How to Use Your Menstrual Cycle to Lose Fat

I help busy, motivated, women achieve the healthy bodies they want, develop confidence and gain the knowledge to  live a life full of energy and happiness.

In order to keep my program, to be what I believe is, the BEST on the market, have been doing extensive research on hormones and specifically how our bodies utilize carbohydrates differently based off of where we are in our cycles.

Our menstrual cycle and fluctuations in hormone levels absolutely affects our metabolism, how our bodies utilize nutrients as well as our physical performance. In order to maximize our efforts, we must strategically align our workouts and nutrition regimes with the ebb and flow in our hormones.

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OVERVIEW:

The menstrual cycle causes large shifts in female hormones which can result in changes to:

  • mood
  • energy
  • sex drive
  • hunger
  • strength
  • cravings/appetite
  • how our bodies use fuel
  • risk of injury

In order to optimize your body composition you should be aware of these changes and know how to customize your program to match your hormone changes when needed. This is what I am going to show you how to do so you can workout smarter not harder and thus reach your goals faster with less effort!

Phases of the Cycle

  1. Follicular phase
    • Ovulation
  2. Luteal phase

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#1 The Follicular Phase:

The follicular phase is the first two weeks of your cycle or up until ovulation occurs. This is the prefect time to schedule your more intense training. Interestingly research show that your pain tolerance, strength and endurance is higher during this time (1). This warrants priority given to refeed days or additional carbohydrates. To further support additional carb intake, evidence shows improved insulin sensitivity, allowing you to utilize carbs more within the muscles (1). Remember insulin works as a carrier, shunting nutrients and predominately digested carbs in the form of blood sugar into your muscles. Thus, prioritizing healthy carbs during this time is key to optimize the metabolic state and maximize the benefits of those additional carbs.

If you have been following me for any length of time now, you know I’m a big fan of carb cycling and taking hormones into account is just a logical aspect of the nutrition programming. We should be optimizing our diets around our bodies hormones &  physiology.

SUMMARY: 

  • improved strength, pain tolerance & endurance —> more intense workouts: you should be lifting HEAVY
  • Prioritize your regular carb days and high carb days. Consume your largest and highest carb meal 1-2 hours post workout.
  • This phase also offers better insulin sensitivity 

Ovulation: (around day 14)

The continual rise in estrogen from the follicular phase eventually triggers a surge in LH (lutenizing hormone) and an egg is released from the ovary. Alterations in hormones such as estrogen around this time may help with performance but caution is needed as some research shows it could possibly increase risk of injury. In fact, one study estimated that women have 200-800% more ACL injury because of alterations in menstrual cycle (2,3).  In order to reduce your risk of injury warm up, stretch, and focus on form. You may even want to reduce your weights while increasing your reps.

SUMMARY 

  • while you may notice an increase in performance you also are potentially at increased risk of injury
  • focus on form and safety
  • reduce weights if necessary and increase reps
  • Ensure proper warm-up, cool-down and stretching 

#2 Luteal phase: Post ovulation to first day of menstruation

The luteal phase is from the time of ovulation to the start of your next cycle. This is where you will likely notice the biggest impact on your performance and energy. You may need to reduce the weights a bit or take additional active recovery days.

Some big physiological changes are occurring. Firstly, your basal body temperature and thus thermogenesis increases. Personally I notice my body will burn an additional 5-10% more calories and this is fairly typical. This unfortunately does not warrant increased food intake specifically for women looking to lose fat.

Secondly, due to the nature of the hormones in this phase, you may notice water retention and bloating. DO NOT GET ON THE SCALE! The scale in my opinion is actually the worst tool to access progress because there are too many variables that effect total weight. You will absolutely be heavier this week but it means nothing it is just water weight and will pass!

Thirdly, research shows a reduced insulin sensitivity and carbohydrate tolerance during this time. This is a great week to experiment with a lower carbohydrate or ketogenic type plan. Cravings may be higher at this time but lets be real, its not ideal to dabble in just one bite of chocolate during the time when your hormones are making you crave it the most.

Lastly as touched on above,  in addition to hormone changes, serotonin (a neurotransmitter in the brain controlling mood) may drop. This may be the culprit if you experience changes to mood, behaviour, and/or irritability. You may notice increase cravings for carbs because these will elevate serotonin in the short term. Recognize this as a normal part of physiology and try to prevent cravings as much as possible.

THIS IS WHY SO IMPORTANT TO ENSURE YOUR HORMONES AND NEUROTRANSMITTERS ARE BALANCED. IF NOT, STICKING TO A NUTRITION PLAN OR EXERCISE MAY SEEM IMPOSSIBLE OR YOU WONT GET THE RESULTS YOU ARE LOOKING FOR.

SUMMARY:

  • Your energy and performance likely will be reduced: take more active recovery days.
  • Impaired insulin response and carb tolerance: consume fewer carbs this week.
  • You may retain water: DO NOT GET ON THE SCALE
  • Prevent cravings: increase water, protein, leafy greens and  foods that contain tryptophan a precursor to serotonin or consider supplementation

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Conclusion:

I really want to make the point loud and clear that due to common changes to metabolic rate and water retention during the month expect your weight to go up and down —>  Using the scale as a measure of your success or progress is NOT A GOOD IDEA!

In summary these are only general recommendations and sometimes an evaluation of underlying hormone imbalances is necessary. As always, it is important to take an individualized approach and everyones carbohydrate tolerance and insulin sensitivity will be slightly different.  This information should not be used to take your nutrition to the extreme as your MAIN focus should be “is this food good for me?” Carb cycling is suppose to help you reach your goals in an ENJOYABLE way while avoiding the reduction in metabolism that comes with caloric restriction. Varying your carbohydrate intake and aligning your plan with your menstrual cycle will support your hormones and create long term fat loss!

So, say NO to low cal diets that put too much stress on the body and lead to fatigue, hunger and weight rebound and instead use your knowledge of physiology and hormones to maximize your efforts and reach your goals faster.  Carbs are not the “enemy” they are extremely useful at the right times for the right reasons.

 

References:

1. Riley III, Joseph L., et al. “A meta-analytic review of pain perception across the menstrual cycle.” Pain 81.3 (1999): 225-235.

2.Wojtys, Edward M., et al. “Association between the menstrual cycle and anterior cruciate ligament injuries in female athletes.” The American Journal of Sports Medicine 26.5 (1998): 614-619.

3. Wojtys, Edward M., et al. “The effect of the menstrual cycle on anterior cruciate ligament injuries in women as determined by hormone levels.” The American Journal of Sports Medicine 30.2 (2002): 182-188.

4. Julian, Ross, et al. “The effects of menstrual cycle phase on physical performance in female soccer players.” PloS one 12.3 (2017): e0173951.

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