Women’s Cycle Training and Nutrition Guide

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While you’re in the phase of life where you’re having regular periods, you may feel intuitively that you just don’t have as much drive during the days leading up to your period. And you may notice that certain times of the month you are able to absolutely crush your workouts. Following the rhythm of your cycle when it comes to your training and nutrition is a great way to feel your absolute best – and see the best results – and today I’ll explain exactly how!

In this episode I’m exploring…

The phases of your cycle, and what your hormones are doing in each phase
⭐How you can optimize your training at each phase of your cycle
⭐Nutrition tips to support you at every stage of your cycle
⭐How to mitigate some of your PMS symptoms, and why we get them
⭐Considerations for training if you’re on the pill
⭐Conditions that cause hormone imbalances overview

Here is an example training schedule for someone with a textbook 28-day menstrual cycle (apply the phases to your own):

  • Day 1-14 (follicular phase): Follow your workouts and training schedule as written. Give your workouts all you’ve got! Nourish yourself, get good sleep, don’t skip your rest days and be mindful of your stress levels.
  • Day 14 (ovulation) Keep the status quo.
  • Day 15-21 (luteal phase beginning): Keep tabs on your energy levels and pace yourself in your workouts to match how much energy you have. You might not notice much change during the first week of your luteal phase, but everyone is different. Start to really pay attention to your protein intake and make sure you’re getting enough consistently along with your other whole food meals.
  • Day 22-28 (luteal phase – end): You may start to feel more tired more easily, so give yourself permission to shorten your workouts, make them lower impact, or replace them with more yoga, stretching or low impact activities. You can take extra rest days as well leading up to your period with no impact on your training results when you are also paying attention to getting enough protein and eating whole food meals.

Links to follow up from this episode:

  • Rock Your Life home workout studio and women’s fitness program for women in their cycling years, in perimenopause and post-menopause
  • How to train through the stages of your cycle (article format, with diagrams)
  • Women’s Health articles

Episode Transcript

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Betty Rocker (00:14):
What’s up, rock stars Coach Betty Rocker here. Thanks so much for joining me. It’s great to connect with you today. So this is part one of a three-part series where I’m going to cover the major phases of our life, including our cycling years, perimenopause and post menopause, and how we can really optimize our training and nutrition to see the best results in relation to our hormone levels. So while you’re in this phase of life where you’re having regular periods, you may feel intuitively that you just don’t have as much drive during the days leading up to your period. And you may notice that certain times of the month you’re able to absolutely crush your workouts. And if you’ve reached the life stage where your period has slowed down, known as perimenopause or it’s completely stopped known as post menopause, you’re likely also noticing changes in your energy, your drive and your body composition.

(01:08)
The things that you used to do may not feel like they’re working the same anymore. And all of these changes including the cyclical nature of our energy when we’re still having a regular period, those are related to the interplay of key hormones, notably estrogen and progesterone and their impact on every cell in our bodies. So when we compare ourselves say to our male counterparts, we’re often just taking for granted that we should be able to perform the same all month long or the same after menopause. And this can really make us feel like we’re inadequate or we’re ashamed when we feel tired or we’re bleeding or gaining unexpected body fat and losing muscle, or there are other ways that we’re impacted by those changing hormones. And I feel like we just really deserve the opportunity to learn more about how our bodies work so we can really harness their unique advantages and start seeing them as something to navigate, not something to fear.

(02:05)
So when I learned how all this stuff works, it was just a joy to begin to practice it and I felt the impacts so quickly and it just made so much more sense. So if we look to our regular cycling years and our cycle itself for an advantageous training schedule, we can break it down into its phases. Now keep in mind that the length of a woman’s cycle and the length of days in the phases can really vary and it’s all normal. For instance, you might have a three day period or a five day period, you might ovulate on day 12 or on day 15, and some women have a longer cycle of 35 to 40 days total while others have a cycle as short as 21 days. Both ends of that spectrum and really everything in between are considered fairly normal. And I’m not sure if you’re tracking your cycle phases.

