We listen to podcasts daily. They range from listens purely for entertainment to listens with the intention of learning. Every now and again, we learn something in a podcast that we end up applying to our lives. Welcome to the Listen, Learn, Do series. A series of things we learnt from podcasts that made their way into our lives.
There are two times a month when I actively think about training and my menstrual cycle – during ovulation and at the start of my period. That is because a speed run done on either of those days will almost certainly result in cramps so bad, I need to stop running, crawl home and curl up in a ball until they go away. It is always fast running that sets it off – never weight training or even a HIIT workout.
Other than that, I had given little thought to how during different phases of my cycle, my body may react differently to training and recovery. That was until I listened to this episode of the Trained podcast on Using the Menstrual Cycle as a Personal Trainer, with Georgie Bruinvels. Georgie Bruinvels is a research scientist at Orreco who believes that the menstrual cycle can serve as a guide for planning how you train, eat and recover to get more out of your training.
During the 33-minute episode Georgie explained that your hormones are constantly fluctuating which affects inflammation in your body; which thus affects how good you feel during a session or how sore your body feels the next day.
She covered common period myths like it’s normal to feel bad pre and during you period or that every woman is iron deficient. She also explained how stress impacts one’s cycle and when it comes to cramping some people genetically have more symptoms than others. This can come down to metabolic pathways and how your body processes hormones.
If you menstruate, do any form of exercise, and want to be more in tune with your body, it’s a great listen and incredibly informative.
Below are some notes I took about the four different phases of the menstrual cycle, how it affects training and what your nutritional focuses should be during those times.
Your cycle can be broadly split into the Follicular Phase and the Luteal Phase, those phases are split into two creating four different phases. The amount of estrogen and progesterone released by your ovaries varies based on where you are in your menstrual cycle. That natural cycle of hormones fluctuating brings on your period which is considered a vital sign that your body is in a good state of health. The hormones released
travel through your blood and can affect the way you move, think and feel.
Phase 1: The Period
During phase 1, the amount of estrogen and progesterone released drop off causing the shedding of the uterus lining ie. menstruation. When that occurs, there is an associated inflammatory response. A lot of period symptoms are due to high levels of inflammation. When you have higher levels of inflammation in your body it can take longer to recover.
Training Focus: Recovery
Nutrition focus: Eat more foods that are anti-inflammatory and high in fibre to help metabolism. If you get cravings, it is likely because your insulin resistance is altering so make sue to eat regularly. Eat more fruit, vegetables, and oily fish. Avoid processed foods.
Phase 2: The second half of the follicular phase
This is during the first half of the cycle, during the second part of the follicular phase. During this phase the amount of estrogen released is increased. Estrogen is associated with happy hormones – serotonin and dopamine, which makes most people feel really good in this phase. Estrogen also has an oxidative capacity so it can help you recover.
Training focus: Strength work. Some people will find they adapt better to exercise especially strength work.
Nutrition focus: More carbohydrates, especially before exercise
Phase 3: Early to mid part of the Luteal Phase
This is a high hormone phase in which both estrogen and progesterone levels increase. Progesterone is a catabolic hormone – it breaks down muscle tissue. When it comes to exercise there’s a balance between breaking down muscle tissue and building it to become stronger. Progesterone can increase the breaking down of muscles. It can also affect mood, energy levels and insulin sensitivity which can affect cravings.
Exercise Focus: Making sure you refuel after exercise, to help the muscles repair. Especially with enough protein (leucine specifically) and carbohydrates within 30 minutes after.
Nutrition focus: Fuelling frequency. Eat smaller portions more often.
Phase 4: Pre-menstrual phase
During this phase, hormones start to drop off to bring about the release of the endometrial lining. This causes an inflammatory response. Some people may find that phase 4 is worse than phase 1.
Exercise focus: Exercise that doesn’t involve a lot of co-ordination. Some people may struggle with co-ordination or clumsiness during this phase.
Nutrition focus: The same as in phase 1 – more anti-inflammatory foods and fibre.
For me the takeaway wasn’t to redo my training schedule according to my cycle; but rather it has made me more aware of why sometimes I feel strong and other times more sore or tired. It has also made me consider when I’m able to push myself and where I should make sure I don’t skip the foam rolling. It makes you more aware of your body, which allows you to give yourself grace and recognise when you need to take a day off, or switch up what you had planned on doing, like switching out a speed run with a gentle yoga class instead.