Your Menstrual Cycle & Exercise

Online you'll hear everything about workouts, nutrition, stress factors, but you hear very little about hormones and how your menstrual cycle has an effect on your life and fitness. I don't know if this is because people find it 'awkward' to talk about, because they really shouldn't as half of the population are female and most likely have had an experience with periods. Or possibly because the fitness industry is primarily male and this doesn't affect them, either way we're gonna talk about it now. 

Do you ever just feel like shit? You don't want to exercise, you're fatigued and want to use a shovel as a spoon for that tub of ice cream. It happens to the best of us, and especially when you're going through certain cycles of your menstrual cycle. That's because your period has a wealth of effects on your body, not just physical, but hormonal and mental too.  

Exercise is good during your period

First things first, exercise is good for you during your menstrual cycle. As you may already know, exercise makes you feel good by releasing endorphins, improves your mood and can also help reduce fatigue. It might also be possible that exercise could reduce your menstrual pain too. 

The best thing to do is find a type of exercise that suits you and makes you feel good. Just be cautious about over exerting yourself at times when you feel more fatigued. The most important thing to do is listen to your body and take part in whatever exercise feels right for you. 

Exercise during each phase 

The average cycle lasts around 28 days, however this can fluctuate depending on the person. During the first few days of your period, your progesterone and oestrogen levels drop to their lowest point and this can lead to a lack of energy. On top of this, you often bleed during this phase and this can also cause physical problems depending on how heavy your period is. If you energy levels are low then it may be best to participate in more restorative and calming forms of exercise such as Yin Yoga and walking in-order not to place too much stress on the body. 

In the follicular phase, the follicle stimulating hormone alerts the ovaries to release the egg and you may feel a new surge of energy. With less fatigue, it may feel better to return back to more intense exercises, and the same goes during the ovulatory phase. Your oestrogen and testosterone levels peak here and you will be feeling strong. This could be the best time to hit a PB in the gym or get your trainers on and crack your fastest 5k time. 

Finally there's the luteal phase. You may be at risk of higher cardiovascular strain during moderate exercise. Your progesterone levels are at their highest and you may be experiencing a little more fatigue again. This is also the phase where you are most likely to have disrupted sleep which will have a huge impact on the intensity of your training. 

Over training and the menstrual cycle 

Although not common, it is possible that over training can cause you to lose your period, which is pretty serious. Now, only 2-5% of women suffer from Amenorrhea, but it is definitely something to be aware of as it is particularly prominent in women that train for bodybuilding competitions, which have become increasingly popular. 

How does this happen? Well when you train excessively, you need to be fuelling your body to cope with the exercise. More often than not this doesn't happen and if you are training A LOT and not eating enough, this can put you in a severe calorie deficit. With a lack of calories and nutrients this can mess up your hormones and bring your periods to a holt. Going long periods without menstruation can have an effect on bone density and leave you at more risk of fractures. 

What to take from this 

Listen to your body. If you feel great and you're ready to smash out a workout then do it. If you're feeling a little tired, but you know a session will make you feel better, do it. If you are drained, allow your body to rest, or try restorative exercises. No one can tell you exactly what to do because your body is unique, just work with it. 


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