(02:54)
Some women simply track when they get their period, so they have a good idea of when they’ll get it again. And others also are tracking ovulation, which is usually in the middle of our cycle. One of the hallmarks of ovulation is this rise in our body temperature. So a lot of the devices that often track that may use body temperature measurements to determine when it happens, you may also use a urine test because certain hormones are rising at that time, so a urine test might be detecting that. Anyway, I mentioned the tracking only because you might also enjoy tuning into the phases of your cycle for training purposes, but you can also just do this by kind of guesstimating based on knowing when you get your period each month. So what’s known as the follicular phase is from the start of your period until ovulation, sort of that mid cycle time and your estrogen levels are gradually going to rise during the follicular phase and then your progesterone levels are going to be lower.

(03:55)
Now because of the higher estrogen levels to progesterone ratio at this time, you’re at really this advantageous time to build muscle. As it turns out, our estrogen is anabolic, meaning it helps increase our lean mass. Progesterone increases protein breakdown. So you want to take advantage of this first half of your cycle in your training when estrogen is higher because the more muscle tissue you have, of course, the more efficiently you’re going to burn fat, the higher your resting metabolic rate is. And it’s just all of these great things that you can really harness in this first half of your cycle. In that first phase, we’ve actually got three types of estrogen that are present in our cycling years. We’ve got E one, E two and E three, which are estro, estradiol, and estriol. Don’t worry, there isn’t atest. This is just good to know because our estrogens are really involved in our growth, our nervous system, our muscle and bone health tissue responses, and just so many more things.

(04:52)
And that E two estrogen, the estradiol is primarily made in our ovaries and this is the estrogen that is most associated with our muscle tissue and actually our bone tissue as well. And this is the one we start to lose in perimenopause and don’t make much of all after menopause. So this is why a lot of women start to really struggle with muscle loss and fat gain and menopause as well as bone density concerns just because of the shift in their estrogen levels, especially that key E two estrogen. So you want to really take advantage of this time in your regular cycling years when you have it in abundance and naturally build those good habits and build your strength while you have that sort of adaptive capacity. We do make a tiny amount of the E two estrogen in our adrenals and also in our fat cells and we make the E one estrogen our entire lives mostly in our adrenals, and we continue to have some of this estrogen post menopause as well though it doesn’t really help us as much with our body composition the way E two does E three estrogen is primarily made during pregnancy.

(05:58)
So this follicular phase is when estrogen is in the driver’s seat basically. And as a result, training in this phase can be all about strength and power. You can hit some maybe personal records in your training. Maybe you feel you just have really good energy to push harder and push farther with your running or your cardiovascular activities. Now, I mentioned that some of that estrogen is made by our adrenals throughout our entire lives, and this is significant because high levels of stress can create that elevation in our cortisol levels. But the precursor to cortisol raising is actually the adrenaline rising in our system in response to the fight or flight stimulus. And we want to make sure that we’re not constantly getting into this fight or flight state because this actually really impacts our body’s ability to produce the estrogen that we need. So say really paying attention to your stress levels is important, and over training is one of those things that can create a heightened stress response in our system.

(06:57)
So while I say that this follicular phase is when we have the most adaptation available for building remodeling muscle and bone tissue, we also want to make sure that we’re respecting the body and not overdoing it. So that follicular phase or that first half of your cycle is when this estrogen really is in the driver’s seat. And as a result, your training in this phase can be all about strength and power. You can hit maybe some personal records in your training or just feel like you have great energy to push harder and push farther with your running or your cardio based activities and your resistance training workouts, and you can really see yourself progress and recover really well with good resilience to recover from this higher output potential. And of course, this is what we’re talking about, not over training, not overdoing it at the same time and assuming we’re also fueling enough around our training to support our energy levels and the energy we need for all that output and the remodeling of our muscle tissue.

(07:58)
And we want to make sure we’re prioritizing our sleep and not allowing that stress to overwhelm us. But this is really a great time to give your workouts your all and you want to pay attention to your protein intake to help rebuild the tissue after those workouts and eat plenty of whole foods and support good gut health and your healthy microbiome and get to bed on time and prioritize recovery. And all of these good pieces of our four pillars of health come into play for us in this life stage and we just have a greater capacity and more resilience than we’ll really have in the later stages of life. So we really want to take advantage of this and find our balance and enjoy those workouts. And if you’re say, taking a Betty Rocker challenge or a program, this is really the phase of your cycle to try moves maybe you haven’t been able to do before, like tackle those burpees with confidence and see if you can get in a few more reps or add a little more weight to your weighted moves.

