Implementing the knowledge about hormones into your training
Once we have established a feeling for the average length of the cycle and the common symptoms that come with it for each individual athlete, we can use this knowledge to adjust the training accordingly. In this first part we are talking about athletes that don’t use hormonal contraceptives (that don’t change the levels or functions of the hormones). We will talk about the influence of hormonal contraceptives in the 2nd half of this article. Here are some training tips that seem to work great for the majority of our female athletes:
The first week of the cycle is ideal for harder efforts.
Why? If estrogen levels are low, they won’t interrupt the anabolic pathway as much and muscle growing will happen more easily. The same applies with low progesterone levels and the breakdown of muscle tissue. In the low hormone phase, it is easier to build and maintain muscles. Therefore, it is important to take in enough protein (high leucine – muscle building component) before working out and refuel protein within 30min after working out.
The high hormone phase is ideal for aerobic efforts.
During the high hormone phase the female body will reduce carb-burning availability to save the glycogen storage for a possible pregnancy. This will ramp up the fat burning ability, which helps us with aerobic training. This doesn’t mean that female athletes should do a lot of fasted training in this time. The opposite! In the premenstrual period female athletes should consume more calories (about 200) due to the higher metabolic activity. In this time the body is more primed for aerobic activities. And I’m talking about more enduring and easy trainings, because of the drop blood plasma volume due, the blood will be thicker, and exercise can feel harder.
Checklist for each part of the cycle:
Phase 1 – Menstruation (Early Follicular)
- Athletes are more likely to have menstrual-related symptoms.
- Exercise can provide a good way to treat and manage symptoms.
- Adaptation to strength and high intensity training has been shown to increase.
- Neuromuscular control may be reduced – include activation work in warm-up.
- Iron requirement is increased due to blood loss.
Phase 2 – Follicular to Ovulation
- Increased mood, alertness, and potentially energy levels.
Adaptation to strength and high intensity has been shown to increase.
- Alterations in joint laxity can mean that susceptibility to soft tissue injury types is increased.
- Include progressive warm-up and thorough warm-down.
- Even though athletes may be able to handle a higher load, an emphasis on recovery is essential.
Phase 3 – Luteal
- Good time to focus on endurance based training.
- Peak power may be lower but the same benefit may be obtained from reducing weights or reps
- Heart rate (both at rest and during exercise) and breathing rate may increase.
- Small increases in basal body temperature typically occur.
- A focus should be placed on post-training recovery as muscle breakdown is thought to increase.
- Energy levels may dip and appetite may increase so a tailored nutrition plan should be advised.
Phase 4 – Premenstrual (Late Luteal)
- Athletes are more likely to log a higher number of symptoms and may not be as driven to train.
- Low energy levels and disrupted sleep are likely.
- Exercise is a good treatment for premenstrual symptoms.
- A healthy diet and good sleep habits are particularly important.
- Increased stress can exacerbate symptoms.
How hormonal contraceptives influence your hormones
“This graph is based on one generic type of combined hormonal contraceptive pill across the cycle. In reality, hormone levels will go up and down as pills are taken on a daily basis, and different pills contain a different hormonal make-up.” Source: helloclue
How this influence my training?
That is indeed a good question. From our current experience we can’t give a general answer to this topic. Due to the different and very individual impact of the different contraceptives we sometimes run into issues in regard of how intune these athletes are with their bodies. And that can cause us to walk in the dark in terms of planning in support of the hormones. This doesn’t mean we speak against contraceptives or don’t support them. It only means we see great results working with the natural cycle.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Reversible methods of birth control. Retrieved on November 29, 2016 from https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/contraception/
- Rivera, R., Yacobson, I., & Grimes, D. (1999). The mechanism of action of hormonal contraceptives and intrauterine contraceptive devices. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 181(5), 1263–1269.
- US Food and Drug Administration. (2016). Depo-Provera. Retrieved on November 29, 2016 from http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2016/012541s084lbl.pdf
- US Food and Drug Administration. (2015). Ella. Retrieved on November 30, 2016 from http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2015/022474s007lbl.pdf
- Beaber, E. F., Malone, K. E., Tang, M. T. C., Barlow, W. E., Porter, P. L., Daling, J. R., & Li, C. I. (2014). Oral contraceptives and breast cancer risk overall and by molecular subtype among young women. Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention, 23(5), 755–764.
- Freund, R., Kelsberg, G., & Safranek, S. (2014). Do oral contraceptives put women with a family history of breast cancer at increased risk?. Journal of Family Practice.
Knowledge that will help you perform better
We are always happy to have an open conversation and we love to learn and help.