“Man! I feel like a Woman!” Shania Twain
Remember that song?
“The best thing about being a lady
Is the prerogative to have a little fun”
There are so many wonderful aspects of being a woman – one we celebrate here on the regular – being a mama. Not only do we get to nurture and tend to our babies, but we are great innovators, motivators, and collaborators. It’s great to be a woman. Man! I feel like a Woman!
Except…for that time of the month, right? The cramps, the mood swings, the headaches, the emotions. Every. Single. Month. Throw in bloat, unexplained weight gain, and cravings for chocolate and that’s when we want to “go totally crazy” to quote Mrs. Twain.
This article is not just to commiserate – but to offer a little insight on your cycle, how it can affect your training, why you have cravings, and how to learn to work with your cycle and not against it.
In the simplest terms, your cycle (roughly 28 days – but the range is 21 -35 days) has two halves – a high-hormone phase and a low-hormone phase.
Days 1-14: Follicular Phase, lower hormones, more relaxed
Day 14: Ovulation
Days 14-28: Luteal Phase, higher hormones, body ramped up to prepare for pregnancy
We’re not going to get too technical – but just go with averages and “norms” to help you get a better understanding of how your hormones affect your everything and how you can work with your physiology instead of fighting it.
When it comes to athletic training and performance – you’re stronger, recover faster, and more likely to make gains in the low-hormone phase. During the high-hormone phase of your cycle, your ability remains about the same, but you may experience a decline in your breathing rates, blood sugar regulation, and body temperature regulation during this time so it may feel harder to maintain the same pace. Energy levels generally drop during your period so if you feel like it’s harder to get your workouts in this week – it’s not because you’re lazy or unmotivated. It’s the way your cycle was designed.
You’ve probably noticed that you feel bloated during the days leading up to your period (high-hormone phase) because your body is retaining a little more water due to changes in hormones. At the same time your pants feel a little snug, you’re also more hungry and craving sweets. Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) increases slightly before your period – about 100-200 calories/day and your body makes a slight shift to more fat burning for energy to save glycogen stores for potential pregnancy. This can make you a little bit hungrier, even though you feel like you’ve gained a few pounds. Don’t skimp on food now, especially if you’re training, since your body is not burning carbs as it does in the low-hormone phase (or more normal). If you’re doing any long-distance training in your high-hormone phase, you’ll want to onboard some carbs to use as energy.
Keep in mind – even though it seems this way – your body is not working against you, just preparing you for pregnancy. It’s a pretty cool system to be ready for pregnancy every month. But – it can be a hassle when we’re trying to train regularly or at least fit into our jeans each day of the month! You can work with your cycle though. Appreciate the miraculous machine that your womanly body is and track your cycle to help you make the most of your high- and low-hormone phases.
While I don’t recommend tracking your macros, I do think there’s much value in tracking your cycle. There are a few apps available to help. Many of them allow you to enter as much data as your heart desires to dial in the intricacies of your cycle. You can then discover your pattern and work with your physiology to maximize your training. Knowing when you are in your high-hormone phase can help you plan to fuel your endurance training so you hit your goals. You can anticipate your bloat-days by tracking that symptom along with your cycle and know that with the change in fluid retention, that day might not be your best to PR. At the very least, tracking your cycle will help you to be better prepared for when “Aunt Flo” makes her appearance and you are not caught off guard without the necessary accommodations in your diaper bag or purse.
Shania was right to sing about how great it is to be a woman! We are a force with which to reckon and have the best job on the planet as mothers and sisters in sweat. We have an amazing physiology that prepares our bodies for pregnancy each and every month (for a while…then it’s menopause which is a whole other can of worms). It can be inconvenient and uncomfortable at times – but we don’t have to let it rule us. We can work with our physiology to keep us Sweating Like a Mother all month long!