(08:54)
Obviously we’re taking those rest days like we’re talking about, but we will just be able to recover more quickly from our workouts and our estrogen levels will really support us in building more muscle during this phase, which we can hold onto pretty well too if we’re eating right and recovering in balance throughout the next phase. So next step is ovulation, which brings the follicular phase to a close and follicle stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone are going to peak at this time, and this ruptures the follicle so the egg can be released and cause ovulation. The luteal phase is this sort of second phase of our cycle and this starts after ovulation. The egg is going to travel down the fallopian tube towards the uterus where it’s going to attach to the uterine lining for possible fertilization. At this time, we’re going to start to experience a greater inflammatory response as the body is actually spending a lot of energy preparing for possible pregnancy, it’s going to thicken the uterine lining and do a lot of other tasks and our progesterone, the counterbalance to estrogen is going to now be heightened and it is now the dominant player in relation to your estrogen.

(10:02)
And this means there’s going to be an increase in our respiration rate, our heart rate, and our core temperature is going to go up as much as 0.5 degrees celsius, which doesn’t sound like much, but this can really impact your sleep because it just becomes harder in this second half of your cycle to really get into that good deep sleep with a slightly higher core temperature. So that means for you, it can be actually a little bit tougher to recover from your workouts, so you’ll just want to be monitoring your energy level so that you’re not overdoing it. You are also going to have just a greater need for amino acids from protein during this time because your body’s laying down that new tissue. So it’s time to intentionally up your protein intake and after you ovulate, it’s a great time to just, like I was saying, start to monitor your energy levels and check in with your stamina because that progesterone’s going to really impact your ability to recover and push as hard as you were before in your workouts.

(11:00)
And this is a great time to just sort of gently taper down the intensity of your training and not force yourself to go harder when you’re not quite feeling up for it. So maybe you do less resistance or maybe you do less rounds of a workout or you take some lower impact versions of high impact moves in a workout. Just simply having the mindset that the body is shifting and it has a cycle of energy and hormone levels, it’s really just gratifying to know that the way you feel, there’s a real reason behind that and that it’s okay to lean into that feeling and not force yourself to go hard through the entire length of your cycle. So in the latter half of the luteal phase, like somewhere around the week before your period starts, you might start to feel some of those PMS symptoms, right?

(11:51)
You might feel a little more fatigued and you may feel a little bit more tired. And remember, estrogen and progesterone are going to be crossing the blood-brain barrier and affecting your central nervous system. You’re going to have, like we talked about, that increase in your respiration rate, so your heart’s going to be beating a little faster. This changes your blood plasma and it makes it so that you may be a little warmer and you’re going to have that heightened inflammatory response. So we’re not recovering quite as easily and we may not be getting great sleep either. So it’s just a really good time to start to taper down the resistance or weight amounts and tone down the intensity of your cardio and not feel like when you’re feeling some of these PMMS symptoms that you’re forcing yourself to do this hard workout thinking that you’re going to lose your gains.

(12:40)
This is the time to do some maintenance and maybe even take some extra rest days. Do recovery type sessions like slow recuperative movement, like yoga or functional movement drills like body weight type mobility and any type of low impact stuff that feels really good to you and just really get in the habit of listening to your body and adapt your plan for the day if your energy is dropping off. It’s just not beneficial to push yourself extra hard when you feel this way, and you’ll just not get better results from pushing yourself harder when you’re in a heightened state of inflammation and you’re not going to lose your gains that you made, especially if you just stay on track with your healthy nutrient dense foods because remember, your follicular phase and higher estrogen levels are coming right up after you get your period again. So you’re going to have that energy and drive back and it’s going to start all over and you’re just going to be right back in that higher energy phase.

