When it comes to your menstrual cycle we often spend a lot of time talking about periods (well we enjoy talking about it anyway) but your cycle, and the hormonal changes that govern in, are ongoing all the time.
They can have big effects both mentally and physically but how your menstrual cycle affects you when you exercise may surprise you.
We dived in to articles and research and put together the What’s and Why’s of your physical journey through your cycle, as well as tips to get the most out of your exercise at different times. At the bottom of this article you’ll also find a handy little printout guide to stick on your fridge, in your gym bag or at the bottom of your wardrobe with the rest of the workout gear you’ll get around to using...one day...
But let’s get one thing straight.
No two bodies are the same and no two cycles are either. One of the things that stood out to us the most when looking into this was how new and how little a lot of the research was (imagine how much research there would be if men had periods amiright?).
We know that the most important thing you can do is get to know your own body and how you feel throughout the month.
That’s why we put together this handy guide on getting to know your cycle a bit more.
But what does the current research tell us? We broke it down below:
Different stages of the menstrual cycle and exercise
Follicular Phase (days 1-7): Menstruation
What’s going on: Estrogen and progesterone levels are at their lowest and your body is using more glykogen (a form of glucose) as a source of energy.
What this means: You might experience higher energy levels, higher pain tolerance (say what!) and faster recovery. That’s right people...period time is POWER TIME.
Exercise tips: This could be a great time to push yourself on the more demanding exercises such as weight training and high intensity training (did someone say bootcamp?).
Fun fact: Hormonally, this is when we are most “man-like” during our cycle. Feel free to bring that up next time a guy makes a joke about you being on your period ;)
Follicular Phase (days 8-14): Between menstruation & Ovulation
What’s going on: Your estrogen levels start to rise and your body tries to conserve all that glykogen it has stored up.
What this means: More fat is being used as fuel which may sound great but this process is slower than with glykogen so it can feel difficult to train at higher intensities.
Exercise tips: Endurance training can be your friend here as you try to maintain a lower and steadier pulse. That means getting the running shoes out of the closet for some long distance running or jogging.
Not-so-fun-but-useful fact: As you get closer to ovulation your risk of injury can increase (yikes) so take those warm-up and cool-down sessions seriously!
Luteral Phase (days 15-28)
What’s going on: Here your progesterone levels rise which alters your metabolism and how you handle heat.
What this means: You can feel more easily overheated and prone to fatigue. This is also when you’re likely to feel those PMS symptoms and under the weather.
Exercise tips: Crack out the yoga mat and spend some more time on the gentler exercises. Walking and jogging can also be great options at this time.
Definitely-not-fun-but-super-important fact: During this time you’re also more likely to suffer from low sodium levels in the blood so be extra vigilant in keeping hydrated!
A finnish doctor Pippa Laukka specialized in sports have been talking about periods and sports
”Yes, menstruation can affect performance in sports. For some it affect negatively and for some positively. Medals have been won and records have been broken in all phases of the menstrual cycle.”
Dr. Laukka says that menstrual cycle is not something you should stress about if you are just exercising normally. But if your exercising is more goal-orinted, like training for a marathon, menstrual cycle is something to consider when planning the training.
She also presses the importance of listening your body when it comes to exercise.
“Usually exercise helps with the menstrual cramps and symptoms. I would suggest exercising rather than doing nothing. If you are feeling unwell, you have pain, weakness in muscles and you don’t recover normally, I would consider doing a bit lighter workout instead of high intensity training.”
Get the printable guide to exercise on YOUR cycle
Phew! That can be a lot to keep track of. So here’s a printable PDF for you that you can fill in and keep track of your own cycle and experience: