Your menstrual cycle can reveal a lot about you. That’s because the hormones involved affect more than just your period. Undeniably, they can also play a part in regulating your mood, energy levels, ability to cope with stress, and more. As a result, being in tune with your cycle can be a smart way to monitor your health and well-being.
“Normal” menstrual cycle
As women our bodies and hormones are interchanging throughout our monthly menstrual cycle. It differs in each and every one of us, so of course no two women are the same. We summarise that a cycle is 28 days but a normal cycle can vary between 24-32 days. To begin with, it starts with menstruation which is the first day of bleeding. This is the start of the first phase of the cycle known as the follicular stage.
This phase lasts up until ovulation (the releasing of the egg) which is around day 14. Estrogen starts at a low level and then in the days closer to ovulation there is a large surge in the final few days of the phase as the body prepares to release the egg. The dominant hormone during the follicular phase is estrogen.
So the ending of the follicular stage is around day 14 when ovulation occurs and the luteal phase commences! This is the phase between ovulation and the menstrual cycle where the egg is waiting to be fertilized. The dominant hormone during the luteal phase is progesterone which develops after the release of the egg during ovulation.
So how do these different hormones impact training and weight loss?
This is the official overview of all the biological differences during the two phases of the cycle. Note that all women might experience these changes differently.
- Strength/Muscle growth: The follicular phase is the ideal time to make muscle and strength gains due to higher estrogen and testosterone. You can also take this knowledge to understand why one week you suddenly feel weaker than the previous week!
- Mood: During the follicular phase mood is elevated due to estrogen causing an increase in serotonin and dopamine. These “feel good” neurotransmitters are significantly lowered during the luteal phase. Bad news for your surroundings and that chocolate bar in your kitchen cabinet (dopamine HIT!).
- Hunger: Estrogen acts to generally sensitize the brain to the primary “hunger” hormone leptin, decreased estrogen levels in the luteal phase will less sensitive to Lepin which will in return make you feel more hungry.
- Blood glucose: If that wasn’t enough unstable blood sugar levels can further increase cravings, hunger, energy and mood swings.
- Fat storage: Final bad note we promise! Progesterone blocks Insulin sensitivity. Meaning it’s harder to get carbs inside your muscle cells during the luteal phase and more likely to be stored as fat.
- Metabolism: Body temperature is higher during the luteal phase, which increases your metabolism by about 200-400 kcal. Which means that getting through the difficult last 2 weeks will reward you with additional fat loss!
- Water retention: “I’m doing everything right and gained 2kg overnight!?”, I think I’ve gotten this message a hundred times by now. My reply is on copy phase “Don’t worry I see you’re in the final days of your cycle, it will drop in a couple of days.
How can you use this information during your fat loss journey?
- By understanding and accepting the fact that there are biological changes going on in your body that explain why you suddenly aren’t able to squat 60kg or gain 2kg’s overnight!
- With training, you could program heavier lifting earlier on in your cycle when you feel stronger. Accordingly, shift to higher repetition or metabolic conditioning work later on in your cycle. Which improves insulin sensitivity and fat burning during exercise.
- Planning ahead is essential! If you know that you will have really bad cravings or low energy during the last few days of your cycle. For example, you can eat a little bit less during the days before to allow for some extra calories on those final days. As long as you stick to your weekly (or monthly calorie goal you should be able to enjoy some guilt-free chocolate!)
- Let your Partner read this article!;)
As mentioned previously, not everyone will experience all of the above symptoms. Therefore, some will experience it to a lesser extent than others. At ONE Institute we will always tailor a plan to the individual and the menstrual cycle is a nice little piece in this exciting puzzle!