Our Menstrual Cycle, Exercise and Nutrition

Throughout our 28 (+/-) day menstrual cycles our hormones fluctuate.  By understanding what is going on with our hormones at different times throughout the month we can make choices to help us feel better, and happier.  This is especially key in terms of what exercise to do & when, as we may find that doing the same variety of exercise for the same duration and intensity week in and week out is not the best way to feel good or achieve results.  Also these hormone fluctuations can be a report as to how we’re going to cope with increased changes as we move towards menopause so getting the knowledge now can only be a positive thing. 

Chart Source: myhormology

These numbers are based on a 28 day cycle of someone who still has periods regularly and is not on the pill, Follicular phase – Day 1 – 14 (ovulation).  Oestrogen and Testosterone Rise, Luteal Phase – Day 15 – 28.  Progesterone Rises, oestrogen drops/rises/drops, testosterone drops

From a movement perspective hormones are used for:

  • Oestrogen – maintains bone density, anabolic, increased memory and mental agility, higher pain tolerance
  • Testosterone – builds and maintains muscle and bone density, gives you confidence, strong influence on spatial cognition
  • Progesterone – calming, slows down, inhibits motor cortex

Week 1/early follicular – Day 1 – 7 (day one is the first day of your period)

For the first day or so you’ll have a low level of oestrogen plus fatigue, so do what you fancy but don’t be harsh on yourself if you want to stay close to home. Oestrogen levels will then start  to rise as does your mood, energy and patience 

  • Nutrition – make sure you have enough iron to replenish that lost during your period, your appetite might be slightly less and your body will use carbohydrate more effectively  
  • Exercise – through the week you can start to train at a higher intensity level plus you build muscle faster so good time for resistance/strength training

Week 2/late follicular – Day 8 – 15

Oestrogen and testosterone rise till they peak.  Their increase revs up your mood, energy and patience.  Higher oestrogen can also make you feel more confident and stronger for a challenge plus increase your motivation & your pain threshold will increase with more endorphins.

  • Nutrition – oestrogen can slightly dampen your appetite so you may find it easier to make healthier choices plus resting metabolic rate reaches its lowest.  Carbohydrates are used more efficiently so good to include more pre and post workout
  • Exercise – again you build more muscle and faster due to the oestrogen and testosterone.  Your pain threshold and motivation is higher so you can push yourself harder and further and this is a great time to achieve personal bests especially around ovulation.  BUT! Increased oestrogen towards the end of the follicular phase can affect collagen metabolism leading to laxity in the joints so form and warming up is even more important.

That’s Interesting! – at this time you can feel more self assured about your appearance and more confident as from a pro creating point this can be moving into your most fertile point

Week 3/early luteal phase Days 15 – 22 (straight after ovulation)

Progesterone rises, oestrogen and testosterone drop first half of the week, and then oestrogen rises again

Beginning of week 3 you can get some PMT symptoms as there is an additional dip (turns out there are actually 2 oestrogen dips in your cycle), but by the second half of the week this starts to rise again

Progesterone rises and increases your calmness but can also make you feel tired.  You may also crave comfort foods as your body thinks you could be pregnant

  • Nutrition – body operating at about 77% higher metabolically than normal but the body will struggle to store glucose properly & during this phase the body will use fat for fuel when exercising
  • Exercise – Longer periods of aerobic exercise (jogs or walks) can be good but at a reduced intensity as heart rate is generally higher plus more difficult to store glucose so less available.  Take regular breaks as body tires quickly.

That’s Interesting! – high progesterone can lead to constipation as it slows transit down as food goes through your body to extract as many nutrients as possible just in case you’re pregnant plus it can be the week when you’re most tired

Week 4/late luteal phase Days 22 – 28

Oestrogen and progesterone drop as can your mood whilst your anxiety increases linked partly to a decrease in serotonin a soothing neurotransmitter 

PMT can be affected by managing what you eat and do.  This is a great time to see what works for you both nutritionally and movement wise so that you’re set up when your hormones start fluctuating more in your perimenopausal years. 

  • Nutrition – You may have a greater appetite (especially for carbs) but your body will still be working at a higher level metabolically.  It will however opt to use fat to fuel workouts over carbs.    Focus on looking after your gut to ensure you don’t cause additional stress, anxiety & depression as your gut and brain are always talking via the gut/brain axis.  Include 30 different nutritious plant food to feed your gut (see blog on variety) shown to make a difference to your mood (see Smiles Trial in blog) – 30g a day of fibre such as lentils, chickpeas, almonds, as well as broccoli, spinach, blueberries, probiotics such as sauerkraut (see newsletter review) miso and live yogurt, prebiotics that will feed the good gut bacteria such as onion, garlic (don’t forget to chop 15 minutes before usage to maximise the effectiveness of allicin) and leeks, phyto oestrogens such as flax seeds, cauliflower and berries, also try and cut down/eliminate alcohol for this week, hydrate especially as many women experience diarrhea due to low progesterone and high prostaglandins.  This mix is good at all times but if you haven’t before, good to try it now
  • Exercise – This is a good time to include exercise that manages your stress and a great time to deload/push less if you’re strength training.  Choose exercise that makes you  feel good, not that which stresses you out further,  be it easy runs, yoga, pilates, as well as stress management skills such as breathing and meditation.  

That’s Interesting! – your libido often increases just before your period, but this is linked to your nerve endings getting stimulated ready for your period, rather than your hormones

Research into training and the menstrual cycle is still in it’s relative infancy, but good to know when to push, and when to take it easy to maximise performance, results and reduce injuries