In this article:
- Which training fits which cycle phase?
- What tools can I use to recognize my cycle phase?
Last week the workout was very easy for you, today you have to fight properly – even though you don’t do anything different? That may be so. It’s hormones again. The constant ups and downs of estrogen and progesterone not only regulate the female cycle, but also influence your physical performance during exercise. That’s why it makes sense to adjust your training to your menstrual cycle.
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Personal trainer and hormone expert Daniel Knebel has developed a training concept that specifically addresses the hormonal fluctuations during the cycle and uses the physiological effects of the hormone fluctuations to increase the training effects. “If you also take your hormonal situation into account during training, you can train in a more targeted manner and see results more quickly,” says Knebel. The only requirement is a natural cycle that is not influenced by hormonal contraceptives.
The hormone expert told us how you can use the ups and downs of hormones specifically for your training. Nutrition coach Laura van de Vorst also gives food tips for each phase of the cycle:
Which training fits which cycle phase?
Phase 1: Menstrual phase
The female cycle begins with the period. The body has stopped producing progesterone and is now rejecting the lining of the uterus, which causes bleeding and often menstrual pain. Many women feel exhausted and powerless during the days and have to make much more effort during sports. Nevertheless, the period is no reason to stop training completely.
However, you should reduce the intensity during your period considerably: “Hard weight training during menstruation can upset your whole hormone balance and harm your body because the oestrogen level is so low and protective estradiol is missing,” says Coach Knebel. Estradiol is one of the most important female oestrogens and plays an important role in the further course of the cycle.
You should also avoid abdominal training, reverse postures such as standing on your head or strenuous high intensity training during your period, as this can worsen menstrual problems. Rather rely on loose endurance training, yoga and stretching.
These Yoga poses make you slim Make room: Stretching and light yoga exercises can relieve menstrual cramps. © Jacob Lund / Shutterstock.com
Food tip: “During menstruation, your body screams for minerals. Kale, spinach or chard provide iron, calcium and magnesium, which you lose through bleeding. Bananas lift the mood, the omega-3 fatty acids in salmon or walnuts can counteract menstrual pain and avocado satisfies the craving for sweets”, says nutrition coach Laura van de Vorst, co-founder of healthcoachFX. If you have to resort to chocolate, you should choose dark dark chocolate (with over 80 percent cocoa).
Because the magnesium rich cocoa provides a serotonin boost in the brain and thus lifts the mood.
Phase 2: Follicular phase
In the follicular phase, everything in your body revolves around preparing for the next ovulation. For this purpose, the pituitary gland produces more of the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH ) and thus stimulates the follicles (egg follicles) in the ovaries to produce oestrogen. With the estrogen, the estradiol level also rises and provides a higher energy level: you feel strong, self-confident and communicative.
“In the estradiol phase you can train at full power, 3-4 strength training sessions per week are ideal. This is because estradiol has a similar effect on women as testosterone does on men and in this phase ensures that the muscles react more strongly to training stimuli,” says Knebel. Studies have shown that the training effect is particularly high for women in this phase. This is why intensive training units pay off during strength training, HIT or spinning in particular.
The performance peak lasts for about 7-10 days and ends with ovulation. The great thing is: “If you use this high-energy phase optimally, you can take it easy in the second half of the cycle.”
Intense but effective: High Intensity Training Take advantage of the high energy level after your period and give your all now during training! © Jacob Lund / Shutterstock.com
Food tip: “Especially in this phase you have little cravings and a lot of energy, so you should focus on light, fresh and detoxifying vegetables. From the follicle phase onwards, you can also support your own oestrogen metabolism by eating foods that are good for your liver – for example asparagus, artichokes, broccoli, cauliflower or Brussels sprouts,” recommends nutrition and health coach van de Vorst.
Phase 3: Ovulation
The concentration of LH , FSH and oestrogen in the blood continues to rise until the follicle bursts and the mature egg is pushed from the ovary into the fallopian tube. From now on, the 24-hour countdown for fertilization of the egg begins. “Shortly before ovulation, the hormonal prerequisites for training progress are particularly good because the estradiol reaches the highest concentration, but then drops rapidly,” says Knebel.
