Women Athletes: A Guide to Menstrual Cycle, Hormonal Changes and Proper Recovery

It’s a workout day and you have mood swings, tender breasts, food cravings, fatigue, irritability and depression. Don’t worry. It’s just a monthly menstrual cycle, PMS (pre menstrual symptoms) and hormonal fluctuations.

Women go through two phases during the 28-days menstrual cycle: the low-hormone follicular phase and the high-hormone luteal phase. During the luteal phase, in particular, progesterone increases core temperature and causes body to lose sodium, which is amplified by the fact that women have lower water content than men. Abnormally low sodium levels in the blood can lead to hyponatremia, which causes cramps, headaches, vomiting.

components

Components of physical performance that may be affected by menstrual cycle fluctuations in endogenous hormones.

Additionally women oxidize more lipids and fewer carbohydrates and protein than men during endurance exercise like running, cycling, and swimming. The difference could mean fewer GI issues during a marathon; you can easily overdo your carb intake and that way improve your energy levels and performance. This fueling advice isn’t just for endurance athletes—it applies to strength training and gym workouts as well.

You need a proper recovery

But the key to feeling better and training harder is proper recovery, and for women, protein is the solution. Estrogen is known to reduce carbohydrate oxidation and increase free fatty acid availability. This means that when estrogen levels are high, women tend to conserve glycogen stores and utilize more fat as a fuel, which means supplemental carbohydrates are important in this phase.

Your body needs more protein

In particular during the luteal phase, progesterone’s rise means the body needs more protein. Insufficient intake causes amino acids to break down, weakening your immune function and preventing muscles from recovering properly after a workout.

Progesterone promotes protein catabolism. Ingesting BCAAs pre-exercise during the mid-luteal/high hormone phase could be fundamental. Protein ingestion is also important for female athletes in regards to recovery.

Women’s sport nutrition needs to get a new, more studied approach. Usually, recommendations for pre and post workouts, and daily needs in general are studied and calibrated on 20-30 years old men. Unlike men, women have high and low hormone phases throughout the month, during which estrogen and progesterone fluctuate, causing slight changes to metabolism, glycogen, and blood plasma levels, all of which affect performance, recovery, and how hard you can push during a workout.

Tips and tricks to ease your symptoms

Try these tips:

1. Follow  the “flow”:

-Your period (days 1-7): low progesterone and estrogen, you have a high pain tolerance and quick recovery time, you’re breaking down fats and building muscles, but stay focused on, you’re more prone to injury. Workout: strength training!

-Mid-follicuar phase (days 8-13): growing levels of estrogens helps your muscles absorb glucose better, giving you fuel to challenge yourself. Workout: cardio, interval training, kettlebell!

-Ovulation: (days 14-15): estrogen is at the highest, making us focused and in tune with femininity and body. Workout: work to build lean muscle tissues.

-Luteal phase: (days 16-28): higher progesterone than estrogen, causing inflammation and swelling. Workout: moderate exercises.

2. Add healthy fats!

Start adding healthy fats to you daily menu like avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, eggs with the yoke, 2% dairy, and meat. Remember eating fat doesn’t make you fat–it is an energy source that is needed for healthy hormonal balance.

healthy-fats

3. Plan you training sessions and add adequate pre- and post-workout snacks.

An example would be:

-Pre workout (30-40 minutes before training): eat 20 g of carbs (low GI, high digestibility) with 10-15 g of proteins (Greek yogurt, egg, whey powder).

-Post workout (30 minutes after exercise); 1.2 g/kg carbs, 0.4g/kg protein, 0.02 g/kg fat, or use these indications for a dinner after training.

And remember, how you feel during “that days” or in some particular moments of the month is something extremely subjective and variable. So learn to listen to your body and what is telling you. This is the best strategy to still train effectively and make the most out of every training session – enjoying it fully!

Nutrition Photo: pixabay.com

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