If you’re a serious athlete, whether in a box, in a weight room, or on a track, having knowledge of how your cycle affects your training is key. We have all been there, feeling tired and sluggish and wanting to do anything but working out. But have you ever considered that the reason you’re workouts may be lackluster around your period isn’t because of your cranky mood but rather because of what is actually happening with your body? Here are some key things to know when heading to a training session during that time.
First, let’s understand the stages of your cycle. I’ve read up on this and done research and let me tell you, this information is usually given rather scientifically. I’ll try to explain everything in as clean and simple a manner as possible.
Stages of Your Cycle:
Follicular Phase – The start of The P Drop (Days 1-7), but is mostly Day 7 to Day 14. Preps your body for ovulation.
Ovulation – If you don’t know what this is by now, we have a problem. Usually on Day 14 and occurs 11-16 days before your P Drop.
Luteal Phase – Everything after Day 14, which encompasses PMS.
Alright, now that we have that bloody mess (pun intended) of a conversation taken care of, let’s get into the nitty gritty of how this all affects you and your training performance.
It is a known fact now that women incur more knee injuries than men because of the mechanical structure of our bodies. We are 2 to 10 times more likely to injure our ACL than our counterparts, and a large percentage of these knee injuries occur at the end of Luteal Phase and very beginning of Follicular. This shouldn’t scare you into staying home, surrounding yourself only with soft things, but it does mean that you should be cognizant of your training routine during those few days right before and at the start of. Research shows that the muscle mechanics of women running on treadmills during Ovulation and Luteal differ, our knees collapse in more during the latter. The solution: you’ll want to move certain mechanical workouts to later in the week. Squats, jumping, and lunges can all be done, but to ensure you’re getting the most benefit and risking less, I’d wait till Day 4.
If you want to offset knee concerns in general though, take time out of your heavy lifting routine to do single leg work. Split leg jump lunges, Bulgarian squats, SL RDLs to name a few.
During the Luteal Phase, your body goes into PMS mode, i.e. cravings. This is happening because your metabolic rate revs up, and your energy expenditure increases between 2.5-11%. That’s crazy! So how does your body offset this sudden need to burn through fat? By making you want to eat more. Your cravings are symptomatic of what your body is going through, so your chocolate craving is simply your body’s way of asking for magnesium. Other than it helping your body function properly, and it being found in most high fibrous foods, magnesium is also used to treat many PMS-like symptoms: ADHD, weak bones, restlessness, a lack of energy and endurance. Yep, those last two are things that keep most women out of the gym during their cycle.
Also important to note, your body uses glycogen during endurance workouts more during the Follicular Phase, and spare the use of glycogen during the Luteal Phase. Why is this important? One way to burn fat faster is by utilizing your glycogen stores. The solution: the crappiest time of the month is the best time of the month to jumpstart your fat burning. Feed yourself just a few extra (clean!) carbs in Luteal and taper it during Follicular.
The reason most of us have crappy lifts during this time is because Luteal Phase increases our body temperature, making for miserable and uncomfortable workouts. During moderate to intense workouts, studies have shown a higher cardiovascular strain, meaning that the body isn’t finding a correct balance between oxygen intake and oxygen needed for your muscles. A change in your inspiratory muscle endurance can affect long distance running, long and intense workouts, and HIIT routines alike. Another drawback during Luteal is your body is much more sensitive to pain, meaning that this isn’t the time to work on your 1RM. Your tolerance increases however during your Follicular though. The solution: This isn’t the week to go beastmode in the gym. Wait till Day 3 when your pain tolerance is amped up. The suggestion is to make this week (Days 24-28) your higher rep/lower weight week since you probably won’t get near your real max. It isn’t that you can’t physically do it, but your body will severely hate you for it. You’ll hate yourself for it to. It would be like going jumping 0-60 in a sports car to just go from your garage to your driveway. You’ll look real cool, but you won’t get too much from it. Why? Look below.
Recovery: Your recovery is affected by your cycle as well, yippee. The aforementioned higher body temperature is what does it. Here’s the quick of it: Plasma is what allows us to sweat (mostly). When plasma levels decrease, you are slower to sweat and your body temperature goes up. Decreased plasma results in thicker blood concentration meaning slower blood flow. Still with me? We all know what slow blood flow equates to; slower recovery. You’ll have a higher buildup of lactic acid during workouts due to the less oxidization (slow blood flow) and therefore a longer recovery time. That’s a mouthful, yes, but here’s the solution: Load up on sodium. When you’re in the beginning of Luteal, it wouldn’t hurt to get some juices, Gatorades, and even milk in your kitchen. This will help offset your oxidization issue, and will assist in recovery.
Ahh, don’t we just love science? While this is a lot of information, I strongly suggest taking a look at your workout routine if you’re serious about your fitness. One form of training doesn’t work for everyone and it’s important to realize how training affects men and women differently. To get the most out of your workout, you need to understand how the tide flows and how to best utilize it. Lift smart my pretties!