When it comes to females. It’s safe to say how you feel, look, think, perform and function can change dramatically over the course your menstrual cycle.
However, by having more of an understanding of the female menstrual cycle and what happens throughout the different stages. It can give you a valuable insight on why you feel at your best one week and the next you feel weak, bloated and weepy.
The average length of a ‘NORMAL’ cycle is between 28-35 days which can be altered by a number of factors that would be case dependent. Using apps like ‘Flo’, ‘My Calendar’ & ‘Fertility Friend’ allows you to track your cycle and collect data over time so you can determine the average length your cycle and anticipate changes in how your body functions across it’s duration.
Your menstrual cycle is divided into the Follicular Phase, Ovulation, Luteal Phase and Menstruation.
Early Follicular Phase: This phase would overlap when your period arrives and starts once menstruation occurs. Estrogen would be the dominant hormone during this time and this results in appetite being at its lowest, increases in strength and recovery, greater endurance along with increased insulin sensitivity which results in better utilization of carbs. This can be a good time to push training intensity and volume.
Late Follicular/Ovulation: Just as estrogen reaches a peak during the late follicular phase. Sodium handling is impacted which can result in some water retention which in turn influence scales readings. As ovulation occurs, testosterone increases which can result in a further increase in strength. Some females experience cramping and bloating around ovulation which can impact training so adjustments to exercise routines may be needed here.
Luteal Phase: After ovulation, estrogen drops and progesterone begins to rise becoming the dominant hormone. This can bring about the usual host of PMS symptoms such as increased core temperature, reduced training performance and recovery, slower bowel movements, lowered insulin sensitivity and low mood due to a drop in serotonin and dopamine which can also result in cravings particularly for carbs and sugar. Sleep can also be affected around this time due to melatonin production being impacted. During the late luteal phase, the rapid drop in progesterone causes a rebound effect and water retention again to occur due to sodium handling but this time at a greater amount compared to the late follicular phase. It’s not uncommon to see some females gain up to 7lb in fluid during this time.
Practical actions that can be taken during the Luteal phase would be to possibly reduce training volume and intensity if you are not feeling at your best. Around this time there is also a greater risk of injury due to reduced muscle remodelling and tendon strength which would be another good reason to possibly lower the intensity of sessions.
200mg Magnesium Citrate and 50mg Vitamin B6 can help GABBA production which can help mood whilst 25mg Zinc can be considered if cravings are very bad. Always consult your medical expert before use of any supplementation.
Metabolic rate also increases approximately 100-300 calories around this time so if overall calorie adherence is at risk, it can be a good idea to increase calories a touch from fats as opposed carbs due to progesterone’s impact on insulin sensitivity.
Look to nail sleep hygiene habits such as cutting off technology 45 mins before bed and ensuring your bedroom is as dark as possible so melatonin production isn’t impacted further.
Then to help with fluid retention. Look to include more potassium rich foods in your diet such as bananas, avocados and potatoes along with replacing regular salt on your meals with LoSalt which will have a higher potassium to sodium ratio. With this ensure fluid intake is consistent with a good rule of thumb being 40ml per kg body weight.
Each female will be different and some will be un-phased by their menstrual cycle whilst others will see a rollercoaster of changes across their month. This is why it’s important to track your own unique cycle and gather data on how you feel, train, and weigh at different stages of your cycle. With knowledge comes power and understanding what’s happening across your cycle allows you to know when to take advantage of certain stages and when not to feel disheartened if you aren’t feeling your best and the scales is fluctuating.