I was reading an article in Oxygen magazine the other day about how your hormones, especially estrogen, affect your workouts. As I was reading through, I could totally relate to what they were saying, so I wanted to share some of the information here as I’m sure many of you experience the ups and downs of hormones and how that affects your exercise routine.
You know the days where you start your workout and your legs feel sluggish and you can’t muster up the energy to finish your workout? Then the very next week you’re flying high and you can run faster than you ever did? Then you ask yourself, how this can be? I ate the same foods both weeks, I got the same amount of sleep, and I didn’t change my lifestyle in any way. What gives?
The answer could lie with estrogen!
As women, our hormones are constantly changing, and the levels of estrogen and its sister hormone, progesterone, fluctuate continuously during our menstrual cycle. During the first two weeks – the follicular phase – of your cycle, your body’s hormones are dominated by estrogen. In the second two weeks – the luteal phase – begins with ovulation and progesterone takes over as the primary hormone. At the end of that phase, you start your period and restart the cycle.
So how does this affect your workouts?
In general, you can expect to perform better for demanding workouts when estrogen is high and feel the worst when progesterone is at its peak during the late luteal phase and then during your period.
Some women have very noticeable effects during their cycle (myself included): fatigue, difficulty working out, cramping, bloating, and increased perception of effort.
How to optimize different types of training throughout your cycle:
Focus your hardest strength training workouts when your estrogen is at it’s highest during the follicular phase: days 6 – 14. The fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone alter our ability to build muscle and recover, so taking advantage of those peak estrogen-dominant days in the first half of our cycle will help with our muscle tone.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t workout during the progesterone-dominant days, just make sure to increase your protein consumption before and after training during that time as progesterone reduces the body’s ability to recover and build muscle.
Plan your longest cardio workouts for the middle of your cycle: days 6 – 20. Elevated estrogen levels cause a shift in your metabolism during aerobic exercise, allowing you to burn more fat. Estrogen enhances fat use, which spares glycogen. By sparing the glycogen used and relying more on fat for energy, fatigue is delayed and your endurance is improved.
When to avoid hard workouts:
You may want to delay tough workouts during your period: days 1 – 5. If you feel bloated from the rapid drop in progesterone, consider avoiding high-intensity or long-endurance workouts during those few days.
I hope the above information helps explain why your energy levels go up and down during the month, and how this might affect your workouts. I know for me personally, my energy levels drop about 10 days before my period (around day 18), and sometimes I have to cut back on the intensity of my workouts during that time. So if you want to get the most from your training, it’s important to understand YOUR cycle and make estrogen work for you!