Plan smarter. Train harder. Period
How to help optimise your training and nutrition to support the female hormonal cycle and work WITH your body’s natural changes rather than against them.
This may come as a surprise, but having amazing excuses doesn’t get you results when it comes to fat loss. Don’t let your monthly visit from Aunt Flo become just another one of them.
Each month, your reproductive system repeats a regular pattern of events (your cycle, or your menstrual cycle), controlled at different times of the month by the hormones Oestrogen and Progesterone. The average cycle length for women is 28 days, but may last anywhere between 21 to 35 days.
Throughout a woman’s monthly cycle the body and energy levels go on a roller coaster ride of emotional peaks and troughs. By understanding how to integrate your training around your cycle, you can maximise your results not by training harder, but by training SMARTER and working with your body’s natural rhythm.
Stick to your strict routine when energy levels and motivation are high, and be kinder to yourself and adapt your routine for that time of the month when all good intentions and efforts go out the window.
Knowing how to deal with some of the common problems that you will encounter during you cycle will be paramount to your success to the life changing training structure adjustment you are about to learn.
Common Problems Associated with that time of the month:
1 Bloating and Persistent weight gain.
2 Belly fat and loss of muscle strength
3 Low libido
5 Digestion problems
7 Anxiety, irritability and depression
8 Sweating. Insomnia and poor sleep patterns
By treating each phase of your monthly cycle as a separate training phase, you can optimise your most energetic time in your cycle, and then ease off and cut yourself some slack when you’re just not feeling it.
Let’s start with Phase 1 which is the Follicular Phase during which follicles in the ovaries mature, ending with Ovulation.
Menstruation typically occurs from day 1-7 during this phase, day 1 represented by the first day of bleeding.
For most women, symptoms at this time may include:
• Cramps, heavy bleeding and pain can be common.
• Emotions may be unpredictable and a woman may go from cranky to teary to weary in a short space of time
• Fatigue and low energy levels can leave a woman feeling lacklustre and there may be a lack of motivation to train.
• More sleep is often required
• Increased appetite for sweet things and carbs
CAN BE GOOD TIME FOR
• Planning in a de-load phase and tapering down the intensity of training due to the lack of energy levels. Instead of going hard with the weights and HIIT, try going for a brisk walk outside, yoga or swimming. Try to keep moving but at a more gentle pace.
• Don't feel so guilty about all the carb cravings! If your carb intake is fat, try to compensate with lower fat intake and think of this phase as a re-feed. This will help restore glycogen levels and aid quality sleep and relaxation.
• Keep social commitments to a minimum and enjoy some 'me' time such as catching up on hobbies or watching an episode of your favourite TV show as cognitive skills may be at a low during this time.
Don’t be so hard on yourself and know that energy levels will come back and you will be stronger and more energetic again after this little break.
Technically this is still the Follicular Phase, but this is the point in your cycle where your period ends and you move into the mid-cycle and you reach the point of ovulation.
This is the ‘FEEL GOOD’ phase.
This is the phase where women feel at their best overall.
During this phase most women will experience:
• Huge increases in mood and energy levels.
• Motivation and “competitiveness” increases and there is a tendency to feel stronger.
• Appetite returns to normal.
• Cognitive skill and desire to socialise improve.
CAN BE GOOD TIME FOR
Allowing and implementing intense training plans to take advantage of full energy stores and utilising that increased motivation and drive. Heavy weight training, HIIT and plyometrics are best performed around this time.
Tapering the diet back around to normal to fit overall goals.
Making lifestyle adjustments to increase social occasions, work engagements and activities that need concentration and focus.
This is also a great time for first dates!
This is the ovulation phase – a time when the body is saying ‘get ready to make a baby’. This is governed by the laws of attraction, evolution and reproduction. The body wants to mate. Wink wink, nudge nudge....
At this time women will experience:
A positive outlook and elevated mood, as well as increased confidence and libido. However, towards the later days of this phase you may start to notice
the physical symptoms of the PMS phase start to appear.
CAN BE GOOD FOR
Lifestyle factors such as planning shopping trips as
body confidence is high, or take a weekend away with your partner.
Keeping the training intensity high as confidence and motivation are still at their peak.
Can be a good week for adding more weight or reps to your lifting program.
At this time you can also prepare your mind for the onset of physical symptoms such as water retention, bloating and crankiness.
If you know whats coming, you can be a little kinder to yourself and expect to see the scales shift, the fit of your clothes change and your energy levels dip, which is easier to deal with.
