As women, we get our menstrual cycle every single month, or at least we should be if not pregnant or breastfeeding, ideally. Throughout our cycle, we will experience fluctuations in our hormones and mood, which directly affect what we need to be feeding ourselves to restore our energy and feel our best.
This is why women mustn’t try to train like men. Men don’t get a menstrual cycle, which means they experience consistency in a way that you don’t. They will physically and mentally feel completely different from you. If you want to learn how to empower yourself to train more efficiently, understand what you need at certain points during your cycle, and how much of an effect these fluctuations in hormones are actually having on you, then let’s dive into the world of cycle tracking. Let’s train like women.
How Your Menstrual Cycle Affects Performance
Your cycle can be split into four phases: the menstruation phase, the follicular phase, the ovulation phase, and the luteal phase. Let’s begin with the follicular phase, which overlaps with your menstruation phase and is characterized by higher levels of estrogen and low levels of progesterone. Day 1 of your cycle kicks off with your period (menstruation). This can last anywhere from 3 to 7 days. At the beginning of your cycle, estrogen is at an all-time low, causing you to feel fatigued. Some women get painful cramps during their period, while others may not experience cramps at all.
Be careful about pushing yourself too hard on your period. Gentle movement like stretching or yoga is a good idea during this time. Prioritizing getting in your nutrients is also crucial during your period, as this can help you restore energy and improve your mood. As your uterine lining is shedding, it's normal to feel fatigued. To replenish your energy, increase your iron and B12 intake and source your calories from high-quality carbohydrates. Mood swings and feeling down can be a result of unbalanced blood sugar, which causes cortisol spikes. Keep your blood sugar in check by eating every 3 to 4 hours and pairing your carbs with protein.
On days 3 to 5 of your period, you will start to feel a rise in energy as estrogen increases, so you’ll feel more ready for a low-intensity workout. If you’re someone who follows a vegetarian or vegan diet, make sure you’re pairing your sources of iron with Vitamin C to improve absorption. Focus on high-quality omega-3 fats, especially if you get painful cramps. The anti-inflammatory effects will relieve painful cramps. It’s best to limit or avoid caffeine and alcohol which can exacerbate PMS symptoms. Lastly, it’s important to pay attention to your period and how it makes you feel overall.
We have the power to be in control of our emotions and the way we feel throughout our cycle.
What if your period is missing? Even if you’re an elite-level athlete, losing your period is not normal (again, unless you're pregnant or breastfeeding), and I would highly encourage you to speak about this with your doctor so you can work on getting it back. Your period is now considered your fifth vital sign by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. If you have dealt with disordered eating, this can cause amenorrhea, which is the absence of a period. Make sure that you’re eating enough calories, especially if you train at high frequency and intensity or are a competitive athlete. 9% of the U.S. population has reported having an eating disorder, and female athletes who are pressured to have a strict relationship with food are at an even higher risk of developing one. Eating disorders can negatively affect you in the long-term, including your fertility and risk of miscarriage, even after recovery.
As bleeding stops and your period ends, estrogen will steadily increase and you will feel a surge in positive mood and high energy. Due to low levels of progesterone, the follicular phase is the best time to strength train. You have an increased ability to build muscle. However, you should also leave ample time for recovery, as injury risk is also higher during this phase, particularly as you get closer to ovulation.
Around days 6 to 9 of your cycle, testosterone rises. You will have a higher pain tolerance and feel mentally sharp. Motivation is likely a lot higher and this is a great time to train at high impact. Women often report feeling their most confident days 6 through 13 of their cycle. This can be useful information when it comes to scheduling job interviews, socializing, or training.
Estrogen will peak around day 10-13, and this is when you will look the most attractive because your fertility is at its peak. You will feel much more social, so it might be a good time to hit the gym with a friend. It’s important to eat cruciferous vegetables and fiber during this phase to help your body metabolize and remove excess estrogen.
Ovulation occurs mid-cycle, usually around day 14. This is when your ovaries release an egg that dissolves if it’s unfertilized. As luteinizing hormone (LH) surges, this is when testosterone and estrogen are at their peak. This is when you’ll feel your sexiest and strongest. Now is a great time to try to hit your PB (personal best) at the gym. Focus on good sources of anti-inflammatory foods like avocados.
The day after ovulation, we enter phase 4 of your cycle: the luteal phase. This will last until the end of your menstrual cycle and end with your period. Suddenly, your hormones are going to shift. You may feel a drastic change after ovulation when you were feeling your absolute best because your body was preparing you for pregnancy. However, when fertilization doesn’t occur, estrogen decreases and progesterone rises, causing you to feel tired and less motivated. You can think of this drop in estrogen as pre-PMS because it causes the usual symptoms of irritability and low mood but only lasts for half of week 3, before estrogen rises again.