(13:41)
Now when it comes to your PMS, every woman really experiences this so differently and it is very unique to each of us, but some of the things that can help mitigate some of that response is to really pay attention to eating anti-inflammatory foods, like foods that help support your healthy gut biome and things that are fiber rich, and also that you have enough protein at that time because like we said, the body needs a little bit more protein as we’re approaching our period just because it’s laying down new tissue. And we really benefit so much from really focusing on that healthy whole food intake and being mindful of our sugar. And I know that you might feel some sugar cravings at this time because the body just needs a little bit more nutrients in general due to all of the processes that are happening. So if you’re limiting your nutrient intake or you’re trying not to eat as much as you maybe need to, then you may experience more intense symptoms.

(14:37)
So I really recommend focusing on your healthy whole food meals and making sure you have plenty of fiber rich foods, fruits and vegetables, healthy whole grains, plenty of good protein, whatever kind you like to eat, and just really paying attention to nourishing yourself well and staying true to a bedtime. Sometimes when we’re not getting great sleep, we beat ourselves up thinking, oh no, I’m not getting the sleep I need, but you can’t always help that. So you just want to maybe get yourself into bed at a good time and just try to wind down. So just do the best you can and don’t overtrain at this time because this is what will make you feel a little worse. It can increase your levels of inflammation, which will only make your symptoms feel worse, so you know may have a little bit less energy during your period itself, but everyone experiences that differently as well.

(15:31)
So just want to stay tuned in for your energy levels and see what they’re doing. Once you do get your period, once you do get your period, your progesterone levels are going to drop, your core temperature is going to come back to normal and your estrogen is going to step back into that driver’s seat and your period can be sort of a transitionary phase. You might shift through feeling lower energy to feeling higher energy over the course of your period as your body starts to experience the effects of the follicular phase once again. So really when it comes to training with your period, this is totally personal preference and it’s really up to you if you feel tired, do more gentle movement and things that feel restorative similar to what you were doing leading up to it, and it can just be helpful to get moving if you can, and go for a walk or a hike or a bike ride to just stimulate your circulation and your energy levels, but listen to your body and stay hydrated if you begin to feel energized and strong again, you can start training at a volume that suits you like a higher volume like we talked about with that follicular phase.

(16:31)
Now just to recap and make it super easy for you, here’s a sample training schedule, and for simplicity, I’ll use the classic 28 day cycle since it’s easy to divide in half, and then we will have the first half is the follicular phase, the second half is the luteal phase. So you can just use these as an example and apply it to yourself. And of course, I’ll add this to the show notes written out as well if you want to reference it. So day one to 14, the follicular phase, follow your workouts in your training schedule exactly as it’s written. Give your workouts all you’ve got. Feel free to push harder and nourish yourself, get good sleep. Don’t skip your rest days. Be mindful of your stress levels like we talked about. Now, day 14 ovulation, you can keep the status quo unless you feel differently.

(17:18)
And then days 15 to 21, which is the first part of the luteal phase, I suggest just keeping tabs on your energy levels and pacing yourself in your workouts to match how much energy you have because you might not notice a big shift right away and everybody’s different. So just pay attention to your protein intake and make sure you’re really getting enough consistently along with those other whole food meals. Now, day 22 to 28, which is the second half or the end of the luteal phase, here’s where we might start feeling more tired more easily. So just give yourself permission to sort of shorten your workouts, make them lower impact, or even replace them with more yoga or stretching or some low impact activities, and you can even take more rest days as well leading up to your period with no impact on your training results when you’re really paying attention to getting enough protein, eating those whole food meals, really supporting your gut microbiome and eating healthy balanced nutrient dense foods.

(18:16)
Okay, so what about the pill and what kind of schedule should we follow? And we’re still in our regular cycling years if we’re using that. I am so glad you asked. So the pill or an oral contraceptive is going to modify your body’s natural estrogen and progesterone cycling by delivering a low dose of synthesized hormones on a daily basis. Not all pills are the same or use the same dosages, so you may find you respond better to one type over another, and this dose of these synthesized hormones have the effect of suppressing your natural cycle response and your natural hormone levels. The week that you’re on the sugar pill is the week your body bleeds, but it’s not actually the same thing as regular period. There’s evidence that the pill really impacts our ability to build muscle and it can impact the strength we’re able to gain from our training.

