As women, we don’t have it easy. Our hormones have a lot to answer for! The changes in levels of hormones throughout our lives have a big impact on our health and vitality.
The majority of women go to the gym to lose weight or maintain a good physique, or because it feels great to be fit, happy and healthy.
Staying on top of your nutrition and training during your monthly cycle
Do you feel like training is harder and more difficult in the week running up to that time of the month?
Do you get strong cravings for sugary or starchy foods?
During your monthly cycle, you go through different phases and these may have a considerable effect on how you feel and perform in the gym.
Broadly these can be split into two; the follicular phase, where hormones stimulate the release of an egg. This phase starts at the onset of menstruation and lasts until ovulation, which takes place around half way through the cycle, about 14 days. At this point we enter into the luteal phase which lasts from approximately 15-28 days. It is in this phase where several changes occur and the level of hormones, particularly estrogen elevates and then drop again when an egg is not fertilised.
How does this affect how I feel and perform?
Just before and during your period, your body temperature rises, your weight increases and the blood plasma volume drops. This means that the blood becomes thicker and moves more slowly between muscles and this could mean a slower recovery time.
We do know that thermoregulatory and metabolic changes occur during the luteal phase and these are responsible for making us feel fatigued.
Many women report bloating and general lethargy, however, no conclusive evidence has come out of studies to show that performance is actually affected. It’s a difficult thing to measure if you think about it as the symptoms are not easy to measure and also – all women are different!
Psychologically and physiologically, you are probably going to be at your best during the first week of your cycle, or just after the period ends.
The worst time is the week before menstruation, but if you are one of those people who do suffer from noticeable pre-menstrual symptoms, don’t let it be an excuse to let go of your training and nutrition completely. If you’re not feeling you best then here are some tips on how to get through it feeling as good as possible.
- Manage your cravings. Sugar, caffeine, alcohol, stress and lack of exercise all contribute to worsening PMS so don’t succumb to the cravings for trans fats, processed foods and sugar. Keep your diet clean.
- Supplements can help ease PMS symptoms by improving metabolic function and hormone metabolism. Fish oil for fatty acids, magnesium, evening primrose oil, Vitamin B6 are all recommended for managing PMS.
- Keep moving. If you’re not feeling up to an intense workout, then think about timing your deload week for the pre-menstrual phase and do mobility work / yoga / swimming or some light cardio.
- Keep hydrated. Have a sodium based fluid before / during training to keep well hydrated.
As women approach menopause, we start to lose muscle? The process of muscle loss is known as sarcopenia and it is accelerated after menopause. What’s more, from the age of 30, we also start to lose more bone density than we can replace!
You might ask why this should concern you.
As lean muscle diminishes, your metabolism slows down, and that means you burn less fat. If you have a good proportion of muscle mass, you will burn more calories around the clock, i.e. even when you’re not exercising. As we get older, the last thing we want is to replace muscle with fat. Strength training can help slow down muscle loss and therefore makes it easier to maintain a good physique.
Low bone density means that you are more likely to break a bone than someone who has a normal bone density. A decrease in bone density can also mean that you are at a greater risk of developing osteoporosis. Our bones are constantly being rebuilt and as we get older our ability to replace the lost bone mass is diminished. For women especially, a lack of exercise will speed up the normal rate of bone loss in the menopausal phase. Exercise and strength training keeps your bone density and mass at a healthy level.
This is why there is more to the gym than being slim. Lifting weights is particularly good for your bone density and muscle mass. Don’t worry about getting bulky – remember that women have different hormones than men, and that means that we can’t build muscle as easily as men do.
We help our members with a nutritional programme that works for them, if you’re struggling, give us a shout at our gym or try out our women’s personal fitness training sessions and we’ll help you work out a plan that suits you.
- Training Tips for Women
- Women’s Fitness Training – Shifting the Focus
- What Exercises Can I Do During Pregnancy
- The Truth About Female Fat Loss
- Is Your Face Cream Making You Fat?