This guest blog post was written by Online Health and Fitness Coach, Laura Zinck, BSc, RDH.
Disclaimer: the information in this article is for educational purposes only and is not designed to replace individualized recommendations from a practitioner. Always check with your doctor before adding supplements or making changes to your treatment plan.
We’ve all been there: lying in bed, dreading having to get up and function as a contributing member of society, let alone making it to the gym to get a workout in... ha, yeah right!
Your time of the month can affect you in so many ways, which is why I am here to share how to get the most out of your workouts during your cycle!
"As every woman is different, I will remind you to listen to your body during all phases of your cycle and do what feels best to you!"
Week-By-Week Workout Guide
Believe it or not, our hormones can actually help us with exercising during certain weeks of the month. We'll use the average length of a women's cycle (28 days) as an example— a lot of things happen within our bodies in those 28 days!
During Menstruation (Week 1)
Day 1 of your cycle starts with the first day of your bleed. During this menstrual stage, your estrogen and progesterone drop. This actually makes the carbohydrate (glycogen) stores in your muscles more readily available to be used as fuel.
Many of us believe that during your period is the worst time to exercise, but these extra glycogen stores can be exactly what you need to maximize your workouts.
I'd suggest a HIIT class, boxing workout, or high rep sets on the weights. Working out a little harder during this week can be a great source of stress relief, as well, if you struggle with moodiness during your period.
PRO TIP: Always make sure you are properly fueling these higher intensity workouts with adequate amounts of carbs, both pre- and pos-workout. We don’t want your body burning out (hello, post-workout pancakes!).
Late Follicular Phase (Week 2)
Week 2 of your cycle is the late follicular phase. This phase starts alongside menstruation, lasting approximately two weeks, but the late follicular phase refers to the week after your period.
In Week 2, estrogen will increase, but progesterone remains pretty low.
Estrogen actually helps us build muscle and because it is higher during this stage, use that to your advantage and get in those weights, girl.
Just as we made sure that we had adequate carbs pre- and post-workout during our period, we want to make sure our protein intake is on point during Week 2 to help us build that lean muscle.
PRO TIP: Look to consume on average about 0.8-1 g of protein per pound of body weight.
Ovulation (Start of Week 3)
After the late follicular stage comes ovulation.
This is the holy grail of the cycle, ladies. If you’re not ovulating, you aren’t actually having a true period. A bleed without ovulating is called an anovulatory cycle. If you aren’t ovulating, you should consult with a healthcare professional to find out why.
At ovulation, estrogen levels will hit their peak. This is when you can go all out with your weights; push yourself to the max; think lower reps and higher weights.
PRO TIP: Remember pre- and post-workout nutrition will be super important during this time if you are really pushing it with those weights. We want to be protein and carb focused here, as fat will slow digestion and your muscles wont get the fuel they need.
Luteal Phase (Week 3-4)
The luteal stage occurs after ovulation. During this phase, your body starts preparing for your period to begin once again.
Your body now switches to burning more fat-as-fuel, as opposed to carbs, so you can incorporate more cardio into your workout routine during this phase. Some Low Intensity Steady State (LISS), like an incline walk on the treadmill, a couple times a week is perfect.
This is also the time of the month when your energy starts to drop. I can almost guarantee that if I have zero motivation to workout or I'm feeling extra weak with almost no energy, it’s the week before my period is supposed to start. Like clockwork, when this feeling hits me, I open my period tracker and lo and behold, my period is due to start next week.
This ‘being run over by a truck’ feeling makes it the perfect time to get that low intensity cardio in.
Bloating, water retention and all of those other lovely pre-menstrual symptoms will start this week as well, so that’s even more reason to chill out a bit on the intense workouts. If you can power through this week while still staying active and keeping your body moving, you will feel so much better.
Hormones and Nutrition
Why we get so ravenous before our periods begin? Do you have those days You know those days where you literally feel like a bottomless pit? How about never feeling satisfied, no matter what you eat?
It is not in your head. The week leading up to (Week 4) and during your period (Week 1), you will most likely be hungrier than usual.
Why Do We Get So Hungry?
The hunger happens because your body is actually using more calories that week before (and sometimes into the week) of your period. So if your body is using more calories for energy, that means it’s also burning more calories. Hello increased hunger!
These hormones can also cause you to crave particular foods, so not only are you starving and bloated, but you'd also love all the chips and chocolate.
On a daily basis, your body is burning calories just to keep you alive: breathing, lying in bed, digesting your food, etc. This means that when your period comes along, your body is required to do even more work, which means an increase in your basal metabolic rate (BMR).
When your body detects this increase in calorie burn, it sends a signal to your brain telling it to seek out more food because you are hungry.
How To Curb the Cravings
This can become a very hard time of month for women who are trying to lose weight, because your body is telling you to eat. But it's this part of your cycle where you need to pay closer attention.
Unfortunately, the extra calories burned during Week 4 (and into Week 1) are not a crazy high amount. On average, you only burn an extra 100-300 calories daily during this time— only enough for an additional small snack.
Even though you may feel like you could eat a pint of ice cream, a bag of chips and a container of cookies, I caution you against this or you will most likely see the scale jump up. An extra 100-300 calories will get you a single serving of ice cream though! Maybe even an extra piece of chocolate too.
If you are trying to watch what you eat and are working on physical body goals, I would urge you to listen to your body over your appetite. Even though you may feel that powerful urge to sit down and devour an entire tub of ice cream, that sensation is most likely more for comfort than actual nutrition.
Instead, use Week 4 to your advantage, if you are dieting.
If you hold out and can get through the week while still sticking to your plan, you will burn those extra calories each day and that could add up to an extra half-a-pound of weight loss by the end of the week.
Or you could have that extra 100-300 calorie snack each day and stay right on track with what you’re trying to accomplish!
As every woman is different, I will remind you to listen to your body during all phases of your cycle and to do what feels best to you. Now go crush your workout!
Laura Zinck (BSc, RDH) is an online Health and Fitness Coach, food freedom master, and diet ditcher extraordinaire, hailing all the way from Nova Scotia. Inspired by her personal journey with ending her horrible relationship with food, Laura is on a mission to help empower women through food and fitness. She wants to eliminate the “cheat day” by throwing diet rules out the window one by one. She want the words cheating and diet to be erased from your vocabulary permanently so that you can become the happiest and healthiest version of yourself! Visit her website to find out how you can work with her to ditch your mindset about food and to find freedom, health, and happiness, just like she did!
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