As a woman, you face some challenges that guys don’t.
One of the most obvious is the menstrual cycle.
Not only can this affect your mood and daily routine, but it can also throw your diet and training plans for a loop.
If you’ve read anything about the science behind good ol’ Aunt Flo, then you probably know that it can affect your metabolism, how easily your body stores fat, and your appetite.
Your hunger and cravings intensify and your energy and enthusiasm for training wane during your period, all of which works to sabotage your fitness routine.
What should you do when this happens?
Should you stop training and start eating whatever you want, and then try to make up the damage later?
Should you force yourself to stick to your normal diet and training plan, gutting it out until you feel good again?
Or, should you modify your diet and training plan to minimize the meddling of your menses? And if so, how?
You’re going to learn the answers to all of these questions in this podcast.
You’ll learn . . .
- What science has to say about how the menstrual cycle affects your mood, hunger, energy levels, and enthusiasm for training.
- How to modify your training plan during your period to get the most out of your workouts.
- How to stay on track with your diet despite period-induced cravings and hunger pangs.
- And more.
Let’s get started.
4:00 – What goes on during the menstrual cycle?
9:05 – How does the menstrual cycle affect athletic performance?
12:52 – How can I modify my workouts to my menstrual cycle?
Mentioned on the show:
What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
Hello and welcome to another episode of Muscle for Life. I’m your host, Mike Matthews. Thank you for joining me today. Uh, this episode is for women who face challenges that us. Guys don’t. And a very obvious one is the menstrual cycle because not only does this affect mood and routine, it also can throw your diet and your training plans for a loop.
And if you have learned anything about the science behind good old ant flow, you probably know that it can affect your metabolism. It affects how your body stores. It impacts your appetite. Many women know that, of course, hunger and cravings, intensify and energy and enthusiasm for training fall precipitously for many women while they are on their period.
And all that makes it harder for women to achieve their fitness goals, even if they’re just looking to maintain their body composition, to maintain their physique. And this podcast is going to. Practical. I’m not going to explain all of the effects and all of the details that women know firsthand. I’m gonna be talking about what you can do about it, how you can modify how you eat, and how you train to stay on track during your period, at least to not fall behind, and especially when cutting.
I’ve heard from many women over the years who struggle most when cutting where they. Follow the plan fairly well for a few weeks of the year and then lose one or two weeks worth of progress during their period, which can be very frustrating. I understand. So if you are one of those women, this podcast is going to help you.
And if you are not, if things are not that dramatic for you when you are on your period minimally, you will learn how to mitigate some of the. Negative side effects and enjoy your workouts a bit more and better manage hunger and cravings even if that is not a huge issue for you. I’m sure you deal with it to some degree and also just feel as good as you possibly can while menstruating.
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Okay, so let’s start this episode with a quick overview of the menstrual cycle. What’s going on here? Well, there are hormonal and physiological changes that are occurring in a woman’s body every 28 days or so to prepare her for pregnancy, and it’s controlled by the rising and. Falling blood levels of the hormones, estrogen and progesterone.
And the cycle begins with menes or menstruation, which is the bleeding that occurs as the uterine lining is leaving the body. That is the period phase, right? And it typically lasts three to five days, and it is the beginning of the first phase of the menstrual cycle, which is referred to as the foll.
Phase, and there are two parts of the follicular phase. You have the early phase, which is roughly days one to seven of the menstrual cycle. Then you have the late follicular phase, which would be days eight to 14. And during the early follicular phase, that is a bit of a tongue twister. Estrogen levels are fairly low, but then estrogen levels rise and they peak during the late follicular phase.
Now progesterone levels remain fairly low during most of. Follicular phase early and late, but they do begin to rise at the end of this first phase of the menstrual cycle. Now, higher estrogen levels reduce hunger and cravings for fatty sugary foods and high estrogen levels also improve insulin sensitivity.
