THEFor the past two years, I have heard many menstruating women talk about “hacking” their period, also known for watching it to get the most out of their workouts. At first, I thought it was just another nonsense wellness trend and I kept moving it.
But when I noticed that my Whoop device — a fitness tracker that gives you information about your recovery, stress, sleep, and health — had a new menstrual cycle function, providing recommendations on how to train at all stages. of menstruation (yes, the cycle is not only when you are bleeding!), I decided to pay more attention. So for a month I watched and “hacked” my cycle to see if it would improve my athletic performance and make me feel better overall.
The phases of your menstrual cycle
Over a cycle of about 28 days, there are hormonal fluctuations that can affect things like exercise tolerance, recovery, heart rate and mood, says Amy West, MD, EdM, sports physician, assistant professor of orthopedics and physics. of Medicine and Rehabilitation at the Hofstra Medical School.
“The body sends certain hormones to actually prepare the uterus to have a baby, and then ovulation takes place, and then, if that egg is not fertilized, then the body will get rid of everything that was made there to support any kind of pregnancy. Adds Kathleen L. Davenport, MD, a sports medicine physiotherapist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Florida.
At each stage of your cycle, your hormones change and as a result affect your body as it prepares for menstruation or pregnancy. “It can also affect our exercise and other things in our body, as our hormones are not just found in the uterus, ovaries or eggs,” says Dr. Davenport.
The follicular phase
Most menstrual cycle lengths range from 25 to 30 days, but this is individual for each menstrual period and may also vary from cycle to cycle. According to Dr. Davenport, the follicular phase technically begins on the first day of your period. Taking about 14 days is considered a “low hormonal state” when estrogen and progesterone levels are low and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) —which stimulates the ovarian follicles to grow and mature an egg — and the ovarian which triggers the release of an egg from the ovary — occur at lower concentrations, explains Dr. West.
During the early period of this phase, you can build more muscle than other times of the month, because this is the time when your body can manage the most stress, according to Dr. West. This is the time to take advantage of high intensity and resistance training. You may also notice that your recovery is better and you may see that your heart rate variability is higher, which means that your body can perform at a higher level.
The ovulation phase
As you approach the ovulation phase, when the egg is released, your estrogen levels rise to their highest levels and progesterone also rises slightly, says Dr. West. This phase usually occurs from day 11 to day 21 of your cycle.
As your body prepares for a possible pregnancy, the increase in estrogen allows you to build muscle more efficiently because your body is in an anabolic state, your immune system is “somewhat strengthened” because your body is optimizing for pregnancy and testosterone. Your levels are rising slightly, and this may be why you feel more energetic and have a greater desire to exercise, according to Dr. West.
But as your estrogen levels rise, research has shown that joint looseness increases and you may be at greater risk for ACL injuries and tendonitis, where your tendons begin to swell and become inflamed.
The luteal phase
The luteal phase occurs between the moment the egg is released and the start of your period, says Dr. Davenport, and lasts from about day 15 to day 28 of your cycle. When it starts is “when we see progesterone levels really escalate,” adds Dr. West. These levels will decrease just before menstruation as the lining of the uterus accumulates.
In the luteal phase, your body can not withstand so much pressure, so this is the time when you may want to focus on the recovery days between workouts. At this point, your body also does not use carbohydrates to store energy as efficiently, which is why Dr. West advises you to increase your carbohydrate intake.
You may also experience traditional PMS symptoms, such as water retention and fatigue, in addition to higher body temperatures (note if you do endurance activities outdoors). Dr. West recommends using this time to do fewer high-intensity workouts and choose more rehabilitation practices, such as yoga, and to spend more time focusing on rest, especially in the late lunar phase.
As your progesterone levels drop, your body begins to prepare for your period if the egg is not fertilized. This is when the uterine lining begins to be discarded, explains Dr. West. Your progesterone and estrogen levels are at their lowest, signaling the brain to increase FSH levels and then the cycle repeats.
In terms of activity, “during menstruation, what really matters is that you keep moving. “Some activity is better than none”, says Dr. West. This movement can help fight symptoms such as cramps.
How menstrual phases affect physical activity and performance
Experts agree that more research needs to be done focusing on the effects of menstruation on athletic performance. According to Dr. Davenport, the little research out there has not come to fruition because the cycle of each menstrual cycle is different and they release different levels of hormones. Nevertheless, Dr. West is a champion to discuss how your cycle affects performance, monitor it and better understand how it can help athletes and non-athletes.
One thing the data so far shows is listening to your body and meeting its needs, says Dr. Davenport. For example, if you feel tired, you may skip the five-mile run you planned and go for a long ride.
What I learned from biohacking in my own circle
I was quite lucky and have never had severe PMS. Typically, I have a fairly light and easy period, minus being a little more emotional and irritable the week before.
During the lunar phase, I had a track and field match and was competing in the pentathlon, so I did not follow the Whoop’s advice, which was that it was a good time to focus on strength training and focus more on my recovery. During my competition week, I felt tired because I did not get enough sleep. But I did a fine workout (also known as reducing tension), so I definitely felt good.
On the day of my meeting, the Whoop mentor stated that my tolerance for stress was low, but not competing was not an option. I pushed my body to the maximum – and it felt great. I had so much energy and I felt everything you want to feel during a competition: strong, strong and confident. This was definitely due to the fact that I felt good about my coach and my training program, that I felt well prepared, rested and focused on dieting with a registered dietitian to feed me and help me recover.
I will say, I did pay attention to Whoop’s recommendation to spend more time warming up to avoid injuries. Ironically, I overcame an obstacle the day before my race, but I was not injured — it just came with the area and it was sure to happen sooner or later.
After the competition was over, I took a week off to let my body rest and mentally process everything, which was in line with the menstrual phase. I did not train, but I tried to go out every day for walks and focused on rehabilitation work such as hip mobility and stretching.
During the follicular phase, I felt well and returned to my typical sprint and strength routine. I definitely felt more energetic during the ovulation phase (except for the days when I spent the night until 3 in the morning). But I did not really modify my training because it often consists of high speed and strength work.
Overall, it seemed a bit scary to pay attention to the different phases of my cycle, and although this is a joke, I did not feel better or that my performance improved or decreased from watching my period. But it was helpful to have a picture of my body, especially the physiological changes that occur during the various phases. I understood better why some days my workouts are extremely difficult and others I feel amazing, instead of just thinking that I suck or that I have to work harder. Overall, the biggest benefit was just paying more attention to my body.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever be the one to fully adjust to my coaching habits, partly because he feels very rigid (I know it ‘s really a matter of habit building) but also because as an athlete I do not always have the flexibility to change my training — I have to compete when I have races, regardless of the phase of my cycle.
However, we all deserve to understand how our body works without feeling ashamed, embarrassed or as if we are the only ones going through something. The more this area is explored, the more information we can use.
Looking for more on how to optimize your period? Here are some tips on how to eat for your menstrual cycle:
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