S&C

How to Optimize Training & Nutrition Throughout the Menstrual Cycle

Cormac O'Beirne

[6-min read]

Fluctuations in hormones over the phases of the menstrual cycle can impact female athletes’ athletic performance in different ways. This is increasingly recognised as a key consideration for women’s sport. To prepare female athletes to perform at their peak throughout their menstrual cycles, it’s important to understand the impact these hormones have on their bodies, and as a result, their ability to train/perform/compete on a given day. This will enable them to individualize their training and workload to put them in the best possible position to perform, while also reducing injury risk.

In this blog, we’ll discuss what’s happening at a hormonal level during the different phases of the menstrual cycle, and offer some simple tips for coaches to optimize their athletes’ training and nutrition during each phase.

While research in the area is growing, it is important to clarify that each individual experiences the menstrual cycle differently. Some may feel a big impact on performance during different phases of their menstrual cycle, and some may not feel much of an impact at all. This is why  tracking the menstrual cycle and recording how they feel throughout the cycle so the athlete gets an understanding of how their body responds, and how best to manage it.

Once the athlete, and their coach, know how their body functions they can put a plan in place to work with it and not against it. Empowering the athlete to perform at her peak throughout her cycle.


Menstrual Cycle Tracking with RYPT

Current research has shown that changes occurring in different phases of the menstrual may impact female athletes in the following ways:

The Follicular Phase is the start of the menstrual cycle and it begins with menstruation which can last anywhere from 3 to 7 days. During menstruation, oestrogen and progesterone levels drop and hormones are at their lowest level of the cycle.

After menstruation, oestrogen levels gradually start to increase for the remainder of the follicular phase which typically lasts a further 5-6 days until ovulation.

As hormone levels are at their lowest, it’s a good time to schedule high-intensity and muscle-building work. There are also possible increases in perceived performance and strength so it can be a good time to encourage them to push themselves if they feel good and the timing is right within the overall context of their training and competition schedule.

However, be wary of PMS symptoms like fatigue and changes in mood that may impact readiness to train/compete, and performance.

As some blood loss occurs during menstruation, athletes should increase their iron consumption during this phase. It’s recommended to consume iron-rich meals before training to maximize absorption.

After menstruation, some females can suffer from a loss of appetite so it’s important to make sure that they are getting enough calories to fuel their training and not running into a calorie deficit which may impact performance.

Rising oestrogen levels trigger ovulation which happens around the middle of the cycle, days 13-15 of a 28-day cycle for example. This can lead to a slight rise in body temperature which continues during the luteal phase.

Hormone changes during ovulation may impact tendon laxity leading to an increased risk of tendon injuries during this phase.

With the potential increased risk of tendon injuries during ovulation, it’s very important that coaches carefully manage workload during this phase so that athletes are not put at higher risk. While also making sure that the athletes complete effective warm-up and activation work before activities. 

The Luteal Phase occurs after ovulation and continues for the second half of the cycle, from 11-17 days. In the luteal phase oestrogen has a slight rise but more importantly comes a rise in progesterone and with it multiple physiological impacts.

Body temperature continues to rise and resting heart rate and breathing rate increase meaning athletes can feel like they have to work harder during this phase. This can also cause exercise endurance to decrease.

The body retains more fluid so body mass can increase during the luteal phase. This peaks during the first half of the luteal phase and then begins to drop towards the end of the cycle as the body prepares for menstruation and the start of a new cycle.

Progesterone has a catabolic effect, breaking down muscle tissue and impacting muscle repair after heavy training.

It’s important to be mindful of the high hormonal load a female athlete’s body is under during the luteal phase and avoid high-intensity work where possible. Focus instead on maintaining the fitness gains they made in previous phases, working on lower intensity, higher volumes with increased recovery time between sessions. It’s also a great time to work on enhancing mobility and improving sport-related skills where appropriate.

Avoid training in hot and humid conditions where possible as females struggle to regulate their body temperature during the luteal phase.

If you’re planning a break or down week for your athletes, the luteal phase is a great time to schedule that in so it has the least impact on their progress towards their performance goals.

Be mindful of PMS symptoms towards the end of the cycle that can impact performance and perceptual well-being such as mood swings, sleep disturbance, and fluctuations in energy levels

Due to the catabolic effect of progesterone, athletes should add a little more protein to their diet during the luteal phase, especially during intense training and competition schedules.

Fueling adequately with carbohydrates, especially during sessions lasting over 6 minutes, is critical during the luteal phase due to oestrogen and progesterone’s effect on energy utilization.

Some females may experience food cravings so it’s recommended that they consume more wholegrains and whole foods that will help them stay fuller for longer and help them resist their cravings.

Due to increased body temperature and perspiration, it can be more difficult for female athletes to stay hydrated during the luteal phase so they should pay special attention to their hydration during this phase and make sure to hydrate before and during sessions.

FOLLICULAR PHASE & MENSTRUATIONOVULATIONLUTEAL PHASE
Hormones
LOW / It’s training time.
Hormones
RISING / Be wary of increased injury risk due to tendon laxity.
Hormones
HIGH / Don’t push it.
Training
– High-intensity
– Go after performance gains
– Be mindful of symptoms like fatigue and mood swings
Training
– Manage workload carefully
– Warm-up effectively before sessions
Training
– Manage workload carefully
– Warm up effectively before sessions
Nutrition
– Increase iron intake
– Be mindful of appetite loss
Nutrition
Nutrition
– Increase protein intake
– Fuel training adequately with carbs
– Manage food cravings
– Manage hydration carefully

Each individual experiences their menstrual cycle differently but we recommend seeking the advice of a specialised women’s health GP if any experience the following:

  • The absence of menstruation
  • Heavy bleeding during menstruation
  • Changes in their menstrual cycle pattern
  • Severe pain that impacts daily life
  • Vomiting or nausea

In certain cases, working with a sports dietician can also be very beneficial as they can provide individualized advice that addresses each athlete’s specific needs and helps them towards achieving their performance goals.

Understanding the fluctuations in hormones throughout the menstrual cycle is vital for optimizing female athletes’ performance. By tracking their cycles and recognizing how hormones affect their bodies, athletes and coaches can tailor training and nutrition plans accordingly throughout the menstrual cycle. From maximizing high-intensity work during the follicular phase to managing workload and focusing on recovery during the luteal phase, individualized approaches can enhance performance while minimizing injury risks.

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RYPT is a performance coaching platform designed to help multi-disciplinary coaching teams deliver athletic development programs efficiently at scale. RYPT helps coaching teams manage every aspect of their coaching relationship from the delivery of individualized training plans, to athlete monitoring and communication. RYPT centralizes athlete data to give coaches better insights and help them manage their athletes more efficiently and effectively – reducing injury risk and optimizing performance.

Over 2,000 coaches worldwide, working from grassroots to Olympic level, trust RYPT to deliver their athletic development programs and monitor their athletes. RYPT supports individual coaches, private gyms and academies, schools and universities, and large sporting organisations.

Female Athlete Menstrual Cycle Performance

About the author

Cormac O'Beirne

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