Attention Female Athletes!
Have you ever wondered how your menstrual cycle could affect your athletic performance? You may feel moody, have cramps and not want to do anything, however research shows the opposite! In fact around the time of your period your body is super charged for more intense training!
At the same time in your cycle that you have cravings and cramps, your hormonal changes can give you a boost in pain tolerance and muscle recovery which can be amazing for female athletes. By learning how your hormonal shifts affect your body can help you to understand why some training sessions feel great and some feel like you are walking through treacle.
According to a Swedish study, you can actually gain more muscle mass by training during the first weeks of the menstrual cycle, from the beginning of your menstruation until ovulation. “The group that trained early in their cycles ended up performing clearly better than those who trained in the second two weeks. Their legs grew stronger, gaining more muscle mass and they could jump higher than they could before.” (Source Link).
When you have your period (and the week after your period), your body is more like a man’s. During this part of your cycle, your levels of the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone are at their lowest, making you a little more dude-like – at least metabolically, I am not saying you will start to get a deep voice and grow a beard . What is clear is that you may be more prone to fatigue, dehydration or injuries at certain times in your cycle but there will also be times when you’re feeling more powerful and resilient!
Exercise has also been shown to relieve the discomfort of cramps and an aching lower back, it will brighten your mood and may just help you to tackle the day and keep those hormones in check!
Let’s take a look at the different stages of the menstrual cycle and exercise:
Follicular Phase (days 1-7): Menstruation
Oestrogen and progesterone levels are at their lowest which means you may experience higher energy levels, pain tolerance and recover faster. Push yourself! This is when you are more like a dude!
Follicular Phase (days 8-14): Between menstruation & ovulation
Oestrogen levels start to rise. Your body tries to reserve all the glycogen it has stored and more fat is being used for fuel, this is a slower process than using glucose and so you may feel a little sluggish at higher intensity workouts. Endurance workouts may be better during this phase and you are moving closer to ovulation so your risk of injury increases - warm up and cool down!
Luteral Phase (days 15-28)
Progesterone levels rise which alters your metabolism and how you handle heat. You may feel more easily overheated and prone to fatigue. You will most likely feel under the weather, moody, bloated and have cravings around this time. Some gentle exercise such as steady aerobic work, yoga, mobility or something you enjoy will be ace to keep your mood high and body moving. During this time you’re also more likely to suffer from low sodium levels in the blood so be aware to keep hydrated!
Hopefully this blog has helped you a little to understand why you may be feeling how you do at certain times in the month. It may also help you to plan your training sessions or work with your coach so you can get the best out of each workout, race or competition!