It’s common for women to experience high motivation in starting a new diet or exercise routine in the first half of their cycle, only to fall off the wagon once they hit the luteal phase, especially if they’re unaware that these feelings are all being caused by hormones as a natural result of your cycle. Estrogen is associated with lowered appetite, but as this hormone decreases in the luteal phase, you will feel much hungrier and more prone to binging. Be mindful of how much you’re eating if you’re trying to lose weight or get in shape. While you may feel like you just want to lay in bed and not do anything, pushing through and staying consistent with exercise can help improve mood and energy.
Take control of your life with cycle tracking and enjoy increased performance and well-being.
On the upside, your breathing rate and body temperature increase during this phase, and your body shifts to burning more fat stores for energy. While your pain tolerance is lower than in your follicular phase and things feel like they require more effort, you will be burning up to 30% more calories from fat through exercise. During this time, it’s very important to increase your calories from carbohydrates. Your hunger will spike because your body thinks that you’ve created a baby after ovulation and is preparing you to have enough nutrients for both you and the baby. Eating complex carbs can keep your blood sugar balanced to stabilize your mood. You will experience less endurance and lower motivation during this phase so take it easy but don’t sit it out. You should focus on eating healthy fats and avoiding processed foods.
On week 4, estrogen and progesterone both plummet. It’s normal to experience bloating and sluggishness as well as PMS. While PMS can make your emotions feel all over the place, they can be minimized through consistent good quality sleep, a nutritious diet, and exercise. You’ll feel more motivated than in week 3 thanks to climbing estrogen levels and your body is still burning 30% more fat when you do aerobic exercise. Steady-paced cardio like running outside, swimming, or bike rides is better than HIIT, and you’ll also need more recovery time because muscle breakdown increases. It’s a good idea to up your intake of magnesium-rich foods, as this prevents PMS and cramps. Ever wonder why we crave chocolate when we’re about to get our period? It’s because serotonin levels are dropping and your body wants to help boost it up again. Dark chocolate is a good snack during this time, but magnesium can also help regulate your mood.
Women’s National Team Used Cycle Tracking To Win FIFA Women’s World Cup
Some of you might be skeptical that cycle tracking can make any discernible difference in your training regimen or quality of life any more than reading your daily horoscope, let’s start with my favorite anecdote: The U.S. women’s national team dominated the headlines when they won the FIFA Women’s World Cup not once, but twice.
The revolutionary secret in their training process? Cycle tracking! That’s right, elite-level athletes who have won World Cup championships attribute their success not to hiring the best nutritionists, fitness coaches, or trainers, but to adjusting their training methods to meet the needs of their cycle through cycle tracking. They would even post reminders through their lodging during the month of the World Cup to keep the phase of their cycle in mind. They adapted their diets and exercise methods to their cycle, knowing that it’s better to focus on strength training in the first half of the cycle, and once athletes are in their luteal phase, it’s time to place greater emphasis on nutrition by eating healthy fats and limiting processed foods and sugar. This helped them to better understand why athletes would feel the way they did on certain days.
Let’s train like women.
How You Can Take Control of Your Life with 28
"An app that tracks the menstrual cycle absolutely has the potential to improve a female athlete’s behaviors," says board-certified Ob/Gyn Dr. Jennifer Ashton. She helps successful female athletes reach their full potential by educating them about the hormonal changes that occur during their cycles. The more you track, the more insight you get because you can record how you feel during different parts of your cycle, and you can track that consistency through time to identify patterns.
With that said, we’re excited to announce the launch of 28, which is the first cycle-based wellness company of its kind. Designed by supermodel trainers and fitness experts, 28 enables you to track your cycle and get regular insights on how to optimize performance and mood depending on the phase of the cycle that you’re in (all for FREE!) Equipped with personalized exercise videos tailored to your cycle and advice on what nutrients to prioritize, 28 can help you feel your best, balance your hormones, and avoid injury. Believe it or not, painful periods with crazy mood swings are not normal, and you don’t need to continue to live this way. To give your body what it needs, you need to listen to what it’s telling you.
It can be exhausting and demoralizing to constantly feel like your hormones and your emotions are out of your control. The empowering thing is, this isn’t true! We have the power to be in control of our emotions and the way we feel throughout our cycle. The best way to do this is to track our cycle consistently so we know what phase we’re in, what our hormones are doing, and what lifestyle alterations we should make to improve these conditions. Take control of your life with cycle-based insights and enjoy increased performance and well-being. Stop training like a man and understand the unique differences of the female body.