In this blog, we speak to qualified PT and endometriosis health coach Josh Brassington. Josh talks to us all about how changes to your hormones during your menstrual cycle can affect your workouts and how to adapt your workout accordingly.
You may have noticed a difference in your energy levels when you are exercising at certain times of the month. Your hormones naturally fluctuate throughout your menstrual cycle and these fluctuations can have an impact on your energy levels. Adjusting your exercise routine accordingly can ensure you make the most out of your workouts.
A breakdown of your menstrual cycle
“The menstrual cycle starts with the first day of your period and ends when the next period begins. A menstrual cycle typically last between 24 and 38 days, but you can experience a longer cycle.
Your cycle can be split into 4 main events, which are:
First day of your period (bleeding can last from 4-8 days)
The Follicular Phase:
This stage starts alongside menstruation. It is the time between the first day of your period and ovulation.
This is when the egg is released from the ovary and happens mid-cycle.
The Luteal Phase:
Final days of the cycle, between ovulation and the start of your next period.
Many hormonal changes take place during these phases but the most significant ones to focus on are changes to your oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone levels.
The Beginning of your Cycle: Combatting Fatigue
During the start of your cycle (when menstruation occurs), oestrogen levels tend to be at their lowest point. Combine this with a loss of Iron through your bleed, it can lead to you feeling quite tired.
During this time, your first response may be to completely rest. If this is what works for you that Is fine! There is lots of benefits to resting your body and taking it easy. However, there are also many benefits from trying to incorporate high-intensity workouts (HIIT) into your routine at this point.
The drop in your oestrogen levels will actually make you push harder, as fuel becomes more accessible to your body at this stage. This is because your body accesses your carbohydrate/glycogen fuel stores more easily, which will boost your energy levels in your workout.
HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) involves grouping together some exercises, carrying out one exercise intensively for a short period of time, having a short rest, then completing the next exercise and so on. The best way to get the most out your workouts is to incorporate movements that involve more than one muscle group at a time. Examples: squats, lunges, push-ups etc.
This type of workout is also beneficial as you can get a good workout done in 20 minutes but still reap the cardiovascular benefits of an hour’s workout.
You will also benefit from including iron-rich foods at this stage, such as dark green leafy vegetables, beans and lentils.
Late Follicular/Ovulation: Hit the Weights!
Towards the tail end of the first week of your period and moving into the second week of your cycle, your oestrogen levels begin to rise. When ovulation occurs, your oestrogen levels will hit their peak.
This is the perfect time to incorporate more weights and resistance workouts into your routine. Resistance exercised are used to help stimulate muscle strength and growth. Oestrogen helps your body build muscle, so add some exercises with barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells or resistance bands.
It’s also at this point that another crucial hormone starts to rise – testosterone. Testosterone also plays a role in helping increase muscle mass and strength.
You don’t need to go to a gym to get started, you can do it right from home!
The increased levels of oestrogen can also trigger some other effects, including anxiety, stress and higher arousal. These can be eased by increasing your physical activity levels to improve sleep and release endorphins.
Day After Ovulation: Keep up the Intensity
At this point, your oestrogen levels will begin to drop once again. Fatigue and low mood can begin to creep in, so it’s important to keep active to keep your mood up. You might prefer resting at this stage, so your body has extra time to recover from the fatigue.
The same principle applies here that is used in week 1. Short, high-intensity workouts are the way to go and will serve you best for this part of your cycle.
Towards the end of this week your oestrogen levels will start to rise back up again and so too will your progesterone levels.
At this point I suggest going back to your normal workout routine, making sure to incorporate more usual daily activities, resistance training AND cardio.
Increase your protein intake at meal times and try to even out your portions throughout the day to help keep your blood sugar levels stable.
If you’re not sure what portions you should be eating for each meal and each food type, you can download my FREE portion guide HERE.
Final days of the cycle: Keep it steady
At this stage of the cycle, your emphasis on workouts will change once again. I recommend including some steady state cardio activities into your weekly routine.
Getting outside for a long walk or a casual bike ride are great ways to increase your aerobic activity without having to get on the treadmill in the gym.
Oestrogen and progesterone levels will remain higher at the start of this phase but will then decrease as the week goes on and you head towards your next period, so keeping things steady and maintaining energy levels before your cycle restarts is a good way to go.”
We hope this has helped answer any questions you’ve had about your period and how exercise can be changed and used to benefit your health at this time. If you have any other questions or want some extra guidance you can reach out to Josh on Facebook, Instagram or Email. For more #PeriodPowerful content, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.