Periods. Am I right, ladies?
Seriously, our cycles significantly impact our training and it is essential that we acknowledge this. Different phases of our cycles can influence how much intensity we can handle, if we may benefit from a down week, what foods we eat, and how much hydration we require. If you haven't already, go read Roar by Stacy Sims. It is everything a female athlete needs. And all the info below comes straight from her book.
Women have a lot to deal with. Our hormonal cycles impact everything and when we don't adapt to ebb and flows, we're doing ourselves a disservice. As an active person, you may feel the impacts even more, and giving yourself what you need to succeed and feel good is imperative. As a woman in sport, it is important that you pay attention to this stuff to get the most out of your efforts. Start taking note of shifts in your cycle and the impacts on your exercise regimen. Talk to your coach about your hormonal cycles. This is important stuff. If this is not something your coach wants to address and speak with you about, you are missing a huge component of training. This is NEVER TMI. This is necessary information. Talk about this stuff. We need to.
Basic Info: Cycles:
-Average 28 days, can be between 21-35 days. (If you were anything like me in high school, you'd know being closer to the shorter range is really not that much fun.)
-2 parts: follicular first half (when your period starts) lower hormone phase, luteal second half, the higher hormone phase.
-hormones are going wild, progesterone & estrogen.
Give me the facts.
-When your hormones are lowest (when your period starts, and the few days after it ends), you can handle more intensity in workouts and might feel stronger, more powerful, more energetic. This means banging out some solid strength workouts and speed sessions during this time can be very advantageous for you.
-During PMS, you may have more trouble managing blood sugar, your breathing might be strained, and you might have trouble managing heat, largely due to the surge in progesterone which makes heat regulation difficult. Running during this time just before your period feels harder.
-During PMS, the surge in estrogen makes it harder to grow new muscle, and the surge in progesterone makes muscle tissue break down more, double whammy. This could means holding off on those intense workouts/strength sessions, and making sure you get all the amino acids to help yourself rebuild (Leucine & BCAA). Stacy Sims suggests taking Leucine & BCAA both before and after exercise (within 30 minutes) during this phase in your cycle.
-During PMS, your body cannot burn carbs as efficiently and you may need to take in more carbohydrates in order to tackle those high intensity speed workouts and HIIT sessions. Your body is however, great at burning fat during this time, so an easy long run will be fantastic. Sidenote: Isn't it wild that our bodies CRAVE what we need more of? Don't pretend you don't get all the carb cravings during this time of your cycle. Stacy Sims recommends taking in 10-15 grams of protein and 40 grams of carbohydrate pre-workout longer than 90 minutes, and suggests taking in 40-50 grams of carbohydrate (and a bit of protein and fat) during your workout. *she also notes that during PMS, your metabolism speeds up, you burn more calories, and thus need more intake.
-Exercise feels harder during PMS because your hormones are going bananas and the surge in estrogen and progesterone impacts blood volume and plasma, which is the volume of fluid in blood. When your plasma drops, your blood is pumped more slowly and makes exercise difficult.
-The heat takes it's toll. Increases in progesterone during PMS makes it more difficult to regulate your body temperature. Your progesterone levels at this phase also make you lose some salt, putting you more at risk of going hyponatremic during a long run. It would be a good idea during this time to make sure you hydrate well and get enough sodium the day before a long run during this phase.
-Got cramps? Stacy gives us some info on how to mitigate cramping through our diet the week before our periods start. Namely, eating foods rich in magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids.
-Migraines? They're the worst. The only time I ever get migraines is the day or two before I'm about to get my period, when I'm dehydrated. Stacy suggests hydrating during this time to avoid headaches, as well as eating foods with nitric oxide such as beets, watermelon, and spinach.
-Do you get diarrhea when you have your period? In some extreme cases people even vomit. This is related to the cramping situation that occurs when your body releases prostaglandins that make your uterus squeeze itself to shed the lining. If your body releases too much of this stuff, it can lead to GI distress. To mitigate it, do the same things to help cramps, and also take some aspirin. Not NSAIDs, just aspirin.
-Lack of motivation? I definitely experience a major lack of motivation when PMSing. My mood absolutely shifts, I feel almost depressed and want to just chill. Estrogen and progesterone affects your brain in ways that impact fatigue, mood, breathing, and digestion. Once again, nutrition can help this. Getting more BCAAs and leucine can help.
-Iron sharpens iron, right? During the time you're actually bleeding, it is more difficult to absorb iron and you're more likely to experience symptoms of anemia. Iron is incredibly important for female athletes anyway, but especially during your period and even more so if you have a heavy period.
How about birth control? One of my athletes brought up a very good point about oral contraceptives and the impact it has on our hormonal cycles. When you take the pill with both estrogen and progesterone, it makes your high hormone phase even higher. This makes it even more difficult to do high intensity workouts and rebuild muscle. It also keeps your estrogen high during the time you get your period, rather than dropping off. This means that you're never getting the advantage of the low hormone phase to tackle those harder workouts and build strength more easily. Per Stacy Sims, research shows that women who don't take oral contraceptives are better at gaining muscle, and those on the pill have slower recovery after difficult training sessions. Personally, I have preferred the non-hormonal IUD, but I also think the hormonal IUD is beneficial as well due to the fact that the hormones are localized. Just keep in mind, when I switched from oral contraceptives to the non-hormonal IUD, the mustachio bashio came out in full force. More testosterone/Less estrogen = more hair for me. Nothing a good wax can't handle! I would much rather deal with a little hair and be more attuned to my cycle though.