OWN YOUR MENSTRUAL CYCLE
On today's blog we will be speaking on the female menstrual cycle and how your hormones can affect you, especially in terms of your training and nutrition.
*Please understand we aren't hormone doctors and this is a very simplified explanation on a very complex topic. If you feel you have a hormonal issue please may we suggest seeking a hormone doctor and not social media or google*
We will start with the menstrual cycle and break down how it affects you throughout the month.
Your cycle can be broken down into 4 stages:
To explain the cycle a little better we have drawn up a chart that breaks it down:
Let's start with menstruation, this normally lasts between 3-7 days for most women.
This phase marks the end of your cycle and is where the bleeding begins, most women also find their PMS symptoms increase.
Whether you’re profusely sweating in the supermarket queue, frantically stuffing toilet paper in your knickers or struggling to wear anything white with the risk of a 999 what's your emergency happening.
One thing to take note of is your oestrogen and progesterone levels have dropped at this stage. This then allows your glycogen/carbohydrate fuel stores to be a lot more accessible.
So even though you may feel lethargic and the idea of going to the gym sounds like an awful idea. This is your time to make the most out of a training session.
Throughout menstruation, you should also consider increasing your daily calorie amount to between 100-300 extra calories per day.
We have found that with an increase in appetite during the PMS phase, clients have been less likely to go off plan when adding those extra calories in.
*We feel its better to have some damage control and allocate those extra calories during this stage, as this will minimize the likelihood of you going off plan completely*
It is important now that we are moving onto the follicular phase of your cycle, that you're aware oestrogen is your dominant hormone here. This enables your body to limit the number of follicles that mature. Out of around 15-20 follicles, only 1 makes its way to the surface of your ovaries.
This is the stage in your cycle that you are probably least concerned about, water retention has gone, and your energy levels have increased.
You should focus on progression in your training sessions in this period. Studies have shown that women have a higher pain threshold around this time as well as higher endurance levels. So now is your time to Shine! Focus on building muscle, hitting your protein target and lifting heavier.
In general, insulin sensitivity is normally higher in the follicular stage, which means your body can process a larger amount of carbohydrates. So, adding in some extra carbs to your diet wouldn't be a bad idea especially if you're training hard.
*don't go over your calorie guidelines though, just change up your macro split*
From the follicular phase we make our way onto Ovulation, yes you guessed correctly, this is when ovulation takes place.
It only normally lasts a day or so, but you are likely to feel physically stronger in this stage, so pushing yourself a little harder wouldn’t go a miss!
However, please also bear in mind during ovulation your oestrogen levels are higher so you are likely to be more prone to injury during this phase.
Lastly, we move onto the Luteal phase where the follicle that is attached to the ovary lining releases a large amount of progesterone which thickens the lining of the ovaries.
*If fertilisation doesn't occur the lining will start to break down, reducing the amount of progesterone being produced in the body*
Have you ever stepped on the scale around your period and had a major breakdown?
You feel like all your hard work is gone, and you reach for the ice cream with tears rolling down your face?
Don't panic...Your body holds on to water retention, which means your body weight can increase but your body fat will remain the same. It is normal and something you should be made aware of.
Not that us women need to be told what you experience in this phase but the list is endless:
Your Body temperature increases
You wake up feeling exhausted
Your lower backs sore for no reason
You need to eat everything in sight.
Most women will suffer from these symptoms for between 5-14 days before bleeding starts, and you’re unlikely to want to hit the gym.
So our advice would be if you're struggling to complete your usual training sessions, slow it down.
Your body temperature is above normal in this phase, which means when you start exercising you will fatigue a lot easier.
You will be struggling with lower muscular endurance, so focus on perfecting your technique over this period.
By the time that the follicular phase hits you will be ready to lift some weights with proper technique.
Moving on from your menstrual cycle...
We thought it would be good to explain some of the key hormones that we have mentioned above, as well give some advice on two hormone issues that many females suffer with.
Oestrogen is one of the most important hormones in the female body.
Oestrogen has both positive and negative effects on how your body burns fat, the number of fat cells and fat loss in general.
Your oestrogen levels can potentially have an impact on your thyroid which in time, will have a negative impact on your body fat levels as your metabolic rate will slow down.
If you have high levels of oestrogen it can also affect how your body burns fat during exercise.
Fat cells find it harder to mobilise during exercise thus slowing the process down.
However there are many positive effects that oestrogen has on the body, these include regulating your appetite, your body fat levels, and your body weight.
Not only this but it has many positive effects on your metabolism. Which means that, when oestrogen is the dominant hormone, your body will burn more carbohydrates for fuel so whilst in the menstrual cycle and early follicular phase.
Just like Oestrogen we find this one of the most important hormones in the body. Progesterone also has its positives and its negatives with regards to its impact on the female body.
Progesterone if unstable will have some negative effects on how your body processes insulin. Your blood sugar levels will become unstable and will lead to increase in hunger.
When lowered during the luteal phase, it can cause women who eat a high sodium diet to show extreme amounts of water retention.
Progesterone can also blunt leptin levels making it harder to feel satisfied after eating meals.
This is a gland in your body that regulates 2 types of thyroid hormone T3 and T4. These hormones help regulate your metabolism and have shown to have an effect on weight gain or loss and depression.
T3 and T4 levels are negatively affected by long periods of dieting in a deficit. Having an underactive thyroid has been shown to have negative effects on the female body.
Iodine is great to supplement for healthy thyroid regulation and we recommend taking it daily either through tablet form or natural sources such as:
Your thyroid can be affected by your female sex hormones oestrogen (Decreases T3) and progesterone (Increases T3 ) so do make sure that you get your thyroid checked if you feel there could be a problem.
Cortisol is labelled under stress hormones and causes insulin and leptin resistance which can have a nasty effect on your body weight and body fat regulation.
Stress hormones can be caused from day to day stress, as well as overtraining and poor dietary choices. Cortisol increases muscle breakdown, increased abdominal fat, decreases bone density, impacts your immune system and kills your libido.
So overall something that needs to be considered. Supplementation is key as well as understanding in most cases we come across is more exercise is not always better. Self-medicating yourself with "feel good foods" will give you a very brief sense of satisfaction when your stress levels are high but only feeds into a vicious circle.
It’s a huge topic in its own right but we thought we would add in some advised supplementation for women that suffer from PCOS.
These suggestions need to be run by your local GP. The list is as follows:
Ensuring the stability of hormones is essential for weight loss and maintaining your physique.
However, if you're eating over your daily calorie amount, please assess this issue before you assume it's your hormones that are the problem. We hope you’ve found this interesting!