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  • HuskNutrition

Female Cycle - Phases & Nutrition

Updated: Jan 15, 2023



To perform you have to be able to take on strain, recover, adapt and go again.


Sadly, the system is a bit tougher for women.


Periodisation for training negating the 28 day cycle of a female and the impact that may have on performance.


Not every female has a 28 day cycle and depending where they are, the same workout might feel harder or easier.


50% + of women will be wetting themselves during competition and don't talk about it.
72% of women don't receive ANY information AT ALL about their periods.

There is a real lack of conversation over:


Menses

Cycle

Nutrient

Boobs

Pelvic Floor

Injury

Life stages

Mindset

Facilites

Culture


A reality that actually most females don't even consider being able to discuss these aspects for fear of judgement.


  • Women also don’t know enough themselves.

  • Language - having the dictionary to discuss

  • Know it - do it gap. Even though you have the knowledge can you use it?


In the onset of a period there are a lot of changes, discomfort, irritability and uncertainty and whilst a regular cycle is a sign that you are healthy, many women choose to skip the gym and social events because of these symptoms.


That shouldn't be the case.

Knowing how to adapt your workouts and diet can play a role in fat loss, performance and muscle building.

HORMONES


These are referred to in this blog:


Estrogen - rises and falls twice during a menstrual cycle. It is released in high levels at the start of the cycle, and its release triggers the growth of the endometrium, the lining of the uterus. Estrogen also stimulates the production of other hormones, such as progesterone, which helps to prepare the uterus for a potential pregnancy. At the end of the cycle, estrogen levels drop, and this triggers the shedding of the lining of the uterus, which is the menstrual flow.


Progesterone - produced after ovulation and helps to prepare the lining of the uterus for implantation of the fertilised egg. If fertilisation does not occur, progesterone levels will drop, and the uterine lining will shed, resulting in a menstrual period.


Estrogen is responsible for the growth and development of the uterus and other reproductive organs and the thickening of the uterine lining in preparation for a possible pregnancy. Progesterone is released after ovulation and helps to maintain the lining of the uterus for implantation of the fertilized egg.


Testosterone - highest around the 14th day of the cycle. Testosterone helps to stimulate the release of luteinizing hormone, which triggers ovulation, and it also helps to regulate the level of progesterone, which helps to maintain the endometrium (lining) and prepare it for pregnancy.


Leutenizing Hormone (LH) - is released by the pituitary gland responsible for triggering the release of an egg from the ovary (ovulation). LH also stimulates the production of progesterone, a hormone necessary for sustaining a pregnancy.


Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) - stimulates the ovaries to produce mature eggs. It is released by the pituitary gland in the brain and triggers the growth of follicles in the ovaries, which contain the eggs. FSH also stimulates the production of estrogen, which is essential for the normal functioning of the reproductive system.

Prostaglandin - a hormone like substance (also found in male sperm) that plays a role in the development and maintenance of the uterine lining and contractions. Prostaglandins are responsible for the pain associated with menstrual cramps. They cause the uterus to constrict, which can cause pain and physical discomfort.


Cortisol - A hormone produced by the adrenal glands and is the body's main stress hormone.


PHASES


Presuming that your cycle is 28 days, there are three main phases that occur over cycle period. A cycle is counted from the first day of one period to the first day of the next period.


FOLLICULAR PHASE


Bleeding occurs because the egg that was released during the previous cycle was unfertilized and the lining of the uterus started to break down.


Estrogen and progesterone are lowered with estrogen building during the later stage of the follicular phase.


Bleeding may occur for anything from 2-5 days.



OVULATION


Approximately day 13-16 in the cycle there's a peak in estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. An egg is released, which raises progesterone, estrogen drops.


LUTEAL


Days 15-28 of the cycle. You might feel more fatigued than normal.


The rise in temperature during the luteal phase may mean you feel warmer during your workouts, a risk of acute dehydration through perspiring (important to consider supplemental electrolytes).


Current evidence suggests that you’ll tire much quicker than during the follicular phase. Likely due to an increase in cardiac strain.


Therefore.. hormonal fluctuations will irritate the ability to train.

The majority of data currently suggests that there is no change in VO2 max at various time points across the menstrual cycle.


There is, however, a big difference psychologically in perceived stress.


If you were to do the exact same workout over the two phases, it would feel much harder in the luteal phase.


Luteal phase your body is working harder

You have lower recovery and need more sleep as there's more effort in this part of the cycle.


Follicular being a lower hormone part, you go through menses, ovulation but you can take on load!


Not everyone has a 28 day cycle so it is worthwhile attempting to track your cycle to find out more about your abilities at that time.


ANTIOXIDANTS & FOLLICULAR PHASE


Antioxidants are compounds that help protect the body from damage caused by free radicals, which are molecules that exist as a byproduct of metabolism (oxygen and nutrient turnover) that cause oxidative stress.


If oxidative stress isn't managed, long term this can cause illness, damage DNA and prematurely age the cells of the body, lowering your metabolism (turnover of oxygen and nutrients) and ageing you faster.


Antioxidants to consume during the follicular phase of the cycle include vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, lycopene, selenium, and polyphenols.


