To every woman who’s been asking me if it’s safe to work out during “those days”, I say, why not? The menstrual cycle is a natural part of your body, and can absolutely coexist along with your health and fitness. It can seem difficult, considering how it affects your metabolism and training results, but once you understand the basics of how periods actually affect your workout, it will be easy to figure out the extent to which you can push your body during those days every month.
Menstrual cycles, hormones and their phases, when we look at them at depth, can get rather complicated. It is better not to dip into the scientific part of it too much, and instead, you will have a better perspective if your stand back and have an overview, so that you can fit in your fitness in the grand scheme of your body. If you have a perfectly normal menstrual cycle of 28 days, the follicular phase consists of the first 14 days after the start of menstruation. However, a range of 22 to 36 days is considered a normal duration of the menstrual cycle. Based on these differences in hormone levels, we’d expect training to be more effective for muscle growth during the follicular phase.
In simple terms, there are four separate phases of your menstrual cycle: the follicular phase (when the egg cell in one of your ovaries start to grow and the inner layer of your uterus begins to form), the ovulation phase (when the egg cell from the ovary is released into the uterus), the luteal phase (when the un-impregnated egg cell disintegrates, along with the endometrium of the uterus), and finally, the menstrual phase (when your body sheds the inner layer of your uterus, known as the endometrium),
The two most important hormones that ensure that the menstrual cycle is maintained are estrogen and progesterone. In terms of the body, estrogen is anti-catabolic (it prevents the breakdown of hard-earned muscles) and helps in the repair of worn muscles. Unfortunately, progesterone has certain catabolic effects that counter the positive effects of estrogen. Basically, estrogen is great for muscle empowerment, while progesterone is definitely not great news! It is the ratio between these hormones that influences the result of training on our bodies.
A phase-wise review:
The Follicular Phase
This is the phase where you can make great progress on your fitness quests. During these days, your body has peak pain tolerance and high voluntary force generation. Your endurance will be very high during this phase, in comparison to the others. However, it is seen that glycogen stores can b increased during this phase which can be used for the increased intensity of your workouts.
It necessitates the increase in the intake of high-carbohydrate content nutrition since insulin sensitivity will spike during this period, it’s good to undertake carb-depleting workouts between re-feeds, as the body tends to use these carbs to fuel muscle gain, which is always a plus.
The Ovulation Phase
The sheer amount of voluntary force generation in your body during this period is amazing. Your strength levels are at their peak, and this is the time you can try to set your personal records. If you’ve been planning to set a PR, this is the phase you should look out for. However, since estrogen production increases during this phase, it is also important to remain cautious as there is a higher risk of injury. Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries are some common injuries that you see in this phase which go down in luteal phase. Estrogen interferes with neuromuscular activity and metabolism, and ligament injures are prone to occur during this phase. Since metabolism may increase, and you may feel hungrier than usual, remember to add extra calories to your diet from a balanced mix of proteins, carbohydrates and fats.
The Luteal Phase
This is the decline phase, where your body suddenly seems against you at every step of your workout. PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome) causes excess water retention in your body, making sprint related exercise uncomfortable. There is greater cardiovascular strain and you will get exhausted faster. During this phase, it is advisable to do workouts that utilize fats as fuel, as your body starts switching from glycogen to fats for energy. Cardio training and moderate strength work is advisable and yoga will work wonders to reduce the severity of PMS symptoms. Your body metabolism is at its highest and our body temperature is significantly higher, helping your body burn more calories than normal. The most important part here is to control your craving for carb-rich food which will cut down on the strengthening effects of your workouts. To reduce such craving, you can try eating foods rich in amino acids. Low carb and calorie content ensure that fat-burning is kick started.
The Menstrual Phase
At long last, the PMS symptoms recede, the water retention clears out and body temperature returns to normal during this phase. You can slowly start moving into more intense workouts as you get closer to the follicular phase again. Your diets can slowly resume moderate calorie content, neither high in carbs nor low in them.
In nutshell, here is what you need to remember?
- You can make maximum progress during the follicular and ovulatory phases due to increased pain tolerance and endurance. This is your chance to set your PRs!
- During the ovulatory phase, high estrogen levels can make you prone to injury, so be careful!
- During the luteal phase, your body is more dependent on fat as a source of energy rather than glycogen. Fix your diet accordingly!
- And most importantly: Work with your body. The results will astonish you!
Article by:- Sujal Sisodiya