Training through your Cycle

Train through your Menses Appropriately and Efficiently

There are two distinct phases of the menstrual cycle. The follicular phase is marked by the beginning of menses (day 1 of the cycle) and ends at ovulation (day 14 of the cycle in the textbook case). It is called the follicular phase because the follicle, (which contains the female egg), is maturing during this phase mainly under the influence of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH).

The proper maturation of this follicle is essential for the release of an egg. Improper maturation usually results in the formation of a cyst and no release of an egg. As the follicle matures, estrogen levels released from the ovaries steadily rise.

The second phase of the cycle is the luteal phase. This phase is marked by ovulation and the subsequent transformation of the follicle into the corpus luteum once the egg is released. This phase is triggered by a large surge in lutenizing hormone which causes the follicle to “pop” and release its egg.

The corpus luteum becomes the source of progesterone and the rising levels help change the chemistry of the uterine lining increasing the chances that a fertilized egg can attach and implant itself.

If the egg is not fertilized, the corpus luteum degrades, estrogen and progesterone levels both fall, and the uterine lining is shed resulting in menses.

What does this have to do with fat loss?

In addition to having reproductive function, estrogen and progesterone have an impact on fuel storage and fuel use. In other words, these two hormones can determine what type of fuel is burned (sugar versus fat). This is mainly because they can mildly influence two primary fuel regulating hormones, insulin and cortisol.

And, if you think for a minute, this makes sense. The reproductive capacity of a women and the viability of her offspring depends on the ability to store resources. During the follicular phase the egg is not yet released, but after ovulation the possibility of an egg being fertilized means the body shifts into more of fat storing physiology and becomes more reliant on sugar burning.

So, very simply the follicular phase is a time of relatively better fat burning, while the luteal phase shifts the body into more relative use from sugar versus fat.

Estrogen directly opposes the action of insulin on the major fat storing enzyme LPL essentially making the body less prone to fat storage and more prone to fat release. Estrogen is also anti-cortisol (as is progesterone).

This means women may be able to better tolerate a little more starch and burn greater proportions of fat during exercise with less consequences of stress hormone production. This is a great time to focus more on steady state longer duration moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise (since women burn higher proportions of fat at all exercise intensities during this phase).

Progesterone opposes the action of estrogen and may make the body more reactive to starch/sugar (i.e. more insulin resistant). So, based on these metabolic changes women would want to watch their starch/sugar intake during the luteal phase.

Progesterone, like estrogen, is anti-cortisol as well. With progesterone relatively higher than estrogen in the luteal phase, the female metabolism becomes more of a “sugar burner” and more reminiscent of the male physiology with enhanced glycogen storage.

The afterburn of exercise MAY be accentuated in the luteal phase because of this, allowing women to take advantage of this unique aspect of exercise. This is a great opportunity to use higher intensity short duration metabolic conditioning and/or interval training.

Protocol Overview

So the female phase training protocol looks like this:

  • Follicular phase (Days 1-14): 40:30:30 macronutrient intake (carbs:protein:fat). 3 times weekly full body traditional weight training (squat, bench press, back row, shoulder press), 4 sets of 10 using a 8-12 rep max. 3-5 days per week steady state moderate intensity cardio or metaboic conditioning(40-60 minutes).
  • Luteal phase (Days 14-28): 30:40:30 macronutrient intake (carbs:protein:fat). 3 times weekly full body traditional weight training (squat, bench press, back row, shoulder press) and/or metabolic conditioning. Daily leisure walking (as much as able)
  • Repeat next month

Other considerations:

  • Luteal phase increases both energy intake and energy expenditure in women as well as increases cravings for sweet and fatty foods. The cravings are likely a result of the falling estrogen and progesterone levels premenstrually, both of which have receptors sites in the brain and influence both GABA, serotonin, and dopamine. We use unsweet cocoa powder & BCAA supplements mixed in water to deal with this as it will raise neurotransmitters (cocoa raises serotonin and dopamine & BCAA increase GABA). Ironically chocolate, most especially dark chocolate, is a proven craving in women at this time. Cocoa powder allows a calorie free brain chemistry directed treatment specific to this issue in women.
  • The follicular phase is shown to be a more anabolic time overall allowing women to engage in more cardio based exercise with less chance of losing muscle as well as derive enhanced lean tissue gains from weight training. The luteal phase is more of a catabolic time for muscle tissue making long-duration cardio less beneficial and higher protein diets more prudent. There is some evidence the luteal phase has a greater EPOC and afterburn effect associated with it.
  • Oral contraceptive pills provide clues as to some of the effects stated above. The progestin only OCPs show a greater tendency toward weight gain in studies. The traditional biphasic OCPs show less of an effect illustrating increased metabolic rate along with increased energy intake. This lends credibility to the estrogen and progesterone effects stated above. HRT in menopausal women indeed seems to result in weight gain, but does seem to spare the belly fat accumulation that can occur in menopausal women (this may be the anti-cortisol impact of estrogen and progesterone).
  • As stated previously, much of the impact of female reproductive hormones is a mute point if background insulin levels are too high. Their influence seems to be exerted only under low carbohydrate intake and consistent training states.
  • (above From Dr. Jade Teta @Metabolic Effect)
  • It may be the best time to do HIIT

    The best workout to do during your period? High-intensity interval training, Sims says. “When your period starts, your estrogen and progesterone levels drop. And because of this, women can access carbohydrate/glycogen easily, as compared to high-estrogen time periods [when we] rely more on the slow breakdown of fat.” In other words, this hormone shift makes fuel more accessible to your body, allowing you to push harder and get more out of short, fast-paced workouts than you would during other times of the month.RELATED: 6 Things You Should Know About Having Sex During Your Period

  • (above from Health.com – http://www.health.com/menstruation/5-things-to-know-about-exercising-during-your-period )
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