16 September 2021
How menstrual cycle phases influence training
Why does it make sense to keep an eye on the hormonal cycle when training? Because it can sometimes have a big impact on fitness levels and training intensity.
If you know what is going on in your body in which phase of the cycle and how the hormones work at what time, you have an advantage. Because the cycle of people with uterus influences the fitness level - a little differently every day. "So, it's obvious that we also have different needs in the different phases," says personal trainer, coach and nutrition expert Anastasia Plechinger from eathletics in Vienna. She deals with the effects of the cycle phases on training and nutrition and adapts her clients' fitness plans accordingly. Because with the right knowledge, training can be optimally coordinated and thus more can be extracted from each unit. At the same time, consideration can be given to in which phase the body needs regeneration. So, it is worth taking a closer look inside.
The cycle phases and their processes
The menstrual cycle of people with a uterus lasts 20 to 35 days, which means 28 days on average. It begins with the monthly bleeding, ends with the day before the bleeding and is divided into period, follicular phase, ovulatory phase and luteal phase. Four hormones are involved in regulation during the different phases: Luteotropin (LH), Follitropin (FSH), Progesterone and Oestrogen. In each phase, but also from cycle to cycle, the hormones differ in their concentration and thus affect how the body feels.
To achieve the best results and at the same time avoid unnecessary frustration, it makes sense to adapt the training to the cycle phases.
During bleeding, unneeded endometrium is shed. Oestrogen, LH and FSH are at a low level, Progesterone is no longer produced. Only slowly does the FSH level rise again. For many people this phase is associated with withdrawal, for some also with pain. During menstruation, there can be faster exhaustion, lack of strength and listlessness. Depending on the type, it is more comfortable for some people to pause exercising altogether or to keep moving, but in a more relaxed way.
→ Recommended exercise: Jogging, yoga, stretching, Pilates, walks.
2. Follicular phase:
Stimulated by the hormone Follitropin (FSH), eggs mature in the ovary. In the end, one remains, the others are broken down again. The Oestrogen and LH levels also increase. "In the follicular phase, after menstruation is over, we usually feel very good. We are full of energy, full of power and ideas, feel self-confident and attractive and are less hungry," says Plechinger. Oestrogen rises sharply during this phase and has an anabolic effect, which means it boosts performance. "Now is a good time for heavy training units and coordinatively demanding complex movements. Likewise, muscle building works particularly well now because IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor) is relatively high." A study by the Ruhr University in Bochum also showed that the training effect is maximally high during this phase, especially for strength training.
→ Recommended training: Intensive endurance units, training with weights, climbing, spinning, HIT.
3. Ovulation phase:
The peak of Luteotropin (LH) initiates ovulation and the egg passes from the follicle into the fallopian tube. The oestrogen level reaches its highest level, and FSH is also highly concentrated in the blood. With ovulation comes the first oestrogen drop. "This is when you may experience a drop in performance for the first time, but it doesn't last long because the oestrogen rises again slightly," Plechinger knows. In this phase it is important to listen to the body and train according to feeling, as energy levels can fluctuate greatly.
→ Recommended training: strength training, endurance training such as running, football or badminton, with the option of more relaxed sessions.
4. Luteal phase:
After ovulation, the body secretes progesterone - also called the corpus luteum hormone - to prepare for pregnancy. The lining of the uterus is built up more. However, if fertilisation does not occur, the egg cell dies, progesterone production is stopped and the uterine lining is shed with the next bleeding.
"In the course of the mainly late luteal phase, the oestrogen and progesterone now drop rapidly. This can have no to serious consequences," says Anastasia Plechinger. People affected by the effects have less to no energy, their reaction speed may drop, coordination and motor skills may be impaired, and water retention, depressive moods and emotional rollercoaster rides may occur. "Collectively, these symptoms are known as premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Not every woman experiences PMS the same way, the individual differences are great."
During this phase, an increase in the risk of injury is even observable, says the personal trainer, as the protective effect of oestrogen on ligaments and tendons is gone. "Complex movement patterns can cause problems and weights that were easy to move two weeks ago can seem insurmountable."
→ Recommended training: Reduced sessions, light exercises, cycling, swimming, recovery runs.
What else can influence the cycle - and thus training?
"It is important to mention that this description of the cycle phases is textbook-alike," explains Anastasia Plechinger. "In reality - due to stress, hormonal contraception, illnesses or intensive fitness training, for example - the cycle can deviate greatly from this for some people." So which training is most suitable depends on what the individual cycle looks like. "It is also important for coaches to know that there can be a drop in performance during the PMS phase, for example. Often the clients themselves don't know and are surprised or annoyed."
Nutrition also plays a role
The connections between the cycle and nutrition are also exciting. "Oestrogen can improve insulin sensitivity, which means that carbohydrates can be better utilised in the follicular phase, where oestrogen rises sharply. In the luteal phase, on the other hand, where we need a little more calories, it seems favourable to rely on good fats as an energy source, since oestrogen drops here and insulin sensitivity can suffer," explains nutrition expert Plechinger. Also pay attention to a sufficiently high vitamin D status, as vitamin D is said to have a positive effect on PMS symptoms.
Personal trainer, coach and nutrition expert Anastasia Plechinger from eathletics in Vienna.
Sung, Eunsook [u. a.]: Effects of follicular versus luteal phase-based strength training in young women. Study, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, 2014.