Follicle RX is only for men
Use the cycle to train sensibly
Have you ever wondered why you react differently to training stimuli in certain phases? Why is the same training session very easy for you on some days and very difficult on other days? Or why are you sometimes more hungry and thirsty?
One answer to this may be the hormonal fluctuations that determine the female menstrual cycle. Many of us haven't paid so much attention to this topic before. Nevertheless, I can now say that we can take advantage of precisely these fluctuations in endurance sports training.
We can plan training content and nutritional strategies in such a way that the hormonal mechanisms of action support the meaning and goal of our training units as well as regeneration. To do this, however, we need to understand how the menstrual cycle works and what functions the hormones involved have.
The entire menstrual cycle is controlled by the interaction of the brain and sexual organs. Five hormones play an important role: the gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH), the luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), estrogen and progesterone. So-called kisspeptins cause the hypothalamus to release GnRH, which signals the pituitary to release the two hormones FSH and LH into the blood.
The stages of the menstrual cycle
Thefirst phase the menstrual cycle is known as the early follicular phase and begins on the first day of bleeding. The hormone levels of FSH, LH, estrogen and progesterone are lowest in this phase.
Shortly after the bleeding stops (days 4-6) thesecond phase, the late follicular phase. In this phase, FSH stimulates the formation of a new egg cell in a so-called follicle. The hormone estrogen is produced in the walls of these follicles. As the follicle grows up to ovulation, the estrogen level also rises sharply. This increased estrogen level acts as a signal for the pituitary gland to release LH, which then initiates ovulation. In this phase the lining of the uterus is already slightly built up.
Thethird phasewho have favourited early luteal phase. starts right after ovulation. The follicle turns into a gland called the corpus luteum because of its color. The hormone progesterone is produced in this corpus luteum. The early luteal phase is characterized by an increase in progesterone levels and an initial drop in estrogen, which is then followed by a slight increase.
Now there is also a further build-up of the uterine lining. It is well equipped with blood vessels and supplied with a glycogen-rich secretion. In this way, it is optimally prepared for a fertilized egg cell. This is where the body builds up tissue and it is precisely this process that costs energy.
Thefourth phase, the late luteal phase, begins with the degeneration of the corpus luteum if fertilization has not occurred. Progesterone and estrogen can no longer be produced and fall sharply. Then the cycle begins again with shedding of the lining of the uterus (bleeding).
“According to the textbook, the entire cycle lasts an average of 28 days. We now know, however, that there are women who have a cycle of only 21 days and others - even a large proportion of women - are closer to 35 or 40 days. "
Performance physiological effects
The hormones estrogen and progesterone are not only found in the reproductive system, but also travel through the entire body and trigger their effects in a wide variety of ways. They determine how well we react to certain training stimuli, how we adapt and how we recover. They affect our metabolism and the way we can use nutrients.
"Even sleep, thermoregulation and the immune system are subject to hormonal fluctuations."
The following effects of estrogen and progesterone influence performance:
- Retention of fluid, which we often perceive as water retention
- The blood plasma decreases
- Insulin sensitivity is increased
- The storage of carbohydrates is supported
- Gluconeogenesis (new synthesis of glucose from non-carbohydrates) is suppressed
- Free fatty acids are increasingly released
- Muscle protein biosynthesis is supported (anabolic - building - effect)
- IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1, a growth factor) is stimulated
- The bone density is improved
- The serotonin level in the brain is affected
- The body temperature rises
- Increased but later onset of sweating
- Aldosterone receptors in the kidney are blocked so that more sodium is excreted
- The muscle protein synthesis is impaired (catabolic - degrading effect)
- The breathing rate increases
- The bone tissue is strengthened
- Insulin sensitivity decreases
- Glycogen is difficult to store
- Gluconeogenesis (new synthesis of glucose from non-carbohydrates) is suppressed
In a healthy and natural menstrual cycle, estrogen and progester never act in isolation. They work partly together, but also against each other. Such as anabolic vs. catabolic effects. The estrogen / progesterone ratio is always important here.
"Don't worry, you don't have to change your racing calendar or adapt it to your cycle."
