Premenopausal women are all too familiar with the feelings of lacking energy, low motivation and even an overall sense of gloom. And while exercising is often touted as a cure-all, how does one even get themselves going when they feel this way?
Hormone levels can affect your physical performance, so if you are trying to drag yourself through a workout you're usually enthralled with, perhaps what you need to do is tailor your routine to a specific phase of your cycle. The menstrual cycle comes in two main phases. There's the low-hormone phase known as the follicular, which occurs during days 1-14, beginning on the first day of your period. The other is the high-hormone phase known as the luteal, which occurs during days 15-28, starting with ovulation.
The former phase is when you actually have more energy explains Stacy Sims, who is an environmental exercise physiologist and nutrition scientist in the Bay Area. She is also the co-founder of Osmo Nutrition. “We are more like men in the follicular/low-hormone phase. In this phase, it’s great to do high-intensity work, try to set PRs, push yourself harder," she says.
May Blanchard, who is the chief of OB/GYN at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, notes, however, that women with a heavy flow might feel less powerful on their third menstrual day. “That’s when we might do a blood count to see if levels are pushing the border of anemia." And if that's the case Blanchard recommends iron supplementation.
And what about athletic women who are in the midst of a race for hours, such as ironman triathlons? How do they find time to hit up a restroom, and how do they gather the supplies needed? “The logistics of it can be very challenging,” explains Debi Bernardes, who is a longtime Washington area triathlete and tri coach.
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With that aside, however, the follicular phase can be great when it comes to exercising. The female sex hormone levels are low, yet the testosterone levels remain the same, with the relative level being higher. “And we know that testosterone can be beneficial for sports performance,” says Kathleen Casto, who is an elite runner and PhD student at Emory University in the field of social neuroendocrinology.
And what about women who use birth control? Casto says that the pill “controls the hormonal milieu,” so female hormone levels stay steady throughout the entirety of the month. The downside, Casto notes, is that it might dull the peaks, not just the valleys, meaning testosterone levels never rise in relation to progesterone and estrogen.
And for those who are not on the pill, the luteal phase offers up high female hormone levels. “In the mid-late luteal phase — five to seven days before your period starts — this is where women feel progressively worse – progesterone and estrogen interplay to cause a bit of metabolic mayhem,” Sims explains. A woman's core temperature rises, which can result in the feeling of overheating, moodiness happens, and carbohydrate stores are hard to get access to, which in turn makes it hard to do high-intensity intervals.
“In this phase, it’s better to do more steady-state-endurance-focused work, body-weight or lighter resistance training,” Sims suggests. She also says that eating 10 grams of protein before and 20 grams within 30 minutes of exercise is helpful, as is having carbs available if you're planning on taking part in a race or HIIT. Electrolyte intake is important, especially if you are prone to low sodium in this phase. Taking up to five grams of branched-amino acids before exercise is helpful, and drinking four to six ounces of cold tart cherry juice 30 minutes prior to hitting the hay works well too. Sim says elite athletes should also increase their magnesium, white willow bark, zinc and turmeric in order to “push back against the inflammation and fluid shifts caused by estrogen and progesterone.”
So what's the takeaway? Sims says, “Just be aware that it is your physiology, not your fitness, that can affect your performance across the monthly cycle.”
“Sometimes it calls for rethinking the rate of recovery," Bernardes says.
And Castro says, “Sometimes you just have to go easy on yourself.” She does add, however, that not all women feel the changes. “It’s important to remember that there is no such thing as a normal menstrual cycle. There is a lot of variability both physiologically and psychologically.”
But if you are affected, then this information should really resonate, as endorphins can be the benefit of exercising when you are experiencing bloating and moodiness. “If you can push yourself to do something, it can make you feel better," says Blanchard.
Do you find that your periods affect your workouts?
Source: Washington Post
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