a high sodium diet, so watch additional salt intake.
- Ovulation (day 12-14)
Following a similar trend as the Follicular Phase, the Ovulation Phase (around day 14) is when you may experience optimal performance. If you’re looking to kill the gym and set some PB’s, now is the time, with research showing increased strength and force production.
Hunger, especially cravings for sugar and carbs, will also be higher during ovulation, this is due to the slight increase in metabolic rate. Make sure to consume enough protein during this period for satiety and balance your carb and fat intake.
If you find that you’re sugar and carb cravings are higher than normal, this can be a good time to reduce protein intake slightly while increasing carb intake to compensate for the cravings; while reducing chances of overeating due to feeling of restriction.
- The Luteal Phase (DAYS 15-28)
The Luteal phase is the hardest on women out of the whole cycle. This is when you feel tired, irritable, have extreme sugar and carb cravings and generally feel bad mentally and physically. Blood sugar levels often become unstable during this time period and this can cause women to experience low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) negatively affecting energy, mood and hunger.
From days 15-28 during the Luteal Phase energy levels start to change. This phase is where there are large hormonal adaptations that may have noticeable impact on your life and gym performance.
Energy levels can still be high during the first few days but begin to tapper off quickly in the next coming days therefore keep the focus on intensity, but in the form of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and Metabolic Conditioning type sessions. Body temperature and thermogenesis increases. Studies have shown you will burn around 5-10% more calories during this phase.
Towards the back end of this phase as you approach menstruation, energy expenditure increases and so to does energy requirement. Sadly, this doesn’t warrant an increase in food intake, but you can be happy in the fact that you are burning extra body fat! In terms of metabolism and nutrition there is an impaired carbohydrate tolerance during this phase, so try to avoid giving in to the hunger goddess. The luteal phase will see your hunger and carb cravings at their highest point, while your insulin sensitivity will be at its lowest and there is reduced reliance from glycogen as a substrate meaning that there is a potential increase in fat oxidation as fuel. It can be helpful to reduce carb intake during this period slightly to help increase fat loss. A slightly higher fat, moderate or low carb diet will work well here.
When diet is uncontrolled, an increase in food intake of 90-500 calories has been observed during the luteal phase and this can readily exceed any small increase in metabolic rate that occurs.
Sleep is often interrupted during the late luteal phase as well. Melatonin in the body becomes sensitive and is even more inhibited by the impact of the smallest amounts of light, and this can prevent women from sleeping well.
In premise, so long as food intake can be controlled during this time, the increase in metabolic rate during the luteal phase can be used to enhance fat loss. If a woman is able to avoid an increase in calorie intake, the 100-300 calorie/day increase in metabolic rate with an average duration of 10 of the 14 days of the luteal phase would burn any where from 1000-3000 extra calories.
Be aware that your serotonin, a key neurotransmitter in the brain controlling mood will also drop. As you may have guessed this can alter your mood, behaviour, and make you more irritable. You might notice cravings for sugary comfort foods and carbohydrates as these can raise serotonin levels in the short term. To help with the cravings and to combat this drop in serotonin consume that contain tryptophan, which serves as a precursor for the mood boosting neurotransmitter serotonin. Foods that contain this amino acid are– red meat, fish, poultry eggs, yoghurt, oats, 70%+ dark chocolate, sesame seeds, chickpeas, almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkins seeds, and buckwheat.
Be aware that you are likely to store water in this phase, so don’t be alarmed if the scales change this week or you look bloated.
Your cycle isnt something that needs to be feared; if you can understand it, you can work with it. Focus on the factors that you can control such as eating right, getting enough sleep, listening to your body, understanding your cravings and energy levels and then just let go of what you cannot change. These points are for purpose to educate you on your naturally occurring hormonal shifts in optimising your current nutrition and fitness regime.
If you have any questions regarding your cycle or your hormones, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or for hormone reset coaching options, click here: