Understanding your cycle is important when it comes to understanding your body. Your cycle can affect anything from your mood to your metabolism to how you exercise. Ever feel like you’re starving one day? Or cant sleep at night? Or everything just feels hard? Understanding what is happening during each phase of your cycle can help your grasp why you’re feeling the way that you are.
The follicular phase begins on the first day of your period and goes until ovulation. In the follicular phase the dominant hormone is estrogen. Progesterone will remain low and go up gradually during this phase leading to a surge in the final days. High levels of estrogen can cause water retention especially as you get closed to ovulation. Although you might feel like you are retaining more water than normal, the follicular phase is the time to really train hard in the gym. Because estrogen levels are high you’ll feel stronger, faster, have more endurance, a higher pain tolerance, higher force generation, and higher insulin sensitivity. Insulin impacts fat metabolism, stimulating fat storage, inhibiting fat metabolism. Insulin also increases storage of carbohydrates in skeletal and liver and is involved in skeletal muscle growth. To help fuel your exercise during this time try utilizing higher carb days or re-feeds.
Around days 13-15 ovulation will most likely occur. This is when the egg releases from the ovary. During ovulation body temperature will go up which will cause a slight increase in metabolism. Slight meaning 100-300 calories. Due to an increase in metabolism hunger will also start to increase. Strength levels are still high and force generation capacity becomes the highest. However, increased estrogen negatively affects tendon strength therefore increasing risk for injury. Train hard but it would be a good idea to pay a little bit more attention to form during this time.
The luteal phase is the time between ovulation and your period. This phase can be classified as the second half of your cycle. The dominant hormone during this phase is progesterone. The increase in progesterone impairs insulin sensitivity, which could impair high intensity exercise. Insulin impacts fat metabolism stimulating fat storage, which inhibits fat metabolism. Insulin also increases storage of carbohydrates in the skeletal muscle and liver and is involved in skeletal muscle growth. Insulin is increased in the follicular phase due to the increase in estrogen and decreased in the luteal phase due to progesterone. During the luteal phase days are going to feel rough. You might feel increased fatigue, water retention, and an increase in cravings for carbs. Also the luteal phase comes with a decrease in serotonin that leads to carb cravings, which increase serotonin. Serotonin is known as the happy hormone. In regards to training you might need to deload, take an extra rest day, or both.
This is your period. PMS symptoms will start to decrease, body temperature will return to normal, water retention will begin to degrease, and insulin will increase. In regards to training this is where you can start to begin more intense exercise. You might also feel an increase of strength during this time.
This is all considered a normal cycle when all hormones are optimal and a natural cycle occurs. If you are on a hormonal birth control your cycle will not look like this. Exogenous hormones in whatever birth control you’re using keep you own hormones from fluctuating.
McDonald, L. (2017). The Women's Book: A Guide to Nutrition, Fat Loss, and Muscle Gain (Vol. 1).
Disclaimer: The author is not a physician or a registered dietitian. The contents of this article should not be taken as medical advice. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any health problem – nor is it intended to replace the advice of a physician.