The Menstrual Cycle and Training – what you need to know

I want to make this plain and simple,

this has actually been a hot topic lately and you can find information everywhere. How should your training and eating change during your menstrual cycle? Do you notice your energy changing, your hunger levels peaking and more aches and pains?

Quick science summary for those who don’t know too much about how it actually works:

The menstrual cycle is a 28 day cycle, it is essential for potential pregnancy. You have 3-5 days of bleeding then the remainder of the 28 days are the follicular (from your period to ovulation) and luteal (from when you ovulate around day 14 to period) phases. Progesterone remains low until ovulation where it peaks and then drops off before your period. Estrogen rapidly climbs in the follicular phase and reaches its maximum right before ovulation. It then declines and rises again mid luteal phase only to drop once again before your period.

It is vital to know how this could affect your diet and training progress.

Hormones can play a big role in appetite and food cravings. Look up cycle syncing if you want to know more about this – the menstrual cycle can be used to guide more than you though!

Hormones in your cycle play a role in muscle growth (albeit slight). Most muscle growth is shown to be in the follicular phase. Doesn’t it sound like a great time to maximise this?

We tend to consume more calories in the luteal phase of our cycle – that is after ovulation, generally 14 days before your period – than in the follicular phase. There is a lot of research indicating this. This is due to a drop of estrogen which can lead to sugar cravings and an over consumption of up to 300 calories a day.

What am I going on about then?

You want to set yourself up for a good start. Now that summer is coming and you want to look great on the beach am I right? How do you use all of this to help you on your diet and fitness journey?

For one thing, if you know you are going to be hungry in the days leading up to your period then that isn’t an ideal time to start a diet plan. You know your hunger will be raging! Remember we need to work with our bodies not against them. Rather start after that. Either on your period when you already feel bloated and not hungry or before your luteal phase. Starting your diet in your follicular phase ensures that once you reach those few days of hunger and cravings, you will already be over the hump. So hopefully you can keep your plan going and have better success.

Secondly, the ideal time in the month for muscle building is in the follicular phase – which is when you are on your period and the week after. Sounds crazy right? So many ladies struggle with cramps and other pains and so cannot push as hard at the gym. But this has been shown to be a time in which muscle grows more.

Just try focus on lifting heavier the week of and the week after your period. You may be gaining a little more muscle in the longer term because of it. Rather use fewer sets and reps and purely focus on strength. The following weeks possibly focus on more volume work. Then just before your period you could take a deload week and use only banded, body-weight and accessory workouts.

Here is hoping this isn’t too complicated, and that you ladies can see more progress in the gym and kitchen now!

Good luck and let’s keep those hormones working for us

*please note, this applies to the average healthy woman and is not medical advice



Isilda Da Costa is a personal trainer and women’s fitness specialist who, if she isn’t at the gym training, is busy researching the most up to date information for growing those muscles. She has combined her love of everything healthy by being a health coach in her own health shop in Swaziland. Follow along on @izzy.healthandfitness

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to top