The Menstrual Cycle, Training and Nutrition:

*Disclaimer*

I am a man and do not have a menstrual cycle. Therefore I have no practical experience of what I am about to discuss.

However, female physiology is something I have committed a lot of my up-skilling to for quite some time now so I feel like I may be able to provide some insight into this topic that the ladies out there reading this can relate to.

Men have one sex hormone. Testosterone. This barely changes throughout the course of a month so training for men is relatively straight forward.

Training women on the other hand can be a completely different story. Training the same women at different times of the month can literally be like training two different people. This is largely because women have two sex hormones, Estrogen and Progesterone. Each one will be dominant at different stages of the menstrual cycle and this can drastically change the way a women’s body operates.

A women’s cycle can be divided into two stages.

(A) The follicular phase:
days 1 – 14

(B) The Luteal phase:
Days 15 – 28 / 32

Spoiler: the Follicular phase is where pretty much everything functions more favorably.

The following are characteristics of each.

FOLLICULAR PHASE:

– Estrogen is dominant hormone

– Mental function can be better

– Serotonin (feel good hormone) levels are higher

– Dopamine (productivity / reduced cravings hormone) levels are higher

– Leptin (Satiety Hormone) levels are higher

– Insulin sensitivity is better (able to handle carbs better)

– Water retention is at its lowest in week 1

– Better training ability: Higher strength & co ordination. Reduced inflammation. Superior muscle repair, remodeling and adaptation to training stimulus.

*side note*

– Women experience a small rise in testosterone at approximately the half way point of their cycle and may experience a subtle increase in athletic performance at this time.

LUTEAL PHASE:

– Progesterone is dominant hormone

– Serotonin levels are lower which can reduce mood

– BMR (Metabolism) increases by approximately 2.5 – 10%.

Sounds good right? However…

– Because dopamine and leptin levels are decreased in this phase satiety from meals can be lower and cravings higher resulting in greater caloric intake than the increase in BMR

– Poorer Insulin sensitivity (ability to handle carbs)

– Water retention is at its highest in week 4

– Training: Women May experience reduced strength and co ordination. Inflammation and muscle soreness from workouts can be higher.

– PMS in week 4: Women May experience symptoms such as cramps, mood swings, fatigue and many, many more!

So as you can see, Women’s physiology is far more complex than mens and there are many factors which can influence training and nutrition. Some women may experience extremes of the above, some modest, and some not at all.

But if there is one I have definitely learnt over the years of training women is that, more often than not, they are hard as nails in the gym. Despite the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle potentially being a negative, women do posses many physiological abilities which make them superior at training than Men. (I’ll discuss this in another post very soon).

Plenty more content for the ladies to come 😉

Thanks for reading,

Paul Taylor PT

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