You put in hours at the gym every week and continue to hit personal records – until the day your period comes and you suddenly lose motivation to even put on your shoes. Even on the days that you somehow manage to get to the gym, your workouts just aren’t as intense. You don’t seem to have the motivation to finish that last set or reach a new record.
Effects on performance levels due to menstrual cycles are a rather common experience. Nearly one third of participants in a study who were registered runners for the 2015 London marathon reported that periods affected their training and performance.
Menstrual cycles are a series of hormonal shifts. You may not be able to control the timing of your period but there’s a way to optimise your workouts to take advantage of these changes. Here we’ll look at how to train around your menstrual cycle and get the most out of your workouts.
The follicular phase is the first day of menstruation and lasts until ovulation. Higher testosterone levels during this phase means it’s the perfect time to plan high intensity workout sessions.
One study found that the best time for females to do intense training is during the first two weeks of the follicular phase. The conclusion was reached by analysing training sessions for two weeks of each menstrual cycle, and then making comparisons against their physical performance.
During this phase your body is more prone to depleting its glycogen stores faster. Plan to make your carb intake higher to fuel muscle gains.
Ovulation occurs around day 14 assuming you have a 28 day cycle. Oestrogen levels are at their peak which means now is the time to push yourself with heavy weights and aim for a new personal record. A study published in the Journal of Physiology found that women who were ovulating showed an 11% increase in both quadriceps and handgrip strength compared with the follicular and luteal phases.
Take note that muscles are more prone to injury during this phase so take extra time to warm up before your workout and be mindful about using good form. Your metabolism will also surge at this point so you may want to add more calories to your diet to fuel this increase.
The luteal phase is the last phase of the menstrual cycle, and lasts between 12 to 14 days. During this phase your body temperature is higher than normal which may result in fatigue faster. Excess water retention can make it especially uncomfortable to perform high intensity workouts.
The body relies more heavily on fat as a fuel source rather than carbs or glycogen so focus more on cardio exercises like jogging or swimming to get the most out of this phase.
Kym Wallis, the founding director of Higher Ranking has over 15 years of advertising sales, digital strategy, and business development experience. He is currently working as Digital Adviser for PK Simpson.