And they help stabilize blood sugar levels and reduce fat storage in the lower body, in the abdomen in particular, and they increase concentrations of a compound called a m. Activated protein kinase also just generally referred to as A M P K, which boosts fat burning in the body. Now. Estrogen positively affects training by reducing inflammation and free radical damage.
It also boosts muscle growth and recovery, and it reduces muscle soreness after weightlifting. A study conducted by scientists at Northumbria University found that the more estrogen you have in your blood, the harder you can contract your muscles and. Progesterone you have in your blood, the less hard you can contract your muscles.
So for working out high, estrogen is good and high progesterone is not so good. Especially of course if you are training your muscles, if you’re doing any type of resistance training now. Around the 14th day of the follicular phase, the egg passes from the ovary to the fallopian tube in a process that is known as ovulation.
And this marks the end of this follicular phase and the middle of the menstrual cycle. And it is the beginning of the ludial phase, which also has early and late. Subphases you could say, or subdivisions. The early lal phase comprises roughly days 15 to 21 of the menstrual cycle, and then the late lal phase would be days 22 to 28 or so.
Now shortly after ovulation, estrogen levels. Fall and progesterone levels rise, and that’s what causes many unpleasant physical and mental side effects. And physiologically speaking, there are some interesting things happening in the body. So insulin sensitivity drops, which increases the proportion of calories that are stored as.
Fat and also contributes to sleepiness and mood swings the production of two enzymes that increase fat storage rise, and these enzymes are oscillation stimulating protein A S P, and lip protein Lipase, L P L. And in the case of L P L, research shows that it. Especially increases fat storage in the hips, butt, and thighs.
Testosterone’s ability to support muscle growth and muscle recovery is interfered with tendon. Strength is reduced, and tendon recovery is reduced. The body’s ability to metabolize glucose, blood sugar for fuel decreases and that reduces the capacity for high intensity exercise. The brain’s ability to recruit to activate muscle fiber.
Reduces, and that of course decreases strength and athletic performance and blood sugar levels become destabilized and that can increase hunger. It also can cause energy and mood swings. Now there is a positive effect of the higher progesterone levels, and that is that it can boost metabolic rate anywhere from about two and a half to 10% above base.
But the downside is unless you are controlling your calorie intake, that is not likely to help you get leaner because of course it is fairly easy to wipe out the extra calories, especially if it’s at most 150, maybe 200 extra calories, uh, per day being burned. That’s a cookie, right? So then as we move through the gluteal phase and we get toward the end of it, estrogen and progesterone levels are both low, and then that contributes to what is known as pre-menstrual syndrome PMs, and that causes symptoms like fatigue, irritability, head and muscle aches, digestive problems and diarrhea, poor coordination and concentration and mood swing.
Now, how does all of that impact athletic performance? Well, there are two recent research reviews that provide several clues about how the menstrual cycle affects athletic performance in women. Now. The first was conducted by scientists at the University of Oklahoma, and it looked how the menstrual cycle or looked at how the menstrual cycle affected different endurance related measures in women.
with a natural menstrual cycle, and the results were a bit of a mixed bag. One study that the review looked at found that women could contract their quads longer during the LAL phase than the follicular phase, whereas two other studies found that they contract their forearm muscles longer during the follicular phase than the ludial phase.
And then there were six other similar studies that found women’s performance was more or less the same regardless of what phase. They were in, there were 10 studies that looked at cycling endurance, and one found women had greater endurance during the lal. Phase one found they had greater endurance during the follicular phase.
And then there were eight other studies that found no difference whatsoever. And as far as running endurance goes, the results of the. Review were more or less the same. Some studies showed more endurance earlier on in the menstrual cycle. Some showed more endurance later, and some showed no difference whatsoever.
The results were also about the same with the research that looked at how women rated the. Difficulty of their workouts, their rating of perceived exertion, r p e of their workouts. Some women said their workouts felt harder during the lal phase. Some said that it was the opposite, and others said they really didn’t notice a difference one way or another.
