Women Can Use Hormone Levels to Actually Improve Training During Their Menstrual Cycle
(This is one is a series of articles about specific training information and advice from Dr. Stacy Sims’ book, Roar. If you are a female athlete, or coach female athletes, this book is required reading. It changed everything for me as a male coach!)
While the high-hormone pre-menstrual phase can cause more fatigue and a slight decrease in performance, Sims argues, with some supplements and tweaks to fueling, women can improve training during their menstrual cycle.
When women are in the low hormone phases, primarily when their periods start, they can actually make greater strength gains and produce more force during low-hormone phase!
Don’t Try To Avoid Your Period
Training, racing, working out will actually feel easier starting day one of the period.
However, during high-hormone days, exercise can be more challenging, and performance can be affected.
Women can improve training during their menstrual cycle by being aware of their body’s changes during the high-hormone days.
- A high level of estrogen causes your body to use fats instead of glycogen (stored glucose/carb), which reduces available high-intensity fuel for big efforts.
- High progesterone delays sweat response, turns up core temperature, increases sodium loss, increases muscle breakdown, and hinders your ability to synthesize muscle because you can’t access protein and amino acids.
- Increased estrogen and progesterone cause bloating (fluids into cells), decrease blood plasma, and makes you pre-disposed to fatigue.
- High estrogen levels cause you to have a hard time using glycogen as fuel when you exercise intensely, and instead rely on fat stores.
- Elevated hormone levels make it more difficult to regulate blood sugar levels, breathing rates, and body temperature, which may affect aerobic capacity and strength.
- Bloating caused by hormones can reduce plasma volume in blood, which makes exercise feel more difficult.
Prepare Your Body Before Exercising During High Hormone Levels
To improve training during your menstrual cycle, Sims suggest doing some preparatory fueling during the PMS phase of your cycle.
- Start drinking before workout. If you’re exercising in the heat, preload sodium the night before (high-sodium chicken soup, for example). Optimum mix is 7.7g sodium citrate and 4.5g sodium chloride.
- Prepare for menstrual cramps by taking magnesium, omega-e fatty acids, and low dose 80mg aspirin. This preparation may also help with GI issues.
- If you tend to get headaches along with the cramps, stay hydrated and eat more nitric-oxide foods like beets, spinach prior to your period.
- Be grateful you do endurance sports. High hormones cause difficulties in spatial recognition, which can be tough with sports requiring a lot of hand-eye coordination.
- BCAAs, especially leucine, can help mitigate some of the emotional mood swings
Women Can Improve Training During Their Menstrual Cycle By Paying Attention to What The Body Needs
Sims says that if you are doing high-intensity training, you’ll need more carbs since estrogen reduces your carbohydrate-burning capacity (biologically probably to help you store glycogen in case of famine or pregnancy).
Aim for about 10 to 15 grams of protein and 40g of carb prior to any workout longer than 90 minutes, and add carbs with protein/fat during exercise.
Haribo gummy bears are made with glucose, which can be more easily absorbed as fuel.
And keep in mind that when determining training intensities, your VO2 max and lactate threshold stay consistent throughout your cycle for endurance athletes.
So you don’t need to adjust your target heart rate or power numbers.
Inadequate Fueling Can Cause Major Issues
If you miss periods, it is likely caused by inadequate nutrition.
Women who miss their periods are not getting enough good fuel from food.
If women eat too few carbohydrates, their bodies think “famine” and then store more fat to compensate.
This is why so many women struggle with intermittent fasting and low-carb, high-fat diets.
Use the RED-S scanning tool to monitor your risk level with training.
Sims Action Plan for Power So Women Can Improve Training During Their Menstrual Cycle
Peak performance during PMS: 250mg of magnesium; 45mg zinc; 80mg aspirin (baby aspirin), and 1g of omega -3 fatty acids (flaxseed and fish oil) each night before your period starts.
Pre-Training: 5 to 7g BCAA.
In Training: Consume a few more carbohydrates per hour.
In high-hormone phase, aim for 0.45g of carbohydrate per pound of body weight per hour.
Post-Training: Recovery is critical. Progesterone inhibits recovery. Consume 20 to 25g of protein after a workout. Aim to consume 0.9 to 1g of protein per pound per day.