With ovulation your body stops producing estradiol and switches to progesterone. The result: the energy level drops. During this phase, listen especially carefully to your body and reduce the intensity of your training sessions as soon as you notice that the energy level decreases and tiredness and ravenous appetite appear.
How incorrect training can damage your fertility In the second half of the cycle your body needs less carbohydrates. With low carb meals and the right foods you can also PMS prevent. © Jacob Lund / Shutterstock.com
Food tip: Today’s carbohydrate- and sugar-rich diet can have a negative effect on the oestrogen balance and lead to a so-called oestrogen dominance, which ultimately leads to obesity and annoying PMS symptoms in the second half of the cycle. “A low carb diet rich in healthy fats and fiber helps to balance blood sugar levels and avoid excess estrogen.
Artichokes, lots of green vegetables, omega-3 rich fish (such as salmon), olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, berries, flaxseed, and avocados are highly recommended. Anyone who tends to be oestrogen-dominated and tends to store body fat on the hips should also avoid soy products,” says van de Vorst. Hormone expert Knebel also recommends eating less carbohydrates in the second half of the cycle and instead eating with proteins.
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Phase 4: Luteal phase
Immediately after ovulation, the follicle begins to produce another hormone: progesterone. It is there to further build up the lining of the uterus and prepare it for a potentially fertilised egg. The empty follicle in the ovary shrinks and begins to produce oestrogen in addition. The consequences are often PMS a feeling of tension in the breasts, an inflated stomach, irritability and exhaustion.
Your energy level decreases with every day and your reaction speed, coordination and fine motor skills deteriorate. Therefore, you should significantly reduce the training intensity in this phase of your cycle. “In the luteal phase, strenuous strength training can even harm your body because the protective effect of estradiol on the ligaments is lost, thus increasing the risk of injury,” says Knebel.
The slightly elevated body temperature can also make endurance training more difficult than usual. “Two training sessions with low weights and not too many repetitions and loose endurance training are now ideal”. But mood swings are no reason to give up sport altogether, because exercise helps prevent premenstrual syndrome and dispels bad mood.
How running provides for happiness hormones Loose regeneration runs are ideal for the time between ovulation and period. © Jacob Lund / Shutterstock.com
Food tip: In the luteal phase you have an increased energy consumption. “Complex carbohydrates, such as roasted sweet potatoes, pumpkin, parsnips, and carrots fill you up without bringing your blood sugar level out of balance and additionally raise the messenger substance serotonin, which stabilizes your mood. A support of the progesterone production with B, C, and E vitamins, cholesterol and L-arginine also helps PMS to alleviate.
Eggs, avocados, sunflower seeds, lemons, kiwis, strawberries, broccoli, yams, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, walnuts and salmon give you the necessary vitamin kick. It is better to avoid sugar, alcohol and caffeine – they make PMS only worse,” recommends Laura van de Vorst.
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What tools can I use to recognize my cycle phase?
Six out of ten women do not know when their cycle begins and ends. This is often not even necessary, because taking hormonal contraceptives makes it unnecessary for more than half of German women to follow their own cycle. The constant intake of synthetic oestrogen paralyses the natural cycle and eliminates the fluctuations in hormone levels.
Those who do not use the pill can still recognise at least the first phase of the cycle relatively easily: the female cycle begins with the first day of menstruation, followed by the follicular phase. But how does a woman know when exactly her ovulation occurs and the luteal phase begins?
Normally ovulation takes place around the middle of the cycle, but the female cycle is very individual, can vary and does not always last exactly 28 days in all women, so you cannot assume that ovulation always takes place on day 14. A thermometer and cycle apps such as Ovy can help you to better observe your own menstrual cycle and to distinguish the different phases.
How reliable are cycle apps really?
This is because after ovulation the body temperature rises by 0.2 to 0.5 degrees within 48 hours and remains elevated until the beginning of the next period. The app’s self-learning algorithm uses wake-up temperature, body signals such as menstruation and discharge to calculate the temperature, PMS and mood and disturbing factors such as the influence of alcohol or poor sleep the day of ovulation, the fertile phase and the next period.
Thus, the app helps you to determine your current cycle phase and, with an integrated health coach, provides you with suitable training, nutrition and beauty tips to hack your cycle.