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Cycle oriented: training and nutrition

Updated: Apr 14

"A regular period with only mild symptoms is an imortant marker of good underlying health." (Welsh Athletics)
"The complexity of the menstrual cycle is seen as a major barrier to the inclusion of women in clinical trials." (Bruinvels G et al.)
"Female athletes train and compete under the potential influence of hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle". (Ekenros L et al.)

The female menstrual cycle may be associated with inconvenience for many women. Even though regularity with only minor discomfort signifies good health, not every woman is pleased when she is in the bleeding phase. But with the right diet and exercise, we can help ourselves alleviate, even improve, and prevent certain conditions.


For a long time, women have been in the background when it comes to carrying out scientific studies. And there is still too little emphasis on thinking sex and gender-specifically and taking a closer look at the female body. One of the reasons for this is that women seem to be too complex to be included in studies.

Today, however, we want to look at a topic that is getting more and more attention in the media, in the field of sports and nutrition, and also in science. Because the female cycle can affect our performance, body and mind.


Adapting your diet and training to your female cycle (cycle oriented) may be challenging at first, but it can bring great benefits to your body and mind. More specifically, cycle-focused means adjusting our diet and workouts to the hormonal conditions that change throughout the cycle.


Physical and mental ailments, such as periodic water retention, skin blemishes, fatigue, mood and weight fluctuations, and gastrointestinal distress, can change throughout the cycle. With the help of apps, we can note these symptoms in addition to menstruation in order to get to know and understand our bodies better. Anneke uses the Garmin app for this, which also connects with her watch during sporting activities. But she also thinks Clue or Flo are good apps for noting the cycle and all the factors associated with it.


What is the most important thing we should know in advance?


Every woman is unique. Our cycle, hormone levels and associated physical and mental conditions can vary greatly from woman to woman. Therefore, it is imperative that you first observe your cycle and write down in detail (as mentioned above) when your menstruation and ovulation occur, how long each phase lasts, and how you feel about it. The more precisely you write it down, the more targeted you can make your diet and training plan afterwards. If you use hormonal contraception, you have no natural hormone level, no natural menstrual bleeding (maybe even none at all) and usually no ovulation, therefore an adaption does not make sense.


How do diet and exercise look like in the first phase of the cycle?


The first phase starts with day 1 of bleeding. It is important that we do not already count the brown discharge (so-called spotting), which can occur a few days before, as day 1. During the period of bleeding, many women can often perform less physically due to their discomfort. A lack of iron due to blood loss decreases oxygen delivery to the muscle, since iron, as an important component of hemoglobin in red blood cells, should help with this. Light endurance training, walking, yoga and mobility are recommended. The diet should be rich in iron, vitamin A, magnesium and omega-3. Other women, on the other hand, feel more powerful and may, of course, adjust their training accordingly.


Follicular phase- Phase 2


As soon as you feel better and your bleeding becomes less, your energy level increases. You can set new training stimuli, perform maximum strength training with high intensities. Take advantage of the increased estrogen levels to improve your performance. Make sure you eat enough protein, good fats, fermented and sprouted products. If you want to keep your weight stable or want to loose weight, you can reduce your carbohydrate intake.


Ovulation


Some women experience symptoms similar to those experienced at the time of menstruation. Slight or even strong pulling in the abdomen, cramps, skin blemishes, etc. You can reduce your training intensity a bit and focus more on coordination and stability. Because in this phase we seem to be more prone to injury. Your meals should be rich in calcium, antioxidants, vitamin D and fiber.


Luteal phase- Phase 3


In the luteal phase, progesterone increases and the other hormones decrease. Many women suffer from the so-called pre-menstrual syndrome, i.e. already at the end of this phase water retention, mood swings, fatigue and other symptoms already mentioned above. Reduced training intensity with a focus on regeneration, gentle strengthening and endurance units can help. The diet may include carbohydrates, dehydrating foods, vitamin B6 as well as alpha-linolenic acid (triple unsaturated fatty acids) and ligans (plant compounds with estrogen-like effects).



In summary, it is worth trying, but not every woman will end up benefiting. First of all, keep a cycle diary and design your training and diet plan based on the conditions at hand. If you need assistance with this, you are very welcome to book an appointment with Anneke and/or browse the resources below.

Anneke highly recommends the information from Swiss Olympic! Also consider talking to your coach, colleagues and others about this - they can support you in optimizing your well-being and performance.


If you would like to know what your hormone levels are, you can have this determined by a blood test. However, you should keep in mind that the values differ according to your cycle phases.



Finally, we would like to say that it is always best to check your training and nutrition with a doctor and, if necessary, with a nutritional therapist who knows about it. We can share our contacts!



Author:

Anneke Penny



References:

1. Tanja Oosthuyse; Andrew N. Bosch (2010): The Effect of the Menstrual Cycle on Exercise Metabolism. In: Sports Med 40 (3), S. 207–227. DOI: 10.2165/11317090-000000000-00000.

2. Giuseppe Fischetto; Anik Sax (2013): The Menstrual Cycle and Sport Performance. In: New Studies in Athletics 28 (3/4), S. 57–69. Hakimi, Osnat; Cameron, Luiz-Claudio (2017): Effect of Exercise on Ovulation: A Systematic Review. In: Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.) 47 (8), S. 1555–1567. DOI: 10.1007/s40279-016-0669-8. J. Martin: Adaptative Prozesse. Endokrinum.

3. Oleka CT. Use of the Menstrual Cycle to Enhance Female Sports Performance and Decrease Sports-Related Injury. J Pediatr Adolesc Gynecol. 2020 Apr;33(2):110-111. doi: 10.1016/j.jpag.2019.10.002. Epub 2019 Oct 31. PMID: 31678355.

4. Bruinvels G, Burden RJ, McGregor AJ, Ackerman KE, Dooley M, Richards T, Pedlar C. Sport, exercise and the menstrual cycle: where is the research? Br J Sports Med. 2017 Mar;51(6):487-488. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2016-096279. Epub 2016 Jun 6. PMID: 27267895.

5. Ekenros L, von Rosen P, Solli GS, Sandbakk Ø, Holmberg HC, Hirschberg AL, Fridén C. Perceived impact of the menstrual cycle and hormonal contraceptives on physical exercise and performance in 1,086 athletes from 57 sports. Front Physiol. 2022 Aug 30;13:954760. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2022.954760. PMID: 36111164; PMCID: PMC9468598.

6. Sung E, Han A, Hinrichs T, Vorgerd M, Manchado C, Platen P. Effects of follicular versus luteal phase-based strength training in young women. Springerplus. 2014 Nov 11;3:668. doi: 10.1186/2193-1801-3-668. PMID: 25485203; PMCID: PMC4236309.

7. Carmichael MA, Thomson RL, Moran LJ, Wycherley TP. The Impact of Menstrual Cycle Phase on Athletes' Performance: A Narrative Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Feb 9;18(4):1667. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18041667. PMID: 33572406; PMCID: PMC7916245.

8. Statham G. Understanding the effects of the menstrual cycle on training and performance in elite athletes: A preliminary study. Prog Brain Res. 2020;253:25-58. doi: 10.1016/bs.pbr.2020.05.028. Epub 2020 Jul 22. PMID: 32771127.


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