Optimizing Performance: How Female Athletes Can Train Around the Menstrual Cycle

Female athletes have unique physiological changes that can affect their performance, and one of the most significant factors is the menstrual cycle. Menstrual cycle-related symptoms, such as bloating, fatigue, and cramps, can interfere with training and performance. However, by understanding how the menstrual cycle affects athletic performance and adjusting training accordingly, female athletes can optimize their performance. Our Female Athlete Specialist here at Runners’ Edge Alaska is here to explain!

Ladies, keep reading to learn:

  • The importance of understanding which phase you are in your menstrual cycle
  • How to exercise in each phase of your menstrual cycle for maximal gains
  • Nutrition & hydration needs in each phase 
  • How to improve your performance as a female athlete! 
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Understanding your Menstrual Cycle

Dr. Stacy Sims, an exercise physiologist and nutrition scientist, has conducted extensive research on female athletes and the menstrual cycle. Her research suggests that female athletes should adjust their training based on where they are in their menstrual cycle to achieve optimal performance.

Phases of the Menstrual Cycle

The menstrual cycle is made up of 4 phases. For the sake of simplicity, we will focus on the two main phases: the follicular phase and the luteal phase. The follicular phase begins on the first day of menstruation and lasts until ovulation, which typically occurs around day 14 of a 28-day cycle. The luteal phase follows ovulation and lasts until the next menstrual cycle.

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The Follicular Phase= High Intensity!

During the follicular phase, estrogen levels increase, which can improve exercise performance. Female athletes should focus on strength and high-intensity training during this phase. According to Dr. Sims, female athletes can train harder, longer, and with more intensity during this phase.

The Luteal Phase= Low-to-Moderate Intensity

In contrast, during the luteal phase, progesterone levels increase, leading to decreased endurance, increased fatigue, and decreased motivation. Therefore, female athletes should adjust their training to accommodate these changes during the luteal phase. Dr. Sims suggests that female athletes should focus on low-to-moderate intensity training during this phase.

Nutrition Needs Change in Each Phase

In addition to adjusting training based on the menstrual cycle, female athletes should also pay attention to their nutrition during the different phases of the menstrual cycle. For example, during the luteal phase, female athletes may experience increased cravings for carbohydrates. This is because the body is using more glucose during this phase. Therefore, female athletes should ensure that they are getting adequate carbohydrates to fuel their workouts.

What Athletes Should Eat
What Athletes Should Eat

Hydration is Important!

Dr. Sims also recommends that female athletes pay attention to hydration during the menstrual cycle. During the luteal phase, fluid retention can lead to bloating and weight gain. Therefore, female athletes should increase their fluid intake during this phase to prevent dehydration and maintain optimal performance.

"Women Are Not Small Men"

The menstrual cycle can affect female athletes’ performance and this is what sets a female athlete apart from the opposite sex. Therefore, women can not train the same way as men! By adjusting training and nutrition based on where a woman is in her menstrual cycle, she can optimize her performance. We call this, the female athlete superpower! 

In conclusion, Dr. Stacy Sims’ research suggests that female athletes should focus on strength and high-intensity training during the follicular phase and low-to-moderate intensity training during the luteal phase. Additionally, female athletes should pay attention to their nutrition and hydration during the different phases of the menstrual cycle to fuel their workouts and maintain optimal performance.

Please keep in mind that these are general tips for the Female Athlete and not all bodies are the same. If you’d like to learn more about being the best female athlete you can be, check out the following resources!

Did you know Runners’ Edge Alaska has a Female Athlete Program? Contact us today to be connected with our specialist and find out if this program is right for you! 

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