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The hormonal cycle and strength athletes


Here is a brief summary:

  1. The menstrual cycle has a major impact on a woman's metabolic state and training results
  2. The follicular phase is the period during which women should focus on progress. This phase is characterized by a higher pain tolerance and increased endurance.
  3. Insulin sensitivity is higher during the follicular phase. As a result, the body will preferentially use carbohydrates to provide energy for muscle gains.
  4. During ovulation, high estrogen levels can make women more susceptible to injury.
  5. During the luteal phase, the female body will rely more on fat as an energy source.

Your hormones control you

You work hard every time you enter the gym. You give 100% of your effort and make sure you eat right. You think you're doing everything right, but could there be something you're not aware of that's hindering your results? Your hormones are controlling you every single day. You are aware of the fact that testosterone, the primary male sex hormone, is responsible for making men more muscular, stronger and more aggressive. But what about your hormones? As a woman, you go through a series of events every month known as the female menstrual cycle. What most women don't realize, however, is the impact this cycle can have on your metabolic status and training results. Let's take a closer look at this topic and explain what's going on. The good news is that once you understand the effects of these hormones and their fluctuations, you can adjust your program to overcome potential obstacles and use these fluctuations to your advantage to accelerate your training results.

A refresher on the female cycle

The first thing to keep in mind is that we are talking about premenopausal women who are not using hormonal contraceptives. Your cycle begins immediately after the end of your period with the follicular phase, which lasts from day 0 to 14. This phase is characterized by rising estrogen levels, normal progesterone levels and an average body temperature.

From here you move to ovulation, which occurs around day 14. When this happens, your estrogen levels peak and your progesterone levels begin to rise. You will also notice that you start to feel warmer. From day 15 to 28 of your cycle, you will enter the luteal phase, during which your oestrogen levels will drop, your progesterone levels will rise and your body temperature will remain elevated. This is followed by menstruation and everything starts all over again. Now let's talk about what happens during each of these phases.

The follicular phase: Eat carbohydrates and train harder:

When it comes to your workouts, the follicular phase, including the ovulation phase, is the period during which you should focus on making progress. This phase is characterized by a higher pain tolerance, the greatest capacity for strength production and increased endurance. Your body will preferentially use muscle glycogen during this phase to give you training energy, which makes a carbohydrate-rich training diet important.

In addition to this, your insulin sensitivity will be higher during this phase, so you should focus on higher carbohydrate intake or refeeds during intense, carb-draining workouts. Your body will be more inclined to use these carbohydrates to drive muscle gains. These intense workouts, combined with the metabolism-boosting refeeds, will also help to counteract a reduction in your resting metabolic rate that occurs during this time. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that basal metabolic rate decreased during menstruation and continued to drop until it reached its lowest point one week before ovulation.

The ovulation phase - try to set new personal bests:

During ovulation, your strength will still be high and you will likely be at your highest strength production capacity during this phase. If you want to set new personal bests, this is the best time to try. A study published in the Journal of Physiology found that women showed an 11% increase in quadriceps strength and grip strength during ovulation. However, you should be aware that your risk of injury may be higher during this phase. As estrogen levels reach their highest levels during this phase, this can affect collagen metabolism and also influence neuromuscular control. A study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine found that the risk of ACL injuries during this phase of the cycle is 4 to 8 times higher than during any other phase of the cycle.

So train hard during this time, but take extra care to use good form and watch for accumulation of fatigue. At this point, your metabolic rate will also start to increase, so don't be surprised if you feel a little hungrier. Consider eating a few more calories to provide the body with sufficient energy, but try to consume these extra calories in the form of a balanced mix of protein, carbohydrates and fats as your insulin sensitivity begins to drop.

The luteal phase: Reduce training intensity and lose fat:

Have you ever experienced workouts during which you felt like your body was fighting your every move? If so, there's a good chance this was during the luteal phase. During the luteal phase, when your body temperature will be higher, you will experience a higher cardiovascular load and a reduced time to exhaustion. In addition to this, you may experience water retention due to PMS, which will make it uncomfortable to perform high-intensity activities such as sprints and the like. Furthermore, during the luteal phase, your body will rely more on fat instead of muscle glycogen as an energy source, so it would be a wise decision to perform workouts where fat can be used as an energy source. All of this suggests performing cardio training at a lower intensity in conjunction with moderate intensity strength training. For those suffering from severe fatigue and discomfort, yoga could be an alternative, as studies suggest that yoga could reduce the duration and intensity of PMS symptoms.

From a metabolic perspective, your metabolism will be at its highest point during this phase. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that your metabolic rate will be around 7.7% higher than normal and you will also experience a greater thermic effect from food as your body will burn more calories than usual during digestion. What you need to watch out for during this phase, however, is an increased craving for carbohydrate-rich foods. Your serotonin production will be lower and this can promote low mood and irritability. Your instinct will be to eat more carbohydrates as these can cause a rapid increase in serotonin levels, which can cause an immediate improvement in mood and a natural high. However, as your insulin sensitivity reaches its lowest point during this phase and as you have to reduce the intensity of your training sessions due to the faster onset of fatigue, you should make sure to keep your carbohydrate intake under control. Due to the higher metabolic rate and more moderate training intensity, this is a perfect time to lower your carbohydrate and calorie intake to boost fat burning. Some women will also experience nausea during this phase due to PMS symptoms, so a reduction in food intake could be quite welcome. To counteract a reduction in serotonin levels and alleviate carbohydrate cravings, you can consider supplementing with serotonin or 5-HTP or eating foods rich in tryptophan such as turkey, skimmed milk, soybeans or pumpkin seeds, as tryptophan is an important precursor for serotonin production.

The menstrual phase:

When menstruation finally starts, you will begin to feel more like yourself again. The PMS symptoms will subside, your body temperature will return to normal and your water retention will disappear. This makes the menstrual phase a good time to transition to more intense workouts as your body transitions to the follicular phase. Your metabolic rate will be on the way down and your insulin sensitivity will increase, which is why you should switch to a mixed diet with a more moderate calorie intake that is neither high nor low in carbohydrates.

Then, when your body transitions back to the follicular phase, you can start incorporating high-carb refeed phases to try to build more lean muscle mass.

Let your hormones work for you

By taking into account how your hormonal cycle affects your body during different phases of the month, you can make your training work for you instead of against you. It makes sense to unload during the luteal phase or switch to lighter workouts while eating a low-carb diet to respond appropriately to your metabolic state at this time.

Similarly, it makes sense to focus on maximum intensity and new personal bests during the follicular phase, when energy, strength and insulin sensitivity are at their highest.

By Shannon Clark | 11/19/14 Source:

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