Fruits and vegetables are especially rich in these and other antioxidants, eating plenty of these foods is a great way to ensure adequate intake of these important compounds. Additionally, fish, nuts, and legumes are excellent sources of antioxidants as well.


CRAMPS


During this time you might undergo issues with cramping and bleeds, nutrition and certain medications can impact the flow and oxygen uptake to the uterus to help reduce painful periods and PMS.


Prostaglandin is a hormone like substance responsible for uterine contractions secreted during the late luteal phase. This substance is responsible for the necessary uterine contractions to shed and remove the lining. It is also vaso-constricting meaning it tightens blood vessels, heightens blood pressure and reduces flow to the uterus and in turn, oxygen and nutrients.


Omega 3 - an anti-inflammatory oil found in seeds and their oils, fish oils, oily fish, avocado and grass fed dairy. Omega oils may also contain vitamin E, which may balance estrogen.


Using rapeseed oils, olive oils, olives, avocados, salmon, sea bass, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, chia, flax oils and whole grain breads with seed inclusions are sources you may include.


Cinnamon - an incredible spice known for its sweet flavour but rich in anti-bacterial compounds, insulin enhancing effect and mood calming.


Use whole sticks to stir coffee, add powder to oats, muesli, sweet potato mash, bananas, grilled pineapple, chia puddings, smoothies and shakes.


Aspirin - an over the counter medication supporting pain management.


Both of these foods and this medication thin the blood making (anyone on warfarin, take note, these can effect your medication) assisting fatty acid and nutrient transport but also helps supply an oxygen deprived uterus with oxygen.


Ibuprofen - has also been shown to reduce menstrual flow as it reduces the inflammation of the uterus. This may ease uncomfortable feelings associated with bloating and cleanliness. Taken 1-2 days before a bleed and through the initial bleeding stage can assist in cramps and flow volume.


ANTIOXIDANTS & LUTEAL PHASE


Emphasis of antioxidants in luteal phases is even higher as your body undertakes more strain.


In the luteal phase of a woman's cycle, when progesterone levels are high, antioxidants can help protect the body from the oxidative stress that can be caused by this hormone.


Antioxidants that can benefit a female in her luteal phase include vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, and selenium.


Estrogen falling during this phase means you may become less sensitive to insulin, but also crave more as blood sugar fluctuations occur frequently as insulin and blood sugar oscillate differently.


A low(er) carb, higher fat and protein approach with priority on dietary antioxidants may be considered:


Zinc enhances the effects of insulin


Selenium (just 3 brazils per day provides the RDA) is important for sex and thyroid hormones


Vitamin E assists in the balance of estrogen levels reducing the negative impacts. Excess estrogen is inflammatory and increases cortisol (stress) levels.


Vitamin C assists in iron uptake which in turn enhances oxygen blood levels - usually foods rich in C also contain folate (berries and broccoli for example) as a synergistic nutrient important for cell proliferation.


Vitamin A important for liver, thyroid and blood cell development. It assists with moisture in mucosal layers and cell division. Important for people who may have dry/rough skin.


I therefore usually recommend a carrot salad daily between meals as it contains fibre and vitamins A, C, E.


CARBOHYDRATE


Eating a lower carbohydrate diet during the luteal phase of a woman's cycle can help to regulate hormone levels and reduce inflammation.


Carbohydrates cause an insulin response, which can increase the body's production of progesterone and other hormones.


Eating a lower carbohydrate diet can also help to reduce inflammation, reducing the risk of certain health conditions, such as PCOS and endometriosis.


FOR THE FEMALE ATHLETE


FOLLICULAR


Carbohydrates are important during the follicular phase as they provide the body with the energy it needs to function properly. Additionally, carbohydrates can help to stabilise blood sugar levels and aid in hormone balance. As estrogen is rising and progesterone is low you are in a good position to take on carbohydrate.


Eating complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables is a great way to ensure adequate intake. It is also important to note that eating too many simple carbohydrates such as refined sugar and white flour can lead to blood sugar fluctuations during the follicular phase, so it is important to limit these.


LUTEAL


Female athletes need to eat carbohydrates during the luteal phase of their cycle in order to maintain adequate energy levels, since they may be engaging in more strenuous activities than the average female. However, they should still aim to focus on consuming complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains and legumes, which are slower to digest and can provide sustained energy.


I also recommend a tbsp of apple cider vinegar before 1-2 meals per day to assist in blood sugar management.


Additionally, female athletes should focus on incorporating more antioxidant-rich foods into their diet, such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts, to help protect the body from oxidative stress.


Both phases encompass the need to hit an adequate protein intake and plant based essential healthy fats, providing adequate energy in both phases of the cycle.

TRAINING


Ramp up the intensity during the follicular phase.


The follicular phase has an increase in pain tolerance, normal body thermoregulation, and limited potential fatigue. 


This means you’re in a great place to really push yourself and hit the gym for some high-intensity strength and cardio work.


There is however a lower metabolic rate than in the luteal phase.


As ovulation passes and you move into the luteal phase you’ll notice that your metabolic rate (higher hunger and cravings) begins to pick up again.


With metabolic rate increases, you need more energy (calories) and hydration.


Give yourself 10% more calories to play with and focus on hydration during the luteal phase.


Want to know more about how you can have a 28 day plan to match your cycle?


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