Ladies, we all know that our periods affect our workouts. I, for one, am cramping like crazy—finding the motivation to work out right now is hard, no matter how much chocolate milk I’ve promised myself once I’m done. But it’s not just the cramps and cravings and bloating that has an effect on how we exercise, and, as it turns out, if you understand the relationship, you can get more out of your workouts. And frankly, I’m all about getting as much out of the work I’m doing as possible.
To learn more about the subject, I got in touch with Jade Teta, a holistic physician, personal trainer, and health and wellness consultant and founder of Metabolic Effect.
First things first—a quick tutorial on the different phases of the menstrual cycle (and no, it doesn’t just break down to being “on” or “off” your period).
There are two phases, follicular which begins on the first day of your period and lasts 10-14 days, and the luteal phase. The two phases are separated by ovulation, or the release of an egg from the ovaries, 14 days or so before your next period starts.
“The follicular phase is associated with higher estrogen levels compared to progesterone, while the luteal phase is the reverse,” Teta explains.
So how can we use our menstrual cycle to guide our workouts for maximum effect? Easy!
“Estrogen (higher during the follicular phase) increases the amount of fat burned during exercise, but makes sugar burning less efficient,” Teta says. “Progesterone (higher during the luteal phase) opposes the action of estrogen. Since lower intensity exercise burns more relative amounts of fat, and higher intensity is fueled more by sugar burning, women can cycle their training modalities to work with these fluctuations.”
So, for the first half of your cycle, go for slow and steady longer workouts (like walking, biking or jogging). For the second half, kick up the sprints and interval workouts (sprint and interval training, which can rev your metabolism for hours or even days after your workout).
And, if you’re a strength junkie, don’t worry. Weight training is beneficial across the board, Teta says, although you might want to focus on “traditional weight training during the follicular phase and more metabolic-conditioning weight exercise done in the luteal phase and during menses.”
And remember, diet is still a factor—no matter what phase of your cycle you’re in.
“Research shows that carbohydrate-loaded women—i.e. those eating high-carb diets—will likely wash out any beneficial impact of the menstrual cycle, so, all of the above is likely more beneficial for women dieting or eating [a] fairly low carb [diet].”
Fascinating stuff! Have you noticed a difference in your workouts throughout the month? Tell us about it in the comments! —Kristen