So what can we take from those results? Well, what they show is that endurance doesn’t seem to change much across the menstrual cycle, and some people just respond differently to different phases of the menstrual cycle. So this would be a, a matter of just knowing your. Body and paying attention to how your endurance is in the early part of your menstrual cycle versus the later part, and how hard your endurance workouts feel early and later in your menstrual cycle.
Now that’s endurance. What about strength? Well, we have another review here from. Researchers at LRO University and this one looked at how strength fluctuates in women with a normal cycle in each phase of the cycle. And what the researchers found is that no matter how the studies measured strength, it really didn’t seem to change much across the.
Entire cycle. They found there was no relationship between strength and estrogen and progesterone levels, for example. And it is worth noting though, that that’s probably because of the way that studies on this have been conducted. It’s very difficult for researchers to. Accurately determine which phase of the menstrual cycle women are in at any one time.
And there were also many other variables that could have impacted strength in the studies that were reviewed in this review, like diet, sleep, stress, and stimulants. And although it was not statistically significant, there was a trend for women to perform better in the follicular phase. And. Gluteal phase during ovulation and a slight trend for women to be weaker during the later gluteal phase and during menstruation.
And those findings are reflected in other studies that were not included in the review.
If you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, definitely check out my sports nutrition company Legion, which thanks to the support of many people like you, is the leading brand of all natural sports supplements in the world. So what can you do with that information? How can you make use of that?
Well, I would say don’t modify your workout plan to coincide with the phases of your menstrual cycle. If you don’t notice much of a difference in your strength or endurance and you make good progress following your current routine, there’s no reason to make something more complicated if it doesn’t have to be.
If however, you feel like your strength or your. Endurance or maybe your motivation to train just takes a nose dive before and during your period, and maybe you also notice that in that time your progress stalls or maybe you just like tinkering with your training program to see if you can get a little bit more out of the work you’re doing then.
You could make some beneficial changes. For example, a smart way to optimize your workouts in relation to your menstrual cycle would be to plan more intense workouts during the first three weeks of the cycle, followed by easier workouts during the last week and during more intense. Workouts, you should push aggressively to progressively overload your muscles to add weight to the bar and to gain reps.
And there are many ways of doing that. There are many different models. If you are following my thin, leaner, stronger program, you’re using double progression. If you are following. My Beyond, bigger, leaner, stronger program, even if you’re a woman, and I understand that beyond bigger, leaner, stronger doesn’t sound like it is applicable to women at all.
However, the fundamentals are very applicable to women, and the programming can be easily tweaked to provide more lower body volume and less upper body volume, which is what most women prefer. For most women, it’s gonna take a lot more work to get the lower body they want than the upper body. And for most guys, it’s the other way around.
And if you are a. Interested in doing that in following a feminized version of Beyond Bigger, leaner, stronger. I’d recommend reading the book first and then sending me an email. And the reason I recommend reading the book first is to run the program 100% correctly. You are going to want to understand the theoretical underpinnings.
You’re gonna wanna understand the nuts and bolts of how the program works. Don’t want to just blindly follow the spreadsheet that may work, but trust me, you’re gonna do better on the program if you read the book first. So read the book and then send me an email, [email protected] and I will help you change up the programming so it better suits your preferences unless you like the programming as it is and you want to focus a bit more on your upper body than.
Lower body. Anyway, getting back on track here. So this point was during these intense workouts, be aggressive. Really try to push yourself in your training. Don’t be stupid, of course. Uh, use good form and don’t crush yourself with insane amounts of volume. But don’t be afraid to push when you feel like you really can push when you feel like you have more energy and you’re stronger than.
Now, I mentioned earlier that high estrogen levels decreases hunger, and it does this primarily by increasing the production of a hormone called leptin. That decreases hunger, that tells your body it is sufficiently fed and it doesn’t have to ravenously, consume food. Now as estrogen levels fall though, like they do after ovulation, leptin sinks, and then hunger and craving.
