Using your period to your advantage in the gym

Let’s talk about our periods!

Our mood. Cravings. Energy. Decision making ability. It seems there’s nothing that isn’t effected by our menstrual cycles. However, did you know that you can use your cycle as a guide as to what to do in the gym?

Looking to lose fat and gain lean muscle mass, then read on.

First things first, you need to start paying attention to your body! Tired? Craving certain foods? Having irregular periods? Digestive or skin issues? All signs that your body is trying to tell you something. Time to start listening.

Before we get to your cycle, let’s chat about estrogen. Estrogen is at it’s highest during the first 2 weeks of your cycle. Why is this a big deal? Estrogen aids the body in insulin resistance, meaning foods such as sugars and starches will be better tolerated. This results in less fat storage and more fat burning. A good time to enjoy the extra carbs, minus the guilt (always).

The first 2 weeks of your cycle is the follicular phase. Starting on day 1 of your period and lasting through through Day 14, ovulation. At the start of your period and during the next few days (days 1-5) let your body tell you what it wants to do. Light workouts, aerobic work, yoga, pilates, stretching, walking or hiking. 

Honor your body. Take it easy.  

During the late follicular phase/ovulation (Days 5-14), estrogen levels start to rise even more and you begin to feel fired up. This is the time to train heavy with little recovery and more intensity. Squats, deadlifts, lunges. Heavy weight, reps ranging from 4-12. Get after it! You are a complete beast. Take advantage of it. Life is fucking beautiful right now. 

With estrogen at it’s peak, now is also the time to enjoy your steady state cardio since there is less chance of catabolizing (breaking down) muscle.

Your week of workouts might look something like this: M/W/F heavy strength training and T/Th steady state cardio. Walking everyday…always.

That is until we reach day 15, the beginning of the luteal phase. Estrogen levels start to dip and progesterone levels begin to rise. Unlike estrogen, progesterone isn’t as effective against insulin resistance, making our bodies more prone to store fat at this time. Our protein intake should increase, while our carb/sugar/starch/fat/salt intake should decrease. 

Reread what I just wrote: Our protein intake should increase, while our carb/sugar/starch/fat/salt intake should decrease. Complete definition of irony right? This is the exact time we crave that salty, fatty, carb-y shit the most. 

With your energy levels starting to drop around days 15-28, you will find using lower weights/ higher reps more beneficial. It’s also the time to perform some HIIT (high intensity interval training)/circuit training/metabolic conditioning workouts. Basically, any workout that alternates high and low intensities would be a great choice at this time.

Cardio should be kept to intervals and sprints, due to estrogen levels dropping, and the possibility of breaking down the muscle that you worked so hard to build up. Sadly, not the time for that long leisurely run on your favorite trail. 

Your workout schedule these 2 weeks might be the following: M/W/F metabolic conditioning/interval/circuit training and T/Th cardio sprints/intervals.

Keep in mind that during the last 2 weeks of your cycle, your balance and coordination won’t be as stellar as usual. Also, some women may find it difficult to engage their deep core muscles, so it would not be a good time to lift heavy, especially if you have issues with your lumbar spine or SI joint!

The take away, go hard and heavy at the beginning of your cycle. And respect the change in energy during the last 2 weeks.