When combining menstruation with fitness, just being a woman navigating our bodies during our cycle is extremely difficult. The scale, the bloat, the low energy, the emotions..
So let's talk about it.
I think we have all been here, our cycle is coming, we are feeling all the negative feelings. We are feeling crappy, crabby, and just overall exhausted. And you would think after years of this same cycle we would fully understand what's going on with our bodies and expect it. But yet each month our same symptoms can almost come as a surprise.
Even as a fitness professional who knows damn well right before a menstrual cycle these things WILL happen…
…the list goes on and on.
It still gets in my head, where I start questioning why I even bother when I am gaining weight, bloated, and overall just feeling like shit. But then the cycle passes and we remember that it is temporary and keep moving forward until the next cycle comes for our bodies and mental health all over again, lol.
So how do we work through this frustrating part that is inevitable as a biological female?
Simple. We learn more about the phases of our cycle, so we can better anticipate and prepare for the symptoms and shifts in our bodies. The most frustrating part for many is not fully knowing what's going on or the WHY behind it all. So let's break it down so next time you have a moment you can think, “oh this is because I am in my ________ phase of my cycle”.... And I'm not a hungry psychopath on a rampage.
So let's start with the basics… Most of us know this part, but let’s just touch every area.
On average a healthy menstrual cycle typically ranges from 21-35 days ( ** try using a period tracker this can help you understand your cycle/timing). If you do not have one, I personally use the health app on my apple phone. There are other great apps recommended in women's health -- top 2 are, CLUE app and FLO Health app. Whatever you choose I strongly recommend having this handy to help better track and understand your cycle.
During menstruation cycles there are various hormonal changes occurring in our bodies. These hormonal fluctuations can lead to a variety of physical and emotional symptoms, including changes in energy levels.
OK so we have the basics above so let's talk about what is going to be changing and what that means.
So if you are like the majority of women, an emotional rollercoaster during that time of the month, here is why. You can blame your energy and mood changes on your Estrogen and Progesterone. These are the hormones that are going to make all the fun changes. During your cycle your E&P levels will rise and fall.
So what do they individually impact?
Estrogen tends to increase energy levels while progesterone can have a calming and sedative effect. SO, when progesterone levels are high, some women may experience fatigue or drowsiness. And when estrogen levels are high, we tend to have more energy and be in a better mood.
So when you are at the gym trying to push your normal weights and you CAN NOT lift what you so easily did last week.. It's not you, it's your period.
Think of yourself as being Superwoman (energetic + strong) being around higher levels of kryptonite (high progesterone), which makes you weak. But once the kryptonite levels aren't as high (luteal phase passes) you regain your power. So simply put, during your luteal phase, you are going to feel much weaker, but once it passes your progesterone levels will lower back down and your energy will be restored.
Now on the other side of things, when you are feeling like GOD DAMN SUPERWOMAN, and you are energized getting shit done, hitting PRs, and feeling great in your body, this is during your follicular phase. This is typically when we are feeling our best.
Great, so what the f*@k are the luteal & follicular phases? Most of us are aware of ovulation and menstruation, but these two phases are less commonly discussed.
Understanding the different phases of your menstrual cycle, the follicular phase, ovulation and the luteal phase can be extremely helpful, so let's break them down.
Now for some this may be old news, but for the majority, we do not all know the ins and outs of the exact breakdown of our cycle. So let's just touch on what they are, when they are, and how it impacts us.
The very first stage is going to be the: Menstruation Phase
During the first day, your uterine lining sheds and you bleed, yes basic well known info here. This is considered day one of the menstrual cycle. AKA your period, this phase usually lasts anywhere from three to seven days. During your menstruation phase, you likely experience:
Cramps, Sore and tender breasts, Irritability and mood swings, Bloating, Fatigue, and Acne.
This is nothing new to any of us, as most biological women can account for these very symptoms each month. So let's discuss the less talked about phases.
The second phase in your menstrual cycle is: Follicular Phase
The menstrual cycle begins with the follicular phase, which typically lasts from day 1 to day 14 of a 28-day cycle and goes until ovulation. However, the length of this phase can vary depending on the individual. During this phase, the following events occur:
You will experience hormonal changes during the follicular phase. Estrogen levels gradually increase, which helps stimulate the development of the dominant follicle and prepares the body for ovulation. Estrogen can have an energizing effect on some individuals (but its impact on energy levels can vary from person to person). You can expect increased energy, improved mood, and a higher tolerance for exercise.
So this is the phase many of us feel absolutely amazing in. You feel good, you look good, you are on your shit. But sadly it doesn't last all that long.
The third phase is: Ovulation (though it is very short, it is still something to mention)
Ovulation typically occurs around day 14 in a 28-day cycle, but it can vary depending on the length of an individual's cycle and hormonal influences. Ovulation is the release of a mature egg from the dominant follicle. Many women experience increased energy & heightened libido.
The final phase: Luteal Phase (saved the best for last)
I would have to say this is the problem phase.
The luteal phase occurs after ovulation and typically lasts from day 15 to day 28 of a 28-day cycle. During this phase, the following events take place:
Mood Swings and Irritability: Hormonal changes, particularly the rise and fall of progesterone, which can impact mood.
Bloating and Water Retention: Some women may notice mild bloating or water retention during the luteal phase. This is partly due to the effects of progesterone on fluid balance in the body.
Fatigue: Some women may feel more fatigued or experience lower energy levels during the latter part of the luteal phase (remember higher progesterone). This could be related to hormonal changes or other factors, such as poor sleep or stress.
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS): The luteal phase is when many women experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms, which can include a combination of physical and emotional symptoms, such as bloating, breast tenderness, mood swings, and headaches. SO THIS is important to note!! When you step on the scale and the scale has JUMPED UP 3-5 lbs and you start freaking out... stop. Again, it's not you, it's your period :).
And just to touch on the cravings for all the sugary salty delicious things. During this phase (PMS) estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuating will influence our neurotransmitters like serotonin. Which can then lead to cravings for all the sugar, salt, and CARBS. So again when you are having a moment of insane cravings, it's safe to say, it's not you, it's your period.
My final note as a reminder that for those who suffer from painful periods (this is not normal by the way so be sure to seek professional help), exercise HELPS immensely with cramps and mood. Many women stop exercising and use their cycle as a reason to not keep moving thier bodies. While i understand this, as i have cycles that feel like my uterus is falling out of my body, it is important to stick to your routine as it it helps get through the rougher phases of our cycle.
It is important to note that not all women experience the same symptoms during their menstrual cycle, and the severity of symptoms can vary from person to person and from cycle to cycle. If you find that your energy levels are significantly impacted during your menstrual cycle, it's a good idea to discuss your symptoms with a healthcare professional who can provide personalized advice and recommendations. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, balanced nutrition, and adequate rest, can also help manage energy levels during the menstrual cycle.
I hope you got some good insight on your energy levels which in turn can help you navigate those off moments when you aren't feeling your best. Best advice, keep showing up, even if you are weak and bleeding out! Exercise helps managing your cycle, so don't skip out on the gym!
I worked with my team to put together a quick list of some of the most common foods so you are able to reference this as you are focused on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Simple. Easy. Effective.
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