It is safe to say that every woman can relate to days of feeling slow or fatigued. While it is easy to chalk it up as “just one of those days”, the real reason could be deeper than that.
This complex hormonal cycle impacts your metabolism, heat regulation, fatigue, and performance. Understanding what’s happening in your body is key to perform and feel at your best.
The menstrual cycle is highly variable and can change based on exercise, diet, and stress. Generally, the standard cycle is 28 days long, and is split into the follicular phase followed by the luteal phase.
During the follicular phase, which is between the start of your period and ovulation, hormone levels are low and are associated with power and strength training. Recent studies have shown increased performance in high-intensity activities during this phase. This may be due to the body’s reliance on carbohydrate metabolism, which is a faster metabolism used in high intensity, anaerobic exercise.
During the luteal phase, which occurs during the second half of your cycle, high progesterone and estrogen levels lead to more reliance on fat oxidation. Fat metabolism is the energy system used in long-duration exercise meaning you may find endurance training easier in this phase. You might also find that you feel hungrier in this phase as calorie demands increase.
In terms of recovery, the luteal phase is also characterized by an increase in body temperature. This also increases your heart rate and decreases heat tolerance, so pay special attention to cooling, especially if you like to do activities outside in the summer.
Understanding these changes are important, but do not mean that you can only do strength training in the follicular phase, or vice versa. It also does not apply perfectly to every woman, especially those on birth control. However, there are a few practical tips to help you feel better and have your cycle work with you and your training goals:
- Track how you are feeling throughout your cycle, instead of just what days your period falls on, and then overlay this information with your training schedule. This will help you understand your individual cycle and how you feel during it.
- Track how certain food makes you feel at different points in your cycle. Due to the changes in what type of metabolism is more dominant in different points of your cycle, experiment with what fuels you the best and when. For a start, try eating less simple sugar in the luteal phase and more healthy fats and protein to fuel the increased caloric demand.
- Give extra consideration to cooling during the luteal phase. Your body may struggle more than usual in the heat, so come prepared with extra water and ice for outdoor workouts and watch for signs of heat exhaustion.
And most importantly:
- Be forgiving with yourself, you can’t control your hormones, and you can’t fight your physiology. Your body does wonderful things for you, so fuel it well, take care of it, and be patient with yourself.