Ask any woman who hasn’t gone through the menopause and they will tell you there is a definite correlation between where they are in their menstrual cycle and how they perform. For optimum results a woman’s training needs to be tailored to where they are in their cycle.

Lets start with a bit of revision! The menstrual cycle is caused by fluctuating levels of hormones. For the majority of women this is on a pretty regular cycle. The average is 28 days but it can vary from 21 to 35 days. There are three phases of the cycle, follicular, ovulation and luteal. Each phase has its own effect on sports performance. So lets have a look at each one in turn.

Follicular phase:

This starts with the first day of bleed. It is also the optimal phase for performance! Logical if you think about it. The body doesn’t need to conserve any energy for a pregnancy so it is all available for you to use. So don’t avoid races and hard training sessions in this phase. This is the phase of the cycle where your body is feeling strong and ready for high intensity work. You will have higher pain tolerance and energy levels. You will be stronger too. This is a great time to make larger strength gains during strength ad conditioning work. 

As oestrogen levels start to rise towards the end of your bleed you can become less efficient at storing carbohydrates for use during training. The evening before a heavy training day make sure you have a few more good quality unprocessed carbs with your evening meal.

Ovulation phase:

Get in your strength and conditioning! Quadriceps appear to respond well to being trained during this phase of the cycle. Be aware there does also seem to be a higher risk of injury in this part of the cycle.

Luteal phase:

This is the phase where pre menstrual syndrome starts to rear its head. It can start seven to ten days before your next bleed.

The body does not want to do high intensity work in this phase. You may start to retain fluids and feel bloated. Your ability to regulate temperature is impaired which makes you more susceptible to heat exhaustion and its effects. The start of sweating is delayed which means you are hotter before your body starts using the sweat mechanism to try and regulate body temperature. Respiratory rate also increases. Exercise feels harder work.

This is the part of the cycle where training sessions feel like moving through treacle. If you are aware of where you are in your cycle you can be mentally prepared for how your sessions may feel and so be ready for it!

How to help yourself:

As I have already said, track your cycle. There are some great apps available to help you to do this. Some pair up with sports watches and download onto training platforms. Do your own research and find the one that works the best for you. After a few months of using it you will be able to really dial in to how your body feels at different parts of your cycle and how it affects you.

Read up on how the hormonal cycle affects women and how their bodies react to training, and nutrition. The amount of research that is based on female athletes and how hormonal cycles affect them is tiny in the grand scheme of research, but it is slowly growing. Keep abreast of the latest research being done if you can. 

A good read is “Roar” by Stacy T. Sims, PhD. It is a mine of useful information for female athletes.

Hopefully this has given food for thought and will prompt some deeper reading on the topic. I can only skim the headlines in a blog so go and dive into the deep wells on information out there.

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