SHOULD I EXERCISE ACCORDING TO MY MENSTRUAL CYCLE?
Nearly half of women believe that their menstrual cycle negatively impacts their training and performance. Your hormones – namely estrogen and progesterone – rise and fall across the four key phases of your menstrual cycle (yes, your cycle is much more than just your period!).
"This fluctuation means that your body will feel different during your period, mid-cycle and premenstrual," explains gynecologist, Dr Nithya Ratnavelu. "Your hormones can affect everything from your body temperature and energy levels to your metabolism and muscle laxity," – meaning that some days you'll feel totally revved up, and others you'll feel wiped.
WHAT ARE THE KEY MENSTRUAL CYCLE HORMONES AT PLAY?
"If you go to the doctor, they'll usually break down the menstrual cycle into just two phases – follicular and luteal," says Le'Nise. "But what we now know is that there are a lot of variations in our hormones that happen across your cycle."
If we go deeper, these changing hormones affect many aspects of your health. There are three key hormones at play, and they peak and trough at different times:
Estrogen – the main hormone that regulates your menstrual cycle. Estrogen is lowest during your period and then peaks just before ovulation. It can affect your mood and energy levels, but also how you metabolize carbs and your bone health.
Progesterone – progesterone is important for ovulation and prepares your body for a potential fertilized egg to implant and grow. It helps to regulate estrogen, promotes bone growth, and has an anti-inflammatory effect in the body. It peaks just after ovulation.
Testosterone – testosterone helps to regulate your sex drive and mood, and helps us build muscle. Like estrogen, it peaks just before ovulation.
Tips for adapting your workout:
Rest – it's normal around this time to feel more tired, especially if you experience painful and/or heavy periods. "This is your invitation to rest if you need, stay hydrated and do what feels good for your body," says Le'Nise.
Move to ease the pain – studies show that exercise can help to reduce period pain. "Movement reduces the prostaglandin and exercise – especially aerobic – can produce endorphins, which block pain receptors and might help with painful cramps," says Dr Nithya.
Opt for low-intensity – try low-intensity aerobic exercises that don't put too much extra stress on your body. "Maybe swap the spin class for slow flow yoga, walks, Pilates or swimming," suggests Le'Nise. When you incorporate slow, conscious breathing, this also helps activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps reduce inflammation and your stress hormone, cortisol.