And if so, what kind of exercise is best?
Some days it seems a little harder to get motivated – exercise morale is low and sticking to a diet plan is challenging. Sometimes this feeling lasts a day, or a week, then one morning you wake up and feel completely energized! Ever wonder how fluctuations in your monthly cycle can affect your fitness and diet routine? The big question is: can you work out on your period?
Well, yes! Although every body is different and experiences hormonal changes to varying degrees, there are ways to stick to your health program during every phase of the menstrual cycle. You can work with your body’s changing chemistry by understanding the intersection of physiology and fitness. We’ll break this down in week-by-week approximations.
Menstruation (days 1-5)
Welcome to the first half of your follicular phase! This stage lasts until ovulation: the first week is characterized by low, but gradually rising, levels of estrogen. You may experience food cravings at the start of your period, but increasing estrogen can have an appetite-suppressing effect. The initial dip in hormones means that your body is more willing to let you shed fat compared to high-estrogen phases (where your body relies on the slow breakdown of fat in preparation for a possible pregnancy). Surprisingly, this stage in the menstrual cycle is pretty ideal for pushing yourself just a little harder than usual as your body will get better returns from short, fast-paced workouts like high intensity interval training.
If you suffer from heavy bleeding or pain and discomfort, it may be a better option to pursue low impact activities such as light cardio, swimming, or yoga. The follicular phase can yield greater muscle mass than other times of the month if you’re able to work with that extra strength provided by steadily rising levels of estrogen of testosterone. Movement can help to reduce cramping and headaches, while a release of endorphins combats moodiness and can function as a sleep aid. Many women experience an increased tolerance for pain during the first half of their cycle as well as higher levels of endurance, so give exercise a chance and you just might find that working out works out some menstrual symptoms!
Follicular Phase (days 6-13)
Hello testosterone! As this hormone continues to surge during the second half of the follicular phase, or the beginning of week two of your cycle, you may find the power to take on more intensive weight training workouts. Testosterone is your friend when it comes to building muscle and stimulating recovery post-exercise, while anaerobic movement like sprinting and jumping are suited to this time of the month. Higher levels of estrogen will inspire the motivation to get moving! More hormones = more energy. So go ahead and get those squats in, just be careful not to stress your ACL too much – extra estrogen loosens the joints and changes collagen in a way that can make you more susceptible to injury.
Ovulation (days 14-21)
Ovulation occurs roughly midway through a woman’s menstrual cycle and signals the beginning of the luteal phase. You might be experiencing decreased energy and sluggishness this week due to a dip in estrogen and rising progesterone (known to be sedative). But the good news is that this combination of estrogen and progesterone concoct a chemical cocktail that can promote fat-burning abilities! Aerobic exercise like running and pilates are light enough to keep your body engaged in a consistent exercise program while you push through that hormonal lethargy. Make sure to reward yourself for those efforts with extra sleep or relaxing activities, some of which can even count towards your fitness goals: think about going for a nature walk or low-intensity bike ride.
Luteal Phase (days 21-28)
The luteal phase continues up until your period begins. Although an increase in metabolic rate will burn up calories faster, your body’s core temperature has risen, resulting in decreased heat tolerance – working out seems even harder! Estrogen and testosterone take a dive this week; progesterone surges and gifts you with a bout of bloating. Try not to be discouraged, physiology is just doing its job. Steady cardio, lighter body weight work, and yoga are a few suggestions for staying active and boosting neurochemicals useful for combating some classic PMS symptoms. Sticking to an exercise routine will promote better snoozing via the release of sleep-regulating serotonin, while endorphins can ease bodily discomfort associated with premenstrual symptoms (like headaches and cramping). In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends regular aerobic exercise for PMS relief.
What you can do at any time of the month...
Tracking fitness performance each day for a few months can help you to become more familiar with your body system and its weekly hormonal fluctuations. Taking notes on energy levels, sleep patterns, food cravings, and exercise intensity will be useful in determining how you can best work with your cycle. My monthly, 30-day fitness calendar is a great tool for tapping into various disciplines of exercise no matter what time of the month it is!
The printable calendar can be used to keep tabs on any changes - just jot down notes whenever you notice something happening within your body (significant or minor) and make sure to cross off those days when you've accomplished a workout! Keeping in touch with your system is critical for understanding optimal functioning. Womanhood has its quirks, but you can be proactive about how you feel within the vessel you occupy. Change is achieved through self discipline, persistence, and self love!
Have you noticed anything noteworthy about your week-to-week fitness functioning?