Structuring training around the menstrual cycle to perform at your physical best
The menstrual cycle not only has a profound effect on fertility, the natural fluctuations of hormones impact exercise metabolism, plasma volume levels, thermoregulation and more (1). This significantly affects training and performance (1).
Effects of hormones on performance
|Inhibits muscle growth Decrease glycogen use Increases fatty acid oxidation||Increased break down of muscle Reduced cardiac output Elevated core temperature Increased heart rate|
Matching training types with fluctuating hormones throughout the cycle:
The menstrual cycle is typically 28 days long and can be divided into the follicular phase (days 1-14) and the luteal phase (days 15-28). Ovulation occurs around the middle.
Day 1 is the commencement of the period. Both oestrogen and progesterone are at the lowest in this phase. Carbohydrates are the preferred fuel source during this period making it a good time for strength training, high intensity training, and competing. As the period finishes at around days 5-6, estrogen starts to increase, peaking at around day 12 along with luteinising hormone which causes ovulation.
Luteal phase (high hormone phase)
Oestrogen initially drops off with ovulation, then both estrogen and progesterone peak around five days before menstruation. During the luteal phase, muscle glycogen utilisation is reduced and there is a lesser reliance on carbohydrate to fuel training (2). With fats now the main fuel source, endurance ability may be improved, so incorporation of longer and lower intensity activity is ideal. Inclusion of recovery and stretching days will also help adaptation to training.
What does this mean for performance
Whether you’re training, or racing, rating of perceived exertion will be lower during the follicular phase, and performance likely higher. Matching the appropriate training type to suit each menstrual phase will help to perform at your physical best.
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- Sims. S, (2016) Roar How to match your food and fitness to you female physiology for optimum performance, great health, and a stronglean body for life
- Devries. M, Hamadeh. M, Phillips. S, Tarnopolosky. (2006) Menstrual cycle phase and sex influence muscle glycogen utilization and glucose turnover during moderate-intensity endurance exercise (2006