Menstrual cycle optimization is quite a grey area in the fitness world, although optimizing your hormones and recovery is important with any training program, remember that there are other areas which are even more important including energy balance, macronutrients, effective training plan and mindset. The menstrual cycle can have a significant impact on your training schedule, performance, mood and sleeping patterns.
By being aware of the impact of each key phase in the menstrual cycle, you can optimise your metabolic state and have a positive effect with performance and recovery.
The starting cycle will begin at the follicular phase from day 0-14 which will then move onto the ovulation phase which takes place around day 14. From day 15-28 of the cycle, you will enter the luteal phase , menstruation will then kick the cycle off again from the beginning. Let’s go through each phase in more detail with my recommendations below.
The Follicular Phase
The follicular phase is a great time to train as hard as possible! this phase will allow for a higher amount of tolerance towards pain and increase your endurance capacity. It’s very important to ensure during this phase you are hitting your macronutrient targets, in specific carbohydrates for fuelling higher intensity workouts. While your body is glycogen depleted in this stage, you will be able to really utilise the carbohydrate source from an effective meal plan.
Having a very strong focus on nutrition through this phase will really help you push through some intense training sessions, and your body will be utilising all those carbs in your meals. My advice is to ensure you have a main meal at least 60-90 minutes before resistance training and then another main meal 30-60 minutes after a resistance training session.
The Ovulation Phase
Moving into the ovulation phase you will still have a very high training capacity, and you may find you even have higher strength levels. You will have much higher elevated levels of estrogen in this phase, which can impact your neuromuscular control and ultimately lead to a higher risk of injury.
During this phase, focus on giving maximum intensity resistance training, however be mindful of ensuring sufficient time is utilized with stretching, warming up and cooling down before training. Also be extra focused on your form and technique with each exercise.
As with the follicular phase, ensure you are putting a strong focus on carbohydrates and your overall nutrition. Time your meals appropriately before and after your resistance training sessions to fuel intensity and recovery.
The Luteal Phase
During the luteal phase, be mindful that your energy levels will have decreased considerably, compared with the follicular & ovulation phases. Your body temperature will be much higher than normal causing a higher strain on your cardiovascular system. This is also a time with PMS and holding extra water weight, which can also add further fatigue during training sessions, especially HIIT and endurance training when fast & longer intensity is required.
If you noticing during this phase coupled with PMS you are in a large amount of discomfort and fatigue, then I recommend lowering your intensity to a moderate-lower level with resistance based training. This will help reduce the symptoms and effects of PMS. Remember that although your mood, irritability will be decreased during this phase, it’s important to stay focused with your nutrition, macronutrient and calorie targets.
The Menstruation Phase
At this stage, your menstruation is starting over and you will start to feel the PMS symptoms fade away, water weight and temperature will also return to normal levels. Around this time when you’re moving back into the follicular phase you will really want to start driving intensity back into your resistance training sessions and focus on hitting your meals and utilising your carbohydrates to fuel some intense training sessions.
While you move back into the follicular phase, make a note to not only increase intensity but aim for hitting som enew PB’s and improvements with strength & lean body mass gains.
Wrapping It All Up
Remember your main focus should always be with energy balance & your total daily caloric intake with a suitable macronutrient ratio as well as an effective training program.
If you aren’t too familiar with the menstrual cycle and hormone / recovery optimization, or you don’t know where to start with personalised calorie meal plans & training programs, definitely check out the 90 Day Fitness Model Challenge which incorporates all these key areas for a sustainable physique transformation.