Try keeping a diary of your monthly cycle and record your moods, energy levels and other symptoms, as well as your training regime throughout the month. Notice change in efforts and energy levels throughout each phase, and begin to track your own pattern and habits. Once you understand how this complex system works for you, you can make positive changes to optimise your lifestyle around it.
Remember that you don’t have to be Superwoman all the time. There is no such thing as overtraining, only under-resting, so try to make the gains when you feel good and focus on recovery when you’re not at your best.
If you are suffering from PMS symptoms, here are some tips that may help to make that time of the month a little more comfortable and help to find hormonal balance naturally:
Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day – this can help reduce fluid retention.
A mug of warm water and fresh lemon juice is a great way to start the day.
Note: Try to drink filtered or bottled water to avoid substances such as pesticides and fertilisers that can contaminate tap water.
This one may come as a surprise but you do need to eat healthy fatty foods if you want to keep your hormones in check.
Many women follow, or have followed a low or no-fat diet at some point to lose weight. Well, did you know that this can, in fact, be detrimental to hormonal health causing imbalances and exacerbating symptoms of PMS?
That ‘s because your body needs healthy dietary fats to produce healthy hormones. As such, try to include the following healthy fats in your diet:
• Deep sea water fish (salmon, mackerel or sardines) at least 3 times per week
• Raw nuts or seeds (almond, walnuts, pumpkin or linseeds) 2 to 3 times per week
• Anti-inflammatory fats such as avocados, extra virgin olive oil, virgin coconut oil or grass fed butter. (see Seven Steps - for recommended daily fat consumption).
Build Your Baseline
When buying animal products, choose mostly grass-fed or pastured meats since conventional meats come with a not-so nice dose of antibiotics. If you can’t have access to these meats, make sure to trim as much fat as you can since this is where most of the toxins will accumulate.
Note: Make sure to avoid processed meats such as bacon and cured meats.
Decrease your daily intake of caffeine as its diuretic effects can deplete your body’s stores of vitamins and minerals essential for hormonal balance. Caffeine can be found in coffee, tea, green tea, chocolate and soft drinks such as Coke. Be careful to reduce your intake gradually as withdrawal can induce headaches, shaking and muscle cramps. Try substituting with herbal teas or grain coffee instead.
Try to keep alcohol consumption to a minimum to allow your liver to fully detox your system and clear out any excess oestrogen in the blood. Alcohol will also deplete the body’s vitamins and minerals, and contains nothing but ‘empty’ calories which will promote weight gain.
Remove any daily products that contain Xenoestrogens – synthetic or chemical compounds that can mimic oestrogen.
These can be found in cosmetics, lotions and perfumes that contain parabens and phthalates, cleaning products, pesticides and herbicides, as well as BPA found in plastics and canned foods. When possible, buy organic and chemical free products that do not contain any of these ingredients.
When Aunt Flo comes to visit treat yourself to a nice juicy, organic beef steak with some home made sweet potato wedges and a side of spinach to try and boost your iron levels as well as get your carb fix. Or make your own healthy Raw Dark Chocolate.
Herbal teas can be beneficial too - try peppermint to help with bloating, and fennel to aid digestion. Chamomile can be good for helping you to relax before bedtime and catch some 40 winks.
A Magnesium supplement can help with muscle cramping during your period, or take a relaxing Epsom Salts bath to help ease the pains and improve your quality of sleep.
Final Phase Luteal Phase
(approx day 22 – 28) This is the pre-menstrual phase which is often characterised by physical, psychological and behavioural symptoms. Most women of childbearing age will experience some of these symptoms but it is more common for women between their late 20s to early 40s.
At this time, women will experience common PMS symptoms such as:
- Bloating, breast tenderness, water retention, pain, unstable emotions leading to highs and lows and sometimes tears, onset of fatigue and cravings.
- Your desire to “nest” returns and your mood and social skills start to fall back down. - Outlook on life can become more negative
- Strength tends to diminish along with energy levels
CAN BE GOOD FOR
Introducing low loads again like a de-load week with lighter/higher rep work in training.
Tapering fat intake down to allow for increased carbohydrates to offset cravings and increased appetite for these.
Taking time out and spending more time alone or relaxing. Try meditation or yoga and more mindful exercises into your training routine.
Allow for more time exercising outside. A relaxing walk can help offset any added calories and carbs, and the Vitamin D exposure can help alleviate any mental symptoms and chase away those monthly blues.
Knowing that you haven’t derailed your progress, its just nature’s way of saying - calm down for a bit and be kind to yourself!!!
It’s not about training harder, its about training SMARTER, and optimising your training around your monthly cycle, as well as looking at ways to minimise symptoms of PMS.
Article by LIT London Boutique Fitness Studio.