Increase. Now, estrogen also increases the production of serotonin and dopamine, which reduce hunger and cravings as well. And then of course, as estrogen levels fall, so do serotonin and dopamine levels, which only further increases hunger and cravings. Now, serotonin also improves mood and feelings of wellbeing, but the body requires some carbs to optimize serotonin production.
And one of the reasons many women. Crave carbs before their period is probably because their body is encouraging them to boost serotonin production and thus boost their mood and carbs. Get the job done. Now that’s great in all, but the problem is many women get their fix from highly refined, very calorie dense carbs.
Carbs that also contain a lot of fat. For example, usually in the. Oil and butter, so you know, cakes and other pastries, breakfast cereals, candy, potato chips, ice cream, and other not so nutritious stuff. Now, what should we do with all of that information? Well, during the first two weeks of your menstrual cycle, You should find that your hunger and energy levels and mood are all fairly stable.
Cravings should be minimal and you really shouldn’t have to change anything about your diet to stay on track. That said, to mitigate the increase in hunger and cravings that accompany the next couple of weeks, I recommend being looser. With your meal planning during the follicular phase when you are least likely to overeat.
So if you are planning some delicious cheat meals, maybe some restaurant outings with friends, try to schedule those earlier on during the follicular phase when you are less likely to turn that sheet meal. Into maybe a cheat day or a cheat week. I also would recommend that you really try to follow your meal plan as well as you can during the LAL phase.
This is when you are going to want to overeat and a meal plan. That, of course, can include foods you like, but. Just, uh, a meal plan that controls your calories. Has you Eating plenty of protein is going to give you, uh, some guardrails to keep you on the road. It’s okay if you make some mistakes. Of course, we can afford to make mistakes.
We don’t have to be perfect with any of this. We just have to be good enough most of the time. And I would also recommend that you eat slightly more calories during your lal phase, or at least immediately before and during your period if you. The need, and if not, just eat the same number of calories during your entire menstrual cycle.
But many women find that by increasing their calorie intake by maybe 10 or 15% over their normal, it really helps mitigate the issues related to appetite and cravings and also mood because eating more food feels. Good, and especially when you’re cutting, and especially if you’ve been cutting for some time.
Now, as far as supplements go, unfortunately there aren’t many options that are going to work for most women. However, there is one that has been shown to consistently mitigate or even. Eliminate the side effects of menstruation, including cramping, breast tenderness, headaches, anxiety, and irritability. And that is chased berry.
And if you wanna learn more about that, head over to legion athletics.com and check out our multivitamin. It’s called Triumph. And select the one that is for women and it has chased berry in it. And if you go down to the ingredients in, use part of the sales page, or if you scroll down to where the ingredients are, explain.
One at a time in detail, you can learn about Chase Berry and the other goodies that Triumph has in it specifically for women. Alright, well that is it for this episode. I hope you found it helpful and definitely keep an eye on that podcast feed because I have other great stuff coming. Like an interview with Pat Flynn on Religion, another installment of Best of Muscle for Life, where I share hand-picked morsels from the most popular episodes I have done over the years, as well as another.
A, and that is going to be q and a of the week. I’m gonna be doing a q and a episode every week. Looking forward to that. And then moving forward, I’m gonna be talking about partial reps. Should you be doing partial reps to get bigger and stronger, faster and more. All right. Well, that’s it for this episode.
I hope you enjoyed it and found it interesting and helpful. And if you did, and you don’t mind doing me a favor, please do leave a quick review on iTunes or. Wherever you’re listening to me from, in whichever app you’re listening to me in, because that not only convinces people that they should check out the show, it also increases search visibility, and thus, it helps more people find their way to me and learn how to get fitter, leaner, stronger, healthier, and happier as well.
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I read everything myself, and I’m always looking for constructive feedback, even if it. Criticism, I’m open to it and of course you can email me if you have positive feedback as well, or if you have questions really relating to anything that you think I could help you with, definitely send me an email.
That is the best way to get ahold of me, Mike, at muscle life.com. And that’s it. Thanks again for listening to this episode, and I hope to hear from you soon.