The menstrual cycle influences daily life in many ways, training is one of them. The main actors of this female hormonal swing estrogen and progesterone. The former has the bad reputation of increasing fat mass and joint instability but is essential for protection against catabolism and supporting muscle repair. The second is an estrogen antagonist: it promotes the loss of muscle mass and reduces the ability of the brain to recruit muscles, inhibiting the motor cortex.
It is precisely the relationship between these two important hormones that regulates the influence of hormonal activity on training. The menstrual cycle has a duration that can vary from 21 to 45 days, in the case of young women, or from 21 to 35 for adult women, generally considered an average of 28 days.
Training varied according to the phases of the menstrual cycle
There are 4 different phases in the cycle that can vary in duration according to that of the cycle itself. The phase is characterized by a different hormone balance and different approaches are recommended during each phase both at the level of food and training. In this article we will try to describe these approaches clearly without going too far into the endocrinological details so that we can give guidelines for simple interpretation.
This is characterized by an increase in estrogen levels
while body temperature and progesterone tend to remain unchanged. In this phase, there is high tolerability of pain, perfect for endurance training. It is the time of the cycle when it is possible to express the maximum amount of voluntary strength.
In this phase the body will tend to use more muscle glycogen as a source of energy and insulin sensitivity is higher than average.
This would suggest an advantage to modifying the diet to include a higher proportion of carbohydrates (especially in pre-workout) and perform intense workouts that can use the reserves of glycogen. This dietary and training strategy will counteract the lower resting metabolic rate that is observed during the follicular phase.
This phase is recognizable as body temperature starts to rise, progesterone increases and there is a peak in the production of estrogen. Some studies have shown increased strength levels at this stage, especially in the legs, so it's time to work on maximum strength. At the same time, high estrogen levels can have an impact on collagen metabolism and neuromuscular control. To balance the previous advice to push the limits of strength, it is important to pay close attention to technique and avoid injuries that are statistically higher during this stage of the cycle
It may be possible to increase calorie consumption without weight gain during this phase as overall resting metabolic rate is elevated. Since insulin sensitivity tends to decrease compared to the follicular phase, it may be more relevant to achieve a balance between carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.