MAKE YOUR MONTHLY CYCLE WORK FOR YOU IN THE GYM
Your go-to nutrition and fitness plan for mastering your menstrual cycle.
As females, we know exactly what it’s like to feel at the mercy of our menstrual cycle and subsequent hormonal rollercoaster. One day we feel in charge and on top of the world, the next we find ourselves short-tempered, moody and a teary-mess come the sound of any Adele song.
Besides these trademark symptoms, these hormonal fluctuations also have a huge influence on our training capacity, metabolic state and energy levels. But don’t despair, with a few training tweaks and some smart planning you can take advantage of your hormone cycle and use it to fast-track your fitness goals.
STAGE 1: The Follicular Phase
This phase marks the start of your cycle immediately after you have finished your period. Progesterone levels are low and constant, while estrogen levels are on the rise. Biochemically, this results in your pain tolerance, physical endurance and insulin sensitivity all being heightened, while your resting metabolic rate has been shown to be at its lowest during this period.
You’re feeling strong and your carbohydrate metabolism is running efficiently. This is the perfect opportunity to ramp up the intensity of your workouts and strategically focus on higher carbohydrate meals or refeeds to replenish depleted glycogen stores. Consider challenging yourself with HIIT sprints, high-intensity weight training, a sweaty spinning session or a metabolic conditioning-style class such as The Grid at Virgin Active or Switch.
This combination of intense exercise with a relative higher carbohydrate intake will prime your body to make muscle gains as well as boost your lagging metabolism. *Be sure to focus on high-quality carbohydrates such as whole grains, sweet potato, oats, quinoa and basmati rice.
STAGE 2: The Ovulation Phase
Approximately 14 days into your cycle, the growing follicle bursts and ovulation occurs. During this time estrogen levels peaks, as does your muscle strength.
Training hard and lifting heavy should be your modus operandi and it’s the opportune time to be going for that PR or One Rep Max. However, the high estrogen levels have also been shown to weaken ligaments and consequently increase injury rates of women during this phase. To avoid this, be sure to focus on using good form while training. Remember- safety first.
STAGE 3: The Luteal Phase
We all know that time of the month- we’re tired, bloated, irritable and uncomfortable and often the thought of a chocolate-induced food coma seems far more appealing than heading in any direction near a gym. This is characteristic Luteal Phase. Both progesterone and estrogen levels peak and you might notice your body temperature feeling warmer than normal signifying your elevated metabolism. During this phase your body is more insulin and carbohydrate resistant and you become primed to use fats more efficiently as an energy source.
With your fat burning systems already turned on, try upping the sizzle-factor even more by adjusting your training to incorporate more lower-to-moderately intense cardio and strength work. This aerobically-dependent approach will tap into your now easily available fat stores, helping enhance your fat-loss goals.
This is also the time of the month you need to be especially kind to yourself. Don’t feel guilty if the PMS has gotten the better of you. Instead, opt for a more relaxing yoga class, a park walk or a sauna session to help alleviate any water retention. This is also the time when food cravings hit the hardest- so be sure to fill up on satiating protein-rich meals and snacks to try keep this under control. It has also been noted that magnesium supplementation can help keep the chocolate cravings at bay or alternatively up your consumption of magnesium-rich foods such as nuts, seeds and dark leafy greens.
STAGE 4: The Menstruation Phase
Finally the cramping, bloating and general moodiness slowly subsides and you start to feel like a half-normal human again. Both estrogen and progesterone return back to baseline, as does your body temperature as you transition back and prepare to start the cycle all over again.
It’s best to incorporate a varied diet and training approach during this “in-between” period, focusing on exercise that makes you feel good and leaves you energized. Try keep your calorie intake modest and your food group choices balanced.
GO WITH THE FLOW
Menstrual cycles and hormonal fluctuations are a part of a woman’s life. So instead of fighting them every step of the way, rather see it as a female-only opportunity to refocus, strategize and use it to your nutrition and fitness advantage.