How to optimise your client's training & nutrition throughout the menstrual cycle
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When coaching female clients, we believe it's incredibly important to understand what's happening internally in order to make the most of the external.
Whilst everyone's journey is completely individual, there are some commonalities in the conversations we have with our female clients. Usually regarding how their body changes across an average month, and what can fluctuate from appetite to strength.
Here is our advice on how to create the most effective exercise and nutrition programming based on what's happening across the 4 phases of the menstrual cycle.
As stated above, everybody is different, and this includes women's menstrual health too, but for the purposes of this article we are going to have a discussion based around a standard 28-day cycle, broken into 4 weeks. You can use tracking apps to understand the patterns of your own cycle, some of our favourites are Eve, Flo and Clue.
Week 1 - Early Follicular
The menstrual cycle begins with the first day of the period. In this stage of a cycle Oestrogen is the dominant circulating hormone, produced by the ovaries, as an egg is prepared to be released.
Once menstruation finishes, this 'Proliferative' phase is when we tend to see our female clients at their lightest weight due to having the lowest amount of water retention here. We capitalise on this week by using it as the base of our scale weight measuring, comparing scale weigh ins of 4 weeks apart.
Outside of scale weight, we see that blood sugars are stable, energy is higher and they feel stronger than the week before. Using this to our advantage (and all other factors being well), we push training a nutrition a little harder on this week.
Week 2 - Late Follicular
Oestrogen is still the dominant circulating hormone, in even higher amounts. As a female reaches closer to ovulation (mid-point of cycle), these circulating hormones seem to create to ideal environment for training.
There is a very small increase in water retention and therefore a higher predicted scale weight, however this is also where she will likely feel the strongest. It makes sense for us then, to use training as the key focus in the week. Keeping nutrition consistent, we recommend setting training-based goals to get the most out of this phase.
Week 3 - Early Luteal
From ovulation to the start menstruation, the luteal phase is now progesterone dominant. This circulating hormone is produced primarily by the corpus luteum (the sac once carrying the egg).
In early luteal, the hormone changes may not be too noticeable depending on the individual, so strength may remain relatively high. However, due to the nature of progesterone, metabolic rate can start to increase throughout this phase, meaning body temperature increases and a shift in hunger signals.
Week 4 - Late Luteal
As progesterone continues to build, there will be definite shifts now in hunger and energy. Metabolic rate should be at its highest here and therefore calorie requirements are at their highest too.
Should all things remain consistent in output, we tend to recommend our female clients consume and additional 150-200 calories/day within this week. This small bump helps satiate cravings and bring about a less aggressive deficit.
The late luteal phase is where females tend to feel weaker and slightly more fatigued. Therefore programming in lower intensity work here, more aerobic-style work and even deload periods may be wise. This is highly individual however.
Premenstrual symptoms vary from person to person but it is very likely that this week sees the highest amount of water retention and heaviest scale weight fluctuations. We would recommend that if you have a poor relationship with scale weight, this is the week to avoid weighing in.
Remember: Compare Week 1 (post menstruation) to Week 5 (post menstruation)!
With this information, we can give our female clients (and now hopefully you) the best guidance on where and when to push your training and nutrition. It's important to set yourself up for success, and programme according to your body rather than trying to fight against it.
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