THE FEMALE HORMONAL CYCLES EFFECT ON EXERCISE AND NUTRITION
Working with your body to improve fitness & health.
For years I’ve designed my female client’s workouts around their body shape and preferences, such as being lean and toned without gaining too much bulk, but it hasn’t been until the last year that I’ve really started to account for the female hormonal cycle in regard to intensity, exercise progression and programme design. The science of how the female hormonal cycle influences exercise, recovery, nutritional needs, and ability to deal with stress has dramatically improved over the last few years and has a profound effect on how I advise my female clients on training and nutrition.
My initial light bulb moment came after reading the work of a Dr Pelz who specialises in the female hormonal cycle and how its specific stages effect female health and well-being. In short, Dr Mindy Pelz outlines how different levels of hormones, namely oestrogen, testosterone, and progesterone, fluctuate depending on where a female is in her hormonal cycle. She believes that these fluctuating levels of hormones influence how females respond to certain foods like sugar, exercise intensity, and their response to stress.
These insights make a compelling argument that females should employ a different approach to fasting, carbohydrate consumption and exercise intensity compared to men, who consistently receive small doses of testosterone every 15 minutes throughout the day compared to the female fluctuating hormone levels.
I thought it would be handy for my female clients to provide a quick guide to the four main hormonal cycles identified by Dr Pelz, how the levels of these hormones vary, and the impact each cycle has on things like; fasting, glucose, exercise, and ability to deal with stressors.
Phase 1 | Days 1-10 | Dr Pelz calls the “Power Phase”. | Day 1 defined as the first day of period.
• Hormone Levels- Oestrogen production is gradually being increased, peaking at day 10.
• Blood Sugar- As oestrogen is the dominant hormone in the cycle at this point, females are most insulin sensitive, so maintaining low/ stable blood sugar levels is vital. So, a good time to eat less carbs and sugar and more protein and fibre.
• Fasting- the body can handle longer fasts here.
• Exercise- the body can handle intense workouts.
• Stress- can handle lots of stress.
Phase 2 | Day 10-15 | “Ovulation Phase”
• Hormone Levels- all at play
• Oestrogen- is at its peak.
• Progesterone- a little bit of progesterone, enhances feelings of calm.
• Testosterone- massive surge of testosterone. Comes in that 5-day period.
• Fasting- Maximum of 15 hours, due to need to build up energy for ovulation.
• Blood sugar- Often experience an increased appetite for sugar due to the building of egg. Not ideal time to keto diet or low carb. Instead concentrate on healthier carbs like potatoes, rice and fruit. A time to be a bit more forgiving of increased carb intake.
• Gut health- is important here so plenty of plant-based foods, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and probiotics, to help the production and recycling of hormones.
• Well-being- great mental sharpness, attention, motivated great for starting new projects due to testosterone.
• Exercise- can handle intense weight train hard due to testosterone levels, can build more muscle.
Phase 3 | Day 16-19 | “2nd power Phase”
• Hormones Levels- Oestrogen and testosterone starting to decline, Producing more progesterone.
• Fasting cycle- can handle the most fasting due to low hormone levels.
• Blood sugar levels- insulin sensitivity returns so can handle lower sugar and carb intake.
• Exercise- As the body can handle lots of stress hard exercise is a good idea.
Phase 4 | 20-28 | “Low stress phase”
• Hormones Levels- Progesterone is high.
• Blood Sugar Insulin resistant- need more glucose in blood stream to make more progesterone. Keep glucose high in the form of potatoes or rice, dark chocolate, magnesium.
• Fasting- no fasting.
• Exercise- more gentle exercise like, yoga, Pilates, light jogging, lower weights with higher reps, body weight training.
• Stress- reduce stress, slow things down, say no things, do relaxing activities.
• Special note- May need to supplement with magnesium to make progesterone.
The main take away I would like for my female clients from the above is to be a bit more forgiving of themselves if they’re not firing on all cylinders at the end of their hormonal cycle. For too long females have been expected to train like men, but recent research is showing that considering where you are in the hormonal cycle can help you get the most out of your training and nutrition.