As I’m sitting here, I’m starving with crazy low blood sugar, light-headedness, despite eating plenty of calories and drinking plenty of water. What’s to blame? You guess it. It’s my hormones. No, FOR REAL!
Since my hormones came back full force about six months ago after a five-year absence, it’s been a wild ride of learning. I started to wonder how my new found pals estrogen and progesterone were affecting my body other than that special seven days of the month. Researching this has given me a better understanding of how my energy and appetite are influenced throughout my cycle. It has also given me a much clearer picture as to how my nutrition and training should be changing throughout the different menstrual cycle stages. I’m excited to begin implementing these changes into my diet as well as a for Hungry Hobby RD clients to make their hormones work for them to optimize performance and body composition.
By now, I’ve gotten back from the vending machine and am happily devouring some trail mix so all is right in the world for the next 15 minutes while I finish this article. Yes, it’s the M & M trailmix because I’m in week 4.
Days 1-14 ish – Follicular Phase
An increase in Estrogen, Testosterone & Follicular Stimulating Hormone (FSH) from ROCK bottom.
Week 1: Menstruation
Initially, low estrogen and testosterone, as well as iron loss, sap your body of energy creating fatigue. For many women, as the days go on their mood and energy levels begins to lift. As estrogen begins to climb PMS symptoms such as irritability, weepiness, etc. begin to lessen. Your brain starts to produce serotonin, the feel-good chemical, which immediately lifts your mood.
Guess what? Estrogen is an appetite SUPPRESSANT. Contrary to what most people think, Estrogen lowers your intake of food about 12%. Estrogen also increases insulin sensitivity meaning you are better able to utilize carbohydrates efficiently during this phase.
Those cramps? Yep! A sign of your sky high pain tolerance happening right now! High pain tolerance and increased ability to utilize carbohydrates mean it’s time to push your workouts, HARD. High intensity and heavy lifts, paired with a higher percentage of carbohydrates mean you can expect more gains in the gym.
By now you have ended your period, and the climbing levels of hormones are providing you with abounding energy. Rising levels of estrogen and testosterone will make you feel like a rockstar and you are an absolute pleasure to be around. You are the most alert and focused at this time, it’s probably when you feel most like yourself. On a downside, estrogen can also trigger anxiety attacks, so be on the lookout for this!
Similar to mensuration, although without the cramps, you may be able to capitalize on your increased pain tolerance and reduced fatigue for a better workout. As you approach ovulation, your appetite continues to diminish, and your ability to use carbohydrates efficiently increases. Stick with those HIIT training and heavy lifts. Challenging yourself in your workouts may also help to offset your lower calorie burn.
Ovulation (Day 15 ish)
In reality, ovulation occurs anywhere between day 10 and day 20. Typically, it occurs on day 15, but the only way to know for sure is to chart your cycle, especially by checking your basal temperature in the morning. Once your temperature spikes consistently above 97.7 you have ovulated. (I recommend Taking Charge of Your Fertility for more info on this.)
Ovulation is your bodies cue to suppress estrogen and testosterone production while amping up the progesterone. According to a study in the Journal of Physiology ovulating women showed an increase in strength during of ovulation. However, another study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine found 4-8 times increase in ACL injuries during this period. Although the mechanism is unclear, it may have to do with reduced collagen synthesis as well as decreased neuromuscular control.
Luteal Phase – Days 15-28
Your mood and energy levels aren’t the best. If you are sensitive to progesterone, you may experience PMS type symptoms. Furthermore, low levels of estrogen create a foggy feeling, and rising levels of progesterone is known for it’s sedating effect. (I’ve noticed the day of ovulation I could sleep all day, so I guess that makes me sensitive to progesterone.)
Remember estrogen is an appetite suppressant, and progesterone is more of an appetite enhancer, at the beginning of the week you may experience increased cravings and appetite due to low estrogen compared to progesterone. These symptoms will likely subside toward the end of the week as estrogen peaks a second time. Progesterone spikes your core temperature and increases your metabolic rate 9-12%. Although your calorie needs are increased, lack of estrogen means your body may be a little less sensitive to insulin, increasing the amount of fat your body naturally uses as a fuel source. In fact, researchers at Columbia University found that fat utilization increases up to 30%! Focus on workouts that will utilize more fat as a fuel source such as steady state cardio and moderate intensity weight lifting. Think long runs and endurance lifting workouts. Also, keep in mind progesterone increases constipation and bloating, this may increase your needs for water and fiber.
At this point, all your hormones are falling, yep, the whole gang including progesterone, testosterone, and estrogen. You may feel unusually irritable, tired, and overall not so good. Serotonin, your feel good hormone, as well as endorphins, are on the decline. Increasing intake of tryptophan-rich foods such as pumpkin seeds, turkey, and cottage cheese may help boost production of serotonin. You will likely gravitate toward high carb/sweet foods, but your body is still utilizing fat better. Getting enough calcium, Magnesium, Vitamin D and B6 may help ease symptoms including mood swings, food cravings