The Purple Patch Fitness Philosophy on how to understand the impact of your menstrual cycle and optimize performance
As Dr. Stacy Sims, author of the book Roar, writes, “women are not small men. Stop eating and training like one.” Female athletes should be training with proper consideration for their menstrual cycle and the various needs specific to females. There will be days when the athlete might feel poorly or perform at a sub-standard rate, however, this is when it is important to note where the female athlete is at in her cycle and the role it plays. Despite not feeling well, we suggest doing her best to stay with the plan within reason. Be aware of where the body is in the cycle and take the best precautions to mitigate the situation. Do the best that the body gives you on that given day.
Menstrual Cycle Overview
Follicular Phase: (days c.1-14) Day 1 is the first day of the period. The athlete will be stronger in this phase and may feel like a rocket ship shooting to Venus. There is a bit of a green light to make hay in terms of very high-intensity training but remember great training is not necessarily simply attempting to increase your power output. Consistency is key. However, if racing note that during your period you may not “feel” top shape, but you can execute well.
During the Period:
- Cramping and GI issues:
- Athletes are urged to continue training even through cramping.
- Training can be adjusted as the athlete feels necessary but typically exercise will help to alleviate negative symptoms.
- Cramping may be reduced by taking a recipe of: magnesium (250mg), zinc (45mg), omega-3 fatty acids (1g) and low dose aspirin (80mg).
- Warm up well with each session but even more important are very thorough cool-downs to protect susceptible soft tissues during the period.
Post Period: (after days c.5-7) When the Period ends estrogen begins to rise until the point of ovulation (day c.14) when the egg is dropped. Near the time of ovulation, some women experience occasional issues similar to the ones described below in the Luteal Phase. We suggest keeping in mind that these few days may be a trigger point and to address them similarly to what we have described below.
Luteal Phase: (days c.15-28) This phase begins after ovulation (day c.14). While V02 max and Threshold are not affected in this phase, most everything else is. Female athletes should anticipate a performance drop sometime in this phase.
It is common for challenges to arise immediately following ovulation (day c.14) as well as the last 5-7 days of the cycle. In these last days, commonly referred to as PMS, a woman’s strength is at her lowest, her RPE (relative perceived effort) is higher, and she may experience a bit of neurological deconditioning like her coordination being affected. When scheduled training is too much for her body to execute, she should instead concentrate on endurance training and then build back into interval work as she is ready. In addition, these factors require attention:
- Thermoregulation / Fluid Retention:
- The body is more challenged to cool itself - fluid retention combined with high heat can be a serious performance inhibitor. Make every effort to pre-load on hydration and sodium, particularly in hot races and training.
- Pre and Post Training Protein Intake:
- 30 minutes prior to and post training are imperative at this stage of the cycle. The protein should include BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) specifically Leucine.
- Metabolism increase and Carbohydrate need:
- During the last 5-7 days of the cycle women need 5-10% more calories in their overall diet, specifically carbohydrates.
- However, training during this phase requires even more carbohydrates. Female athletes should aim for a whopping 30% increase in carbohydrate calories per training hour. For example, a 135lb woman will need to consume c.190 calories of carbs per hour in the first phase of the cycle but c.245 per hour in the second phase of the cycle.
- Cramping and GI issues:
- In the 5-7 days before your period starts the chemicals which cause cramps can be reduced by taking magnesium (250mg), zinc (45mg), omega-3 fatty acids (1g) and low dose aspirin (80mg).
- The same recipe can be used for cramping and GI issues that are common when the period begins.
- This symptom is common right before a woman’s period starts due to a change in blood pressure brought about by the drop in hormones.
- Prevention: stay hydrated and eat more nitric oxide rich foods (e.g. beets, pomegranate, watermelon, spinach) at the end of the cycle.
- Nitric oxide promotes dilation and helps reduce the severity of the shift.
- Amenorrhea (the absence of menstruation):
- The body needs enough calories to support life and training goals. This is not a time to intentionally or accidentally under-fuel which only adds negative and harmful stress.
ROAR: How to Match Your Food and Fitness to Your Unique Female Physiology for Optimum Performance, Great Health, and a Strong, Lean Body for Life by Stacy Sims and Selene Yeager
https://www.fitrwoman.com/: A cycle tracking app developed by scientists who have researched female athletes and the menstrual cycle.
https://connect.garmin.com/features/menstrual-cycle-tracking/ Garmin Connect’s Menstrual Cycle Tracker: add in symptoms and days of period within your Garmin Connect account.