How to Use Your Period to Your Advantage

We’ve all been there, every month. About a week before your period starts you tend to be overly sensitive, or become so irate you feel violent, or like you may eat your entire kitchen because you have a hunger raging so fiercely that nothing will satisfy you. Then your period actually starts and you think to yourself, “oh wow, all of that insane behavior completely makes sense.” Well, I am here to bring you good news; there is a silver lining to all those gnarly PMS symptoms. You can actually use your female hormones (and the change that occurs throughout the month) to your advantage when it comes to making progress in your physique, and performance in the gym.

Let’s break it down.

The follicular phase (aptly named because it is the period in which the follicle, which contains the egg, is maturing), begins immediately after you finish menstruating. Days 0-14. It is characterized by increasing estrogen, lower progesterone, and an average body temperature.

From there, you move into ovulation, which takes place around day 14. In the ovulation phase, your estrogen level peaks and progesterone starts to increase. You'll also notice you start to feel warmer.

From day 15 to 28 of your cycle, you'll enter the luteal phase (where the follicle becomes the corpus luteum, after it releases its egg). The luteal phase is characterized by high estrogen and progesterone, with progesterone being more dominant, and your body temperature remaining higher than normal. Toward the end of the luteal phase (PMS and menstruation) there is a steep decline of both estrogen and progesterone.

Shall we break it down even more?

Estrogen increases insulin sensitivity, while progesterone increases insulin resistance. Estrogen and progesterone are both anti-cortisol hormones. Even more, estrogen is a muscle building hormone, while progesterone may interfere with muscle development.

To summarize, the follicular phase = more estrogen, the beginning of the luteal phase = high estrogen AND progesterone, and later in the luteal phase (premenstrual) = decline in estrogen and progesterone.

What does all that mean?

The follicular phase (day 0-14) is the time to focus on progress. Take advantage of your hormones being at an optimal level for your performance in the gym. Your body will also be more prone to utilizing muscle glycogen to fuel exercise during this stage, meaning your body will use those carbs. It is also seen that this phase allows for greater pain tolerance, a higher maximum voluntary force generation capacity, as well as increasing levels of endurance.  Bottom line, this is a time of less fat storage, some fat burning, and muscle gain. Bump up the training volume and bring the intensity.

During ovulation (day 14), your strength levels will still be high and you may notice the highest sheer force generation capacity during this phase. If you want to set a PR, now is the time to try. Just keep in mind that you may also be at a higher risk of injury. As estrogen skyrockets to its highest point during this phase, it can impact collagen metabolism and also influence your neuromuscular control. So work hard, but make sure you're using proper form. Your metabolism will also be starting to climb at this point, so if you're feeling a little extra hungry, understand that this may very well be why.

During the luteal phase (day 15-28), with your body temperature higher than normal, you'll experience higher cardiovascular strain and a decrease in time to exhaustion. In addition to this, you may be retaining excess water weight due to PMS, feeling sluggish, workouts are harder to get through, cramps, back pain, etc; but I did promise a silver lining.

One of the many badass things about being a woman, and one of the most fabulous things about having a period, your body will rely more heavily on fat as a fuel source during the luteal phase, instead of muscle glycogen. Bottom line, the beginning luteal phase is a time of less muscle building, but good fat burning. The later luteal phase is more catabolic (i.e. burning fat and muscle).

Keep in mind, your craving for high carbohydrate foods will increase. Your serotonin production will be lower, and your instinct will be to eat more carbs, as they cause a rapid release of serotonin, instantly providing a mood boost and natural high. Hello cravings! However, due to insulin sensitivity now being at its lowest point, and the fact that you might be lowering the intensity of your workouts due to your high fatigability, you need to keep your carb intake under control.

Not only are you utilizing fat for fuel more efficiently during workouts, at this time, but exercise boosts serotonin naturally, so your workouts will help to curb the cravings.

With the higher metabolic rate and ability to use fat for fuel, this is the prime time to add in some LISS cardio (i.e. brisk walking, 30-60 min), and a lower carb, lower calorie phase to kick-start fat burning.

Weekly breakdown.

Week 1 & 2 (Follicular Phase - days 0-14)

  • Up the intensity and challenge yourself.

  • Increase loads.

  • Go for a PR.

  • Total body weight training 3-4x/wk.

  • HIIT or metcon 1-3x/wk.

  • Normal calorie and carb intake, with a larger portion timed post-workout.

Week 3 (Beginning Luteal Phase - days 15-21)

  • Listen to your body.

  • Stay focused – cravings and fatigue will challenge you.

  • Body uses fat for fuel more efficiently.

  • Metcon, HIIT, and/or sprints 3-5x/wk.

  • Restorative and corrective activities; foam roll,  yoga, meditation.

  • Daily LISS (i.e. brisk walking), 30-60 min.

  • Normal (or slightly lower) calorie intake with low carbs.

Week 4 (Late Luteal Phase - days 22-28)

  • More catabolic (burn fat and muscle). BCAAs may help during this phase.

  • Metcon, HIIT, and/or sprints 3-5x/wk.

  • Restorative and corrective activities; foam roll,  yoga, meditation.

  • Daily LISS (i.e. brisk walking), 30-60 min.

  • Normal (or slightly lower) calorie intake with low carbs.

*Note: These a merely suggestions. You need to experiment and figure out what works best for your body. These were also created with the goal of fat loss in mind. If you're training for something else, it will most definitely look different.

As you become more aware and in tune with your body, you’ll discover what works best for you throughout the month. You’ll know when you can push it, and when you need to give yourself a break. I highly recommend tracking your period. I use an app, but you’re welcome to go old school and write it on your calendar. Knowing where you’re at in your cycle, and learning how to adjust your training and nutrition accordingly, can be a game changer. The goal is get to the point where you can continue to make progress, while feeling your best all month long.




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