Training During the Menstrual Cycle
How should women train during their cycle?
I think this is a topic that gets overlooked in the health world. It’s strange because this is something EVERY woman goes through – and any woman that leads an active lifestyle should know the proper precautions to take before, during, and after being on her period. In this blog post I am going to walk you through how to train to avoid injury (you are more prone at certain phases of your cycle!), teach you what you need to know about hydration, give you some tips about how to replenish your body after all the blood loss and more. I hope you find this information helpful!
There are two phases in the menstrual cycle. The follicular phase, which happens first, and the luteal phase, which is the second half. The first half is measured from when you start your period and that first 14 days. During the follicular phase, your hormones are more steady. So you’re stronger during that time of the month, which makes it a good time to do more strength and power work.
During the luteal phase which starts when you ovulate, your hormones start to fluctuate. The shift in hormones can cause fatigue, make us more insulin resistant, which causes us to crave more carbs. That’s when workouts that are more slow-paced, endurance type, or fat-burning workouts are used. Reasoning for this is women show a lack of balance, coordination and strength so training in an endurance “fat burning” zone tends to keep the luteal weight gain to slow down and prevent injury.
Now if you’re training for the Olympics, the Olympics doesn’t give a shit when your period is. I’ve personally set PRs in my training during my luteal phase and so have other women, so it’s not the end of the world or an excuse not to train. But before you start your period, a small amount of a hormone called relaxin is released in your body, which helps relax your muscles and tendons. This increases your risk of injury. That’s why if a female tears her ACL or has an injury, doctors or EMT will ask her where she is in her cycle.
Another factor to the female cycle is when you shed the lining of your uterus, there are hormones telling your body to do that. Unfortunately, they don’t just go to the lining of your uterus, they go to your intestinal tract as well. It causes a lot of women to get diarrhea, causing dehydration which then makes us feel fatigued. With the added blood loss, which causes low iron levels, that also makes us feel fatigued!
So what is the answer here? Every woman is different. Some women don’t feel any side effects, or they have different symptoms each and every menstrual cycle, while other women get PMS (premenstrual syndrome) so bad it can cause suicidal depression and debilitating cramps. If it gets that bad, there’s no need to push through it. Take a day or two off from the gym until it passes. But there are some things you can do to prevent the milder PMS symptoms. One thing you can do is start hydrating the week before your period to prevent dehydration. Fluids that have potassium are the best! I personally love coconut water. Iron is also something you want to make sure you are getting plenty of! Eat some steak! If you have red meat with vitamin C, you absorb it better! So steak and broccoli or (some type of dark green veggie) can help absorption.
Most importantly, listen to your body. It is sending off signals to you all the time but especially during your cycle. Nourish, hydrate, repeat.