As women, we have all experienced the negative impacts that a period can have on our sporting motivation, energy, and performance. However, there is a way to adapt your training so that you can take advantages of the physiological changes which occur during your menstrual cycle.
Phases of the menstrual cycle
The first phase, which starts the first day that you get your period and lasts until the day you ovulate, is called the follicular phase. During this phase, oestrogen increases in order to stimulate follicle growth.
The first five days of the follicular phase are known as the menstrual phase, which is when the uterus sheds its inner lining.
The second phase is called the luteal phase. This phase starts after you ovulate and continues until the day you start your next period. During this phase your progesterone levels and body temperature will increase along with a slight increase in oestrogen which will all taper off if the egg is not fertilised.
In between these two phases is the ovulation phase, where the ovary releases a mature egg.
Working out the length of your menstrual cycle
Cycles can last between 23-36 days. In order to figure out the length of your cycle and when each phase occurs, there are a few simple things you can track.
Once ovulation occurs, your Basal Body Temperature (BBT) will rise, which is sustained until progesterone levels begin to drop and menstruation starts again. The day just before this temperature shift, is the day you ovulated. Tracking your temperature shifts, by taking your BBT each morning with a basal thermometer, will give you a picture of your cycle length and what day ovulation typically occurs.
Cervical fluid also changes during your menstrual cycle and can help predict when you are going to ovulate. Before ovulation your body makes more mucus as an egg starts to ripen and after ovulation you will suddenly have much less cervical mucus.
How to train with your menstrual cycle
There is currently limited research regarding exercising with your menstrual cycle but some studies have identified factors which may influence your workouts.
Firstly, the rise in core temperature which occurs after ovulation can affect how quickly you fatigue during exercise. Specifically, during the luteal phase, time to fatigue is reduced in hot and humid conditions.
Insulin sensitivity has been identified as higher during the follicular phase of your menstrual cycle due to increased levels of oestrogen. This means that you need less insulin to keep blood glucose levels in the normal range and keep your cells supplied with glucose. During this time, carbohydrates are used more efficiently and doing higher intensity training is ideal. This also lines up perfectly with a peak in energy levels.
During the second half of your cycle, when your body is more resistant to insulin, it has a hard time properly storing glucose. As a result, aerobic efforts are more advantageous during this time. This coincides with a drop in all hormones and energy levels.
Cycle syncing week by week
Now, let's get into specifics. As a general guideline, training with your menstrual cycle is broken down into a 4-week period which can be customised to your cycle and your needs.
The first half of your follicular phase (week 1): The ramp-up
The first week of your menstrual cycle is the perfect stage to begin increasing the intensity and load of your training. This is the time to 'prime' yourself for maximum capacity and a great opportunity to begin introducing interval workouts and heavy lifting. Be sure to include extensive warm-ups and cool-downs as you are beginning to ramp things up from a recovery period.
The second half of your follicular phase (week 2): High load/intensity
The second half of the follicular phase rolls right into ovulation. Take advantage of a peak in energy and incorporate a few workouts that use maximum efforts. This would be the perfect time to attempt a personal best or lace up your racing shoes.
The first half of your luteal phase (week 3): Aerobic efforts
Immediately after ovulation comes the first week of the luteal phase. During this time, it is important to concentrate on aerobic training with moderate loads and less intense efforts. As you begin to move towards the second half of your luteal phase, it is essential that you begin to taper off your training according to how your body is feeling. Be sure to remain hydrated and be mindful that your core temperature has increased.
The second half of your luteal phase (week 4): Easy training and recovery
This phase is easily identifiable by your PMS symptoms, which will begin to become more prominent. During this time, you should only engage in light activity and ensure that rest is a priority. When your period begins, continue to rest. Only begin to ramp things up once it tapers off and you begin to enter a new cycle.
Don’t stress if things aren’t perfect
Rest assured, if your period falls on the day of an important workout or event, you are not doomed to failure. The most important thing you can do is show up well rested, fuelled, and with a positive mindset. Stress can greatly interfere with sex hormone production and so being mindful about managing your anxiety is the best recommendation for training with your menstrual cycle.
About the author: Laura Smith is an elite level athlete who has been a Sundried ambassador since 2017.
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