ATTENTION FEMALE ATHLETES:
HERE IS WHY TRACKING YOUR PERIOD CAN HELP YOU GAIN THAT COMPETITIVE EDGE!!
Any female who trains at a high level and especially if they are competing in elite sports, NEED to be tracking their periods, and if you are a female athlete who has lost their period all together, that is not normal and you need to go speak to your doctor about that asap.
Now there are a few very important reasons why tracking your period is so beneficial.
Over the course of your cycle, your hormones are working to help your body prepare for a possible pregnancy. But by doing so, they can affect how you feel physically and may also impact how your body performs. If you track where you are in your cycle, it’s easier to navigate through your training and figure out what your training program is going to look like.
We all know the struggle is very real when it comes to training and performing around your period and that mentally, even getting yourself to training on those days can be difficult. This is where nutrition is going to be one of the key factors to ensuring very little down time. If you are fuelling yourself correctly, you can help give your body the energy it needs to make progress and recover adequately.
There is a saying “the race has already been won before the gun goes off”.
Going into competition knowing that you have done every thing possible to show up on game day at your very best, includes tracking your period. Knowing why you are feeling a little more sluggish than other days and how you can fix it, or even prevent it could be the difference between 1st and 2nd place, or hitting that new PR or not.
I’m going to run you through a crash course on what’s happening within your body during your cycle and how you can work with along side it by periodising your training, looking after your body with good nutrition and minimising any down time.
A woman’s menstrual cycle has such a huge influence on her metabolic state (the rate at which her body processes energy) and her training results.
To help get the most out of your training program, it is super important to pay attention to your body and to know what phase of your cycle you are in. A great way to do this is to track the number of days of your cycle and to also take note of your own premenstrual symptoms. By doing this you will start to notice a pattern and will be prepared when your hormones are making working out feel a little more uncomfortable than usual.
Another reason you should be aware of this is so that you can understand why you may or may not be hitting your training targets or getting PR’s – when all you need to do, is know where you are in your cycle and then know whether or not it’s a good week for you to go for that “PR” or leave it for another time, and adjust your training accordingly.
It is also very important for female athletes who are seeking peak performance, to understand how their hormones can affect their bodies and performance in relation to the menstrual cycle and why understanding it, can help provide that competitive edge both physically and MENTALLY.
A woman’s menstrual cycle is more than just the period. The period is part of the first phase of the cycle. Assuming a typical 28 day cycle, we can break it up into two phases, the follicular phase (days 1-14) and the luteal phase (days 15-28). Day 1 of the cycle is when menstrual bleeding starts.
(The time between the first day of bleeding and ovulation).
For the first part of the follicular phase you will be menstruating. As you progress through and finish menstruation, levels of the hormone estrogen will gradually rise as an egg is being prepared to be released from the ovaries. This phase is considered to be a “low hormone phase” where there is not a lot of strain felt on the body.
As we are more estrogen-dominant during this phase, we are able to adapt better to our training. This means that you can experience higher levels of perceived energy, higher pain tolerance and increased levels of endurance. So in regards to training, this would be a great time to focus on progress, pushing harder and lifting heavier.
Staying on top of your nutrition will also determine whether or not you are going to be on top of your game, hit your training targets and perform when you need to especially leading into the next phase, where your hormones really start to kick in and effect every system in your body.
During the follicular phase, we tend to conserve glycogen (carbohydrate) stores but have an increased ability to burn and use fat as a fuel source. But, in order for our bodies to still be able to perform and compete at their best, we are going to need more carbohydrates during this phase. So be sure to continue consuming adequate amounts from good quality sources (Rice, quinoa, sweet potato, fruits, vegetables, oats). If you need more help with nutrition, check out our easy to follow nutrition guide that we have put together.
Using fat as a fuel source is ok for longer endurance activities where you are working at a lower intensity or slow steady pace but if you want to be working at a higher intensity threshold, you will need to make sure you are consuming adequate carbohydrates to be able to fuel movement at the appropriate intensities.