However, it makes sense to be aware of this mode of action of the hormones, because many of the undesirable side effects of estrogen and progesterone can be counteracted by a targeted nutritional strategy and specific timing of protein, carbohydrate and fluid intake. Accordingly, hard training and competitions are quite possible during this phase, which at first appears to be unfavorable.
Derivation on the training plan
But what does all this mean for training planning when it is no longer only structured by competitions, but the cycle is also to be taken into account? Which training focuses can we benefit most from in the particular phases?
Phase 1: HIIT 3-5 min, VO2 Max
Phase 2: Longer intentsive intervals
Phase 3: Steady state and basic-based training
Phase 4: Technique training and relief
Phase 1: Heavy weights, low repetitions
Phase 2: Heavy weights, EMOM
Phase 3: Plyometric training, descending sets
Phase 4: Functional movement training
In the early and late follicular phase (first and second phase), the hormonal influences on our performance are still relatively small or rather positive in relation to intensive training. Since muscle building can take place better in this phase, we can recover better and faster and also use carbohydrates better for providing energy, we can train very intensively here; both in endurance and strength. In this phase, the best performance increases can be achieved in high-intensity areas!
In the early luteal phase (third phase) we can use free fatty acids well for the supply of energy and thus implement longer training units at submaximal intensities very well during training. In strength training, we can work with descending sets and plyometric exercises. In this phase, a good supply of carbohydrates and sufficient fluids during training and a good supply of protein after training are essential!
In the late luteal phase (fourth phase) there should then be a significant reduction in the total volume. However, you can work very well on technique and functional strength exercises!
Try it out!
Right now, with no races coming up, would be a good time to get to know your cycle and your individual reactions to it: How long is your cycle? How do you feel specifically? Do you perceive special "symptoms" or other things? You can simply make crosses and notes in a calendar or use apps (for example the "FITR Women App"). Even the Garmin Connect app offers you functions that make tracking easier.
Another very important point: This information that I just shared with you does not apply if you are using the contraceptive pill. When this happens, the natural hormones are suppressed to prevent ovulation. So there are only two phases: three weeks with synthetic hormones and a hormone-free week.
- Cea-Soriano, L., García Rodríguez, L., Machlitt, A., & Wallander, M. A. (2014). Use of prescription contraceptive methods in the UK general population: A primary care study. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, 121 (1), 53-61.
- Delgaard, LB, Dalgas, U., Andersen, JL, Rossen, NB, Møller, AB, Stødkilde-Jørgensen, H., Jørgensen, JO, Kovanen, V., Couppe, C., Langberg, H., Kjær, M ., Hansen, M. (2019) Influence of Oral Contraceptive Use on Adaptations to Resistance Training. Frontiers in Physiology (10) 824
- Elliott-Sale, K. J., Smith, S., Bacon, J., Clayton, D., McPhilimey, M., Goutianos, G., Sale, C. (2013). Examining the role of oral contraceptive users as an experimental and / or control group in athletic performance studies. Contraception, 88 (3), 408-412.
- Lebrun, C.M., Petit, M.A., McKenzie, D.C., Taunton, J.E., & Prior, J.C. (2003). Decreased maximal aerobic capacity with use of a triphasic oral contraceptive in highly active women: A randomized controlled trial. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 37 (4), 315-320.
- Wikstrom-Frisen, L., Boraxbekk, C. J., & Henriksson-Larsen, K. (2017). Effects on power, strength and lean body mass of menstrual / oral contraceptive cycle based resistance training. J Sports Med Phys Fitness, 57 (1-2), 43-52. doi: 10.23736 / S0022-4707.16.05848-5.
- Sabina Cauci, Cinzia Buligan, Micaela Marangone and Maria Pia Francescato 2016) Oxidative Stress in Female Athletes Using Combined Oral Contraceptives Sports Medicine 2:40 DOI 10.1186 / s40798-016-0064-x
- Recommendations by Dr. Stacy Sims, University of Waikato
- Dr. Stacy Sims - ROAR: How to Match Your Food and Fitness to Your Unique Female Physiology for Optimum Performance, Great Health, and a Strong, Lean Body for Life
- Dr. Stacy Sims: "Women are not small men" course
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