Effects of the menstrual cycle on training and cravings

Susan Francia, USA Rower

Susan Francia, USA Rower

I’ve read so many articles on training and dieting and the menstrual cycle, that I have an entire corridor in my brain, stuffed with the information. But that’s fairly irrelevant beyond knowing the actual facts of the menstrual cycle, and the impacts of particular hormones at certain times. Anyone can look that up in a textbook. So I am not going to quote journal articles here, I am going to do one thing only:

Give you a way to remember what is going on when, simply.  Rather than making you count days based on hormonal cycles.

All that matters is what you do at the right time. You need to have a plan for how you know you will “feel” so you don’t throw off progress for something predictable like menstruation and hormonal fluctuations. After all, it happens every damn month.

Your hormones are you, you are your hormones. Hormonal regulation is a feedback loop and its important to understand what is going on when, in order to not only plan accordingly, but understand the ups and downs of programming and what you feel on any given day, and understand the dips and peaks of training cycles better.

You’ll notice I use words like “about” when talking about the number of weeks, and that’s because women experience a variety of time differences for specific phases.

If I was to comment on any ONE woman, I would need to know her specifics. So general is general.

Period starts: (lets call this P-Day) lasts about 1 week (P-Week)

Once your period has started, nothing much is happening. The fun stuff happens in before and afters. You can think of P-Day as the most “normal” point in your menstrual cycle. Sure, there’s blood, but from a training and diet standpoint, the differences are in the pre and post period times.

P-Day is our normal. Our period has finally come, and training and diet can go as planned during your menstrual cycle, though it is normal to feel more fatigued from blood loss, and “looser” or “wobbly” in the joints from hormones. Take this into consideration, and don’t aim to push PR’s or very challenging training during your period. Research does suggest though, that the more athletic you are, the less this matters.

Period Ends: Follicular phase lasts about 2 weeks.

Your period has ended. Fun times are ahead. This phase is characterized simply by:

Eat more carbs, train harder, get laid.

Ovulation starts approximately in the second week after P-Day, so you will be hornier. If you don’t have a man to land, make sure to take your aggression out on training at this time, and eat more carbs. (Total calorie intake still matters, just keep that in mind)

In terms of programming, it makes sense to train hard when your body is most primed for it in terms of appetite, recovery and energy, and back off when its not. Baseline fitness doesn’t change per se, but timing your most aggressive training for post-P, makes sense.

If you can control the timing of competitions, do so. If not, suck it up buttercup.

3rd Week, period is going to start in a week: Luteal Phase about 1 week 

This is “I’m going to eat ice cream, and watch The Notebook” week. Back off on intense training during this week, but you don’t have to stop. Simply do less intense training or training under heavy load, relative to your level. This is a good time for training that gets you moving and practicing technique, but is not particularly stressful physically in terms of load (weight) or stress (intensity or volume).

When Aunt Flow shows back up its P-DAY again, and the cycle restarts.

Summary of general actionable guidelines:

P-Week  – dont do anything different, respect lower energy from blood loss and looser joints from hormones

Middle weeks 2/3 Follicular  – ramp up training, eat carbs, fuck

Right before P-Week 4 Luteal – ease up on training intensity, reduce carbs, cry if you want, get a massage, watch sappy movies and listen to sappy songs

Amanda Bingson, USA Track and Field

Amanda Bingson, USA Track and Field

A better understanding allows you  to plan your training well, and get results faster. It allows you to not be confused or hung-up on what is happening when, and not ditch your consistency simply because your hormones are doing what they are supposed to be doing.

A regular menstrual cycle, unless you are on some form of birth control that disrupts it, is a good thing.









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  1. Hi Joy, got directed here via Andy’s (Rippedbody.jp) recent mailing and I just wanted to tell you that I enjoyed this post. Very informative and love the short-and-sweet no-bullshit approach! Thanks!

  2. Hola Joy! Here a reader from México. I loved this article, you just solved my hormonal puzzle in a couple of paragraphs, and I really like how well you explain it with simple words, instead of making it look like a page from an encyclopedia.