In recent weeks a lot has been mentioned in the media about the menstrual cycle and how it can potentially affect women and their physical performance. This has come following Heather Watson (British female tennis player) saying that her recent loss may be due to her menstrual cycle. She said that she suffered from dizziness, nausea, low-energy levels and periods of feeling light-headed. Sound familiar to you?
We would certainly struggle to be able to perform at the best if we were suffering from these symptoms, but there are ways to manage and of course the symptoms will be different for different people, so some may suffer more than others. However you can overcome some of the issues that may affect your gym performance by taking certain measures, the aim is to make you feel as comfortable as possible.
1. During the luteal phase the female body core temperature rises much higher than during the follicular phase. This means that when the weather is hot, it may be better to avoid intense workouts (i.e. legs day), which raise your temperature further. This is because you may otherwise become very hot and very uncomfortable and not be able to maintain your maximum effort and intensity.
2. It is always key to remain hydrated and maintain blood iron levels. During the menstrual cycle much iron in the blood can be lost and so may cause low-energy levels and fatigue. Consequently, it is important to maintain an adequate amount of iron intake through food sources such as red meat, pork, seafood and dark leafy green vegetables. This will help to maintain iron levels and subsequently, energy levels at this particular time of the menstrual cycle.
3. Hydration is also vitally important, particularly when the core body temperature rises during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. The water can help to keep you cool during your workout and so can help to keep you hydrated and also less hot and uncomfortable. Enabling you to produce maximal effort each workout.
These are all measures that can be taken to help alleviate symptoms that may affect your workout performance, and enable you to perform as well as possible during the cycle.
But can the menstrual cycle also affect your weight and fat loss capabilities?
We are sure most of you have been victim of the weight gain associated with water retention during your period. Despite it happening all very quickly, it is also gone just as quickly. However, what we must highlight is that the menstrual cycle can actually have an effect on the body’s ability to burn fat.
Very simply, the first 14 days of the month during the follicular phase, heightening levels of oestrogen (female sex hormone) means the body is more insulin sensitive, and can tolerate carbohydrates more effectively. Meaning the carbohydrates are more likely to be shuttled in to the muscles rather than stored as fat. However, towards the end of the month, where progesterone (hormone that counteracts the negative effects of oestrogen) is more dominant, the ability to handle carbohydrates as effectively diminishes. As a result, it is then very important to limit the amount of carbohydrates (e.g. rice, sweet potato, pasta, new potatoes) consumed during the luteal phase to help sustain your fat loss results as much as possible.
With carbohydrates being dropped, this time is unfortunately the time where women will crave for them the most, due to lower levels of neurotransmitters responsible for feeling good and having focus. To combat this, it can be important to add sweet flavourings like cocoa on training days, and include more dark chocolate on rest days.
As you can see, this shows how much of an effect the menstrual cycle can have on the body in terms of performance and weight loss. It is therefore important to pay extra attention to the intricacies of the female menstrual cycle and its effect on both performance and weight loss. However, as we have shown, there are certain steps that can be taken to maintain your control over its negative effects on both weight loss and performance. So keep these actions in mind, and you can make the curse of the menstrual cycle a thing of the past.