“Women aren’t small men, so we shouldn’t train like them.” – Stacy Sims, PhD, Physiology of the Female Athlete
Hack and harness the power of your hormones with cycle syncing – the art of adapting your workouts and nutrition to your menstrual cycle…
Smashing your workout one week, then struggling to meet your fitness goals the next? Don’t panic, it’s probably due to your hormones.
Our levels of oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone fluctuate dramatically depending on where we are within our menstrual cycles, which can lead to changes in our mood, endurance, strength and flexibility.
At times this can often feel infuriating, confusing and frustrating; it’s easy to feel as though your body is turning against you. The word hormone is often associated with negative connotations and conversations surrounding them are frequently met with fear, anxiety and apprehension. For people with periods, hormones play a vital role in our everyday lives. Therefore, in understanding, accepting, and embracing our menstrual cycles, hormones are no longer the enemy, rather an ally in providing happy and healthy lifestyles. Learning to go with your flow is the key to maximising your training regime, reducing risk of injury, and allowing you to work with your body, rather than against it.
The Four Phases of Cycle Syncing
*Note: the days listed below are an average time span for each phase – each individual cycle is unique and may vary.
Day 1-5: Menstruation
The hormones oestrogen and progesterone are at their lowest point of the cycle. As the lining of the uterus is shed, iron levels decrease producing feelings of low energy and fatigue.
- Exercise: Listen to your body
Focus on rest and rejuvenation. Be kind to yourself with slow and steady state exercise, such as pilates, yoga, walking and gentle strength sessions. Stretching can be helpful in alleviating painful period cramps.
- Nutrition: Nourish your needs
Key foods and nutrients: Iron, zinc, high fibre carbohydrates, vitamin C, vitamin B12 and omega 3 fatty acids.
Eat comforting and warming slow cooked stews and soups filled with iron rich meats, fish and leafy greens. Steer away from caffeine, alcohol and salty foods.
Day 6-14: Follicular Phase
On the lead up to fertility oestrogen and progesterone gradually rise, leading to increased energy levels and mental alertness.
- Exercise: Increase workout intensity
In the lead up to ovulation your body will respond well to higher intensity workouts. Now is the time to add sprint sessions, HIIT, boxing and strength training to your routine.
- Nutrition: Fill up on fresh and fermented foods
Key foods and nutrients: Fibre, fermented foods, antioxidants, vitamin E, phytoestrogen foods, cruciferous vegetables.
Incorporate foods that will help detoxify and metabolise oestrogen. Focus on sprouted and fermented foods such as broccoli, kimchi and sauerkraut.
Day 15-17: Ovulation
During ovulation testosterone and progesterone levels rise and oestrogen peaks. Libido, fertility and confidence are at an all-time high.
- Exercise: High energy, high impact
You feel your most sociable self during your fertile period. High impact group workouts such as bootcamp, spin or HIIT classes are perfect for embracing your social side while getting a great workout in.
- Nutrition: Focus on fibre
Key foods and nutrients: Fibre, zinc, magnesium, vitamin B.
Fill up on fibre rich veggies like asparagus, brussels sprouts and spinach. Increasing consumption of zinc (meat, shellfish, legumes, seeds) can assist progesterone production. Keep magnesium levels high.
Day 18-28: Luteal Phase
Oestrogen and progesterone levels are high. However, when the egg isn’t fertilised hormone levels decrease which causes a reduction in serotonin, causing PMS symptoms as your body prepares for another period cycle.
- Exercise: Do what feels good
When feeling irritable and tired due to PMS, try boosting your mood through endorphin releasing exercise which will leave you on a high. As your hormones drop ease back to lighter activities such as yoga, dance classes and walking.
- Nutrition: Curb your cravings
Key foods and nutrients: Thiamine, omega 3 fatty acids, magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin B6.
Eat foods that will enable the production of serotonin such as leafy greens, quinoa, and buckwheat. Magnesium-rich foods will help combat fatigue and low libido such as dark chocolate and almonds.
Healthy Helena’s App Hotlist:
Featured below are some amazing apps to help you track and hack your menstrual cycle.
– Helena Holdsworth
Featured Image Source: Pexels