This means during the follicular phase, consume a diet with adequate carbohydrates and a regular intake of protein. (Remember ladies, carbs are not the enemy, they are just fuel). This will not only help improve performance, but will also aid in recovery and help you to avoid feeling flat.
During ovulation, very little metabolic stress is felt on the body which is a great time to focus on your progress and increasing intensity and volume.
The down side of this phase is that you will be more prone to injury. This is because the bodies estrogen and relaxin hormone levels will be at their highest. This causes the muscles, joints and ligaments to become relaxed (Especially the joints of the pelvis, as it allows them to stretch during delivery). This means when you are on the gym floor, more than ever correct technique is going to be your number one priority!!
Have you ever had a workout where you feel like your body is totally working against you and you are not feeling like your usual self? There’s a good chance this has occurred during the luteal phase of your cycle and it’s not just all in your head.
This phase occurs after ovulation (when the ovaries release an egg) and lasts about 14 days, it will end before your next period starts. During this time, levels of the hormone progesterone will rise to thicken the lining of the uterus and prepare for a possible pregnancy.
Roughly 5 days before your period starts, estrogen and progesterone levels both peak and are the main culprits for those lovely pre menstrual symptoms that some women can experience. This is why the luteal phase is considered as a “high hormone” phase.
Progesterone raises the basal body temperature (body temp. at rest) preparing the body for a fertilised egg to flourish and grow. As body temperature will be higher than normal, an increase in cardiovascular strain as well as a quicker fatigue rate may also be experienced.
There is a change in thermoregulation (how the body deals with heat stress) which can delay the time it takes for the body to start sweating (sweating is how the body cools itself down).
Some women can feel “bloated” or that they are “retaining fluid” in the days leading up to their period. This is due to the drop in plasma volume and as plasma is primarily what allows us to sweat, it can make working out during this phase uncomfortable. The rate at which we begin to sweat is slower, which leads to an elevated core temperature and with lower plasma comes thicker blood, which results in slower blood flow between muscles, this means a slower recovery time due to the build-up of lactic acid in the muscles and compromised oxygen delivery.
And as the cherry on top, progesterone can contribute to pre menstrual symptoms such as breast tenderness, acne, headaches and mood swings. It can also decrease activity in the intestines which can cause constipation…… happy days…..
So during this phase, consider lowering the intensity or load of your workouts to a rate that will still challenge you but not overexert you. Think of this phase as more of a maintenance phase of your training. Look after your self, consider working to “RPE” during this phase. (Unless you’re having to compete in competition that week, then sorry babe, you will need to suck it up and make sure your nutrition, hydration, recovery and sleep are all on point!!).
Progesterone also promotes protein catabolism, so in regards to your nutrition, ensure that you are consuming enough protein in your diet during this phase as well as still including carbs and healthy fats.
Hydration is also going to be key in regards to performance. Typically, endurance performance is at it’s highest when our plasma volumes are high (like in the follicular phase). So while we are in the luteal phase, we have to pay close attention to hydration. Again, while we are in this high hormone phase, our core temp is slightly higher, it takes longer for our bodies to start sweating and our heat tolerance is reduced so staying on top of water intake will help to lessen the effects felt on your body.
As menstruation finally gets under way, you will start to feel like your old self again. Premenstrual symptoms will subside, body temperature will return to normal and water retention will clear.
This is now a good time to ramp up your training and focus on increasing the intensity during workouts as you cycle back into the follicular phase.
As women, we are all different and so are our cycles, and while this advice may be great for some it may not be so great for others. So it is really important that you listen to your body and are aware of the changes that occur within it.
Also, depending on your age, stage of life and what your training goals are, you may find that you might benefit greatly from speaking to a nutritionist. They can help to ensure that you are getting enough nutrients, vitamins and minerals as well as the right amounts of fats, carbs, proteins and calories for your energy needs and performance requirements.