How to Adapt Your Training and Supplementation to Your Monthly Cycle - Women's Health

How to Adapt Your Training and Supplementation to Your Monthly Cycle

For half of the active population, monthly menstruation, and the associated hormonal fluctuations are a fact of life. However, it’s only relatively recently that open conversations are occurring – not just in locker rooms – but in a training and performance context.

Coaches, trainers, nutritionists and athletes are paying attention; with consideration being made as to how these monthly cycles might impact training and athletic performance, and in turn how training, nutrition and supplementation may need to be adjusted for optimal health and performance results.

First of all – if you’re a female athlete – having a period is a good thing. While it used to be seen by many as an annoyance or a disruptor to training or performance, that attitude is starting to shift.

These days it’s common for athletes and teams to track menstrual function as a sign of health and an indication of energy balance. It’s a good indicator that your endocrine/hormonal system is functioning, that you are getting adequate energy and nutrients, and that you are able to adapt and recover from training loads (and other life activities and stress levels). Bone health and strength is a huge concern if there are red flags around absent or irregular periods. So if you don’t already – start tracking your period.

The basics

The average menstrual cycle is roughly 28 days in length, with the first half known as the follicular phase, and the second half the luteal phase. Estrogen and progesterone levels are fairly low during the early follicular phase, and exercise performance is not overly affected. Late in the follicular phase, estrogen starts to rise, reaching a peak just before the beginning of the luteal phase. Progesterone levels also remain fairly low during most of the follicular phase, but begin to rise right as you enter the luteal phase and this is where the effects on performance, mood and symptoms can be highly variable.

What does this mean for training and nutrition?

Follicular phase:

  • – In simplistic terms, menstruation is when your hormones are at their lowest. So it’s actually a good time to train hard, your body is more resilient to training loads so high intensity sessions can be scheduled. As you move closer to ovulation, strength training can be a focus.
  • – Focus on iron intake red meat, dark chicken meat and shellfish as well as beans, peas and lentils. 
  • – Inflammation can be mitigated by intake of whole grains, fresh fruits and veg, as well as a fish oil supplement. 

 Luteal phase:

  • – After ovulation (around day 14), your hormone levels of estrogen and progesterone start to rise again – and training should be more steady state. This also takes advantage of your ability to burn fat as fuel better during this part of the month. The days leading into your period are likely best used as a recovery/de-load training phase, especially as hormones can affect sleep and recovery. 
  • – Fuel up – your body needs extra carbs around training during this phase, your body burns more calories in the lead up to your period, so instead of fighting hunger feed your body with quality nutrients to avoid sugar cravings. 
  • – Drink up – core body temp rises along with progesterone and this can make staying hydrated more difficult. 
  • – If you are someone who suffers from menstrual cramps, in the week before your period try taking supplements of magnesium, zinc and fish oil. 

You obviously can’t control when races and competitions are in relation to your period – so don’t get too hung up on timing – the above can simply be used as a way to guide maximal training outputs, allow you to schedule in recovery and rest, understand when hydration needs might increase and help explain dips in performance across training blocks.

Pip Taylor

By Pip Taylor

Pip Taylor is a sports dietitian, expert for PILLAR Performance.

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