Understanding the Menstrual Cycle and its Phases

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By Brooke Floyd from Lady Luck Lifting

Having the knowledge and understanding of your own or your clients Menstrual Cycle will play an important role when it comes to planning training programs, deloads, PBs and also nutritional considerations.

Each woman is different and should always be treated as an individual, they each will experience symptoms or their cycles very differently. Normally most cycles are on average around 28 days, sometimes they can last between 21-35 days

When training women take into consideration and ask the questions (males, be as open and empathetic as you can be):
– What are the Clients goals?
– Do they HAVE a menstrual cycle? (ill touch on this in another post)
– Is their cycle regular?
– Where they are at in their cycle?
– Do they experience any PMS symptoms the week before their period? .
– Do they track their cycle?

Based on the discussion, you will be able to pre plan training programs to suit, and allow the client to execute. A healthy menstrual cycle is going to be key for a healthy environment for the female body. Now hear me out, this isn’t just about having a healthy cycle to produce a baby, its also telling us a lot, among other things, about other processes of the female body too. Below is a very brief description of the function of the menstrual cycle and some considerations for training and nutrition around each phase. In the following posts to come, I will dive deeper into each of the phases, some irregularities and dysfunctions surrounding what a woman may go through.

Menstruation (Bleed)
1-7 Days
Hormones are low
PMS Symptoms start to diminish
Training Considerations
– Energy levels start to rise
– Favourable time to intensity for training
– Best time to hit heavy numbers or heavy week of training or PBs

Follicular – Menstruation is at the start of this phase
7-10 Days
FHS & Estrogen hormones are most dominant
Training Considerations
– More risk for injury
– Muscle growth increased
– Energy levels are high
Nutritional Considerations
– Easier to diet/stick to macros during this phase
– Best for increase of carb ratios

Ovulation – Releasing of the egg
3-5 Days
FHS, Estrogen & LH peak.
– Peak Energy Levels
– High Sex drive
– Very Fertile
Training Considerations
– Higher risk for injury

Luteal – includes PMS
10-14 Days
Progesterone Rises. Progesterone will block the effect of estrogen in this phase.
Training Considerations
– Decrease training intensity, volume and more rest periods
– Best plan for a deload week
– More tired and sluggish feeling
– PMS Symptoms high
Nutritional Considerations
– Increased cravings due to PMS symptoms
– Slightly increase of calories ~100/day with a higher fat ratio to carbs
– Choose to eat at maintenance calories to help prevent binges
So now you have a brief rundown of each of the phases as well as some training and nutrition considerations, but to get more of an understanding I’ve provided some detail into each phase and what happens in the female body.

Menstruation (Bleed)
The Menstrual flow in the female body is where the built up thickened lining of the uterus breaks down and is discarded with blood, endometrial cells and tissue/mucus out of the vagina. If an egg is fertilized from sperm cells then the egg is housed in the uterus attaching to the thickened lining. If an egg is not fertilized then this is where it is discarded. The menstrual flow can last between 3-7 days on average. Hormones are generally low in this time, energy levels start to rise as PMS symptoms start to disappear.

Follicular – Menstruation is at the start of this phase
During the follicular phase which can last between 7-10 days, the pituitary glad releases FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) which is most dominant in this phase. Throughout the follicular phase the FHS produce tiny sacs that contain eggs in each ovary, one of these follicles will be the dominant. Estrogen rises and the lining of the uterus is thickened to prepare for an egg to be released for ovulation.

Ovulation – Releasing of the egg
Ovulation is where an egg is released from the ovary into the fallopian tube so that it can be fertilized by sperm to make a baby, if it’s not met by sperm the egg then dies after 24hrs. The dominant follicle that was formed in the follicular phase grows larger as estrogen rises to its peak. LH – Luteinising hormone and LSH is at its peak as well as our energy levels and a very high sex drive. Women are highly fertile in the 3 days before ovulation.

Luteal – includes PMS
After ovulation has occurred, the dominant follicle changes to corpus luteum and produces progesterone and estrogen. Progesterone levels peak during this phase. The rising in progesterone and estrogen keeps the uterine lining thick and ready to house a fertilized egg. If no fertilization occurs then the corpus luteum will break down, hormone levels decrease then menstruation happen which can cause onset of PMS.

PMS – What is it and how does it affect women.
PMS Stands for Premenstrual Syndrome. During the luteal phase is where 30-40% of women will experience PMS symptoms. There are also huge differences in how much of an effect PMS has on any given woman. The physical and emotional symptoms in the leadup to the menstruation (bleed) can range from mild to severe. Severe cases are called PMDD (Pre Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder). This disorder is seen to only occur in 5-10% of women. In this disorder some of the symptoms that arise are depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. With PMDD, serotonin and dopamine levels can be affected and is where some antidepressants may help.

Some PMS symptoms can include :
– Low back pain
– Bloating
– Fatigue
– Food cravings
– Hormonal acne
– Cramps
– Sore or swollen boobs
– Headaches
– Joint aches
– Mood swings
– Irritability
– Anxiety
– Highly Emotional
– Sluggish/Tired
– Serotonin and dopamine levels affected

Its unclear the cause of PMS but most symptoms can be managed.

Ways to help manage PMS Symptoms:
– Regular exercise is great to help reduce some PMS symptoms, unless the PMS is too
severe and stops you from completing exercise.
– Diet considerations can be made, this could be where you eat at maintenance calories
and change the carbohydrate to fat ratio so fat is higher.
– Make sure you get enough sleep. Lack of sleep can affect serotonin and dopamine
– There has been studies showing essential fatty acid (omega 3 & omega 6) and
magnesium can help.
– Ibuprofen, naproxen, aspirin
– Heat – hot water bottle or heat pack
– Manage stress

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