(19:08)
So we might increase in size but not actually strength, which is really interesting. There’s also evidence that women on the pill can experience increased oxidative stress and that the pill is associated with fat gain and also fluid retention. This makes sense when we consider the advantages the first half of our natural cycle gives us for building muscle when we have more of that natural E two estrogen circulating. If that is being suppressed by the pill, we cannot take advantage of it the same way. Nevertheless, you can still periodize your training by doing more high volume training in the first three weeks of your cycle on the pill and then backing off during the sugar pill week that you bleed. Women choose to be on the pill and are also put on the pill by their doctors for a variety of reasons. And as long as you are aware of the way that’s affecting your natural hormones and what the trade-offs are, it can be a great option.

(19:58)
Of course, there are a lot of different things that can cause our hormone levels to get out of balance in our cycling years. These can be serious things like genetic conditions such as Turner syndrome, which can cause premature ovarian failure or autoimmune conditions, or could be related to chemotherapy or radiation treatment. Endometriosis is where the tissue that grows inside the uterine lining and grows outside of it in places it doesn’t belong, which causes pain and can form cysts and is associated with higher than normal levels of estrogen. PCOS or polycystic ovarian syndrome causes irregular periods and is associated with producing excessively high levels of testosterone and other androgens. It’s often associated with weight gain and diabetes and causes a lot of issues with fertility and is a very challenging condition. But one of the treatments recommended for PCOS incidentally helpful for anyone looking to stabilize and support their hormones is tuning into your nutrient intake and your gut health and really supporting yourself with plenty of fiber, those pre and probiotic foods that help support the gut microbiome and the healthy gut bugs that mitigate and manage a lot of our excess estrogens and help drive them out of the body because so much of our estrogen is actually produced and managed by our gut and the balance of those gut bugs that we have.

(21:14)
So creating good biodiversity in the gut with those fibrous fruits and vegetables and minimizing our sugar intake can really help reduce the inflammation in general, but that’s also associated with PCOS and can really help support the body as it excretes excess hormones and those byproducts through our stool. We can also experience hormone imbalances from things like very low food intake, from over training, from really severe levels of stress to our system. Remember we talked about how some of our hormones are made in the adrenals, so really severe stress, both physical and emotional and things like heavy drug use or heavy alcohol use can all disrupt our hormone cycles. So finding balance and taking the best care of yourself now that you can will really help set you up for the next level of your life, which we all get to if we’re lucky. And that’s that menopause phase, starting with the perimenopause, which I’ll be talking about in our next episode.

(22:13)
I really hope that you got some cool insights and ideas from today’s episode, and you can always hit me up with your questions on the show notes page over on my blog in the podcast section. Just drop me a line and also join us in Rock Your Life, my online home workout studio in women’s fitness community where I support women in all life stages with workout programs customized to your life stage and balanced nutrient guidance and healthy recipes. If you’re new to rock your life, you can even take a 30 day trial and check it all out with no commitment if you’ve ever taken my free Make Fat Cry Challenge, and then we’re like, well, what do I do now? You can find that challenge to do again anytime. Plus, make Fat Cry two, make Fat Cry three and over 60 other fun challenge programs of all types and lengths just waiting for you to enjoy them.

(23:01)
You can enjoy all different kinds of training styles and count on me and my fantastic coaches to really guide you on form and give you great options. Plus surround you with great stretching, yoga, mobility, and mindset classes as well, so you can stay balanced and aligned while you’re getting shredded. So come on over and see what you’re missing and rock your life over at thebettyrocker.com/coaching. And thanks so much for tuning in today, rockstar. It was great to spend some time with you talking about our bodies. I know it really had helped me so much learning about how the hormones work together and feeling like I really had a handle on that internal landscape, and I hope it helps you too. I look forward to talking to you again very soon. So till then, as always, I’m Betty Rocker and you are so awesome Blossom and amazing. Talk to Again real soon. Bye for now.

This episode brought to you by Rock Your Life!

Rock Your Life is my online workout studio that you can attend from anywhere you are, and access workout challenge programs, healthy recipes, and get coaching and support in our private women’s fitness community for all 4 Pillars of Health. We provide support and strategies for women in training with their cycle, training in perimenopause and training in menopause.

All of our workouts and training programs include a strong focus on form and alignment to keep you healthy and balanced. You’ll find workout classes to take a la carte of all types, including strength training, HIIT, kickboxing, yoga, barre, mobility and more!

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