Written by Hannah Dykstra
With the continued rise of the CrossFit-ignited fitness revolution, women are becoming more familiarized with performance-based nutrition and fitness. Paleo, Keto, RP, Zone and even the ever-so-famous “dirty bulk’ are all lifestyles within the realm of strength gains or fat loss. Despite this increasing knowledge, however, many women still carry tendency to be over consumed with what the scale says moreso than the majority of men.
So often have I had female clients approach me with concerns of fluctuating weight and abnormal bloating. As women, we tend to forget how important proper function of our bodies are specifically our menstrual cycle. After all, we are responsible for the human race! There are many factors we need to be aware of when it comes to our menstrual cycle and training. Men naturally have a greater amount of lean muscle mass due to their testosterone levels. The more lean muscle mass a person has, the more calories they burn. So, to all the wives out there… don’t get discouraged when your husband can naturally lose weight faster than you. Though sometimes complicated, a woman’s body is an incredible machine!
If we are to recognize the inescapable influence of our natural cycle to our everyday life and especially our training, we must first review and identify the trends of the menstrual cycle. There are three phases, each of which are marked by different physiological markers and each can impact training differently.
Follicular Phase (Day 0-14):
Increasing levels of estrogen, normal progesterone, and an average body temperature.
This phase is within the first 2 weeks of the menstrual cycle and is also the time at which estrogen is increasing. With increasing estrogen comes a decrease in appetite, improved insulin sensitivity and decreased muscle soreness. A spike in testosterone is also a key role within this phase which creates better performance availability. If you know you are in the follicular phase of your menstrual cycle, then cluster your carbs and test those 1RM’s!
Ovulation Phase (Day 14-15):
Estrogen levels peak and progesterone levels increase.
This is the phase where a woman should be focused on progress due to the fact that her strength levels will still be high and force generation capacity will be optimal. During this phase, since the estrogen levels are peaking to it’s highest points, collagen metabolism can be negatively effected and you can become more injury prone. Slightly increase the calories from a mixed source of macros and go hard, just be cautious of injury.
Luteal Phase (Day 15-28)
Decline in estrogen levels and and increase in progesterone levels. Body temperature remains higher than normal.
In this phase progesterone becomes the dominant hormone involved. This is the point at which the menstrual cycle can be “nasty’. As progesterone increases, so does your metabolic rate, meaning an increase of 100-300 more calories is needed. In reality, however, the average woman will tend to consume about 500 more calories more than necessary during this phase. You also will become more Insulin resistant during this time and you won’t work off carbs as best as you can in the other phases. You’re body will use fat as its energy source rather than glycogen leaving you with excess glycogen that can be stored as fat. At this point in time is when you want to dial back the intensity and look to fats and proteins a your main sources of food.
The tides of hormones a woman experiences can have a significant impact on how she physically and athletically perform and should be taken into account in training. So if you really want to tune into your body with fuel and training timing, begin to track your menstrual cycle and begin to understand a deeper level of your bodies needs to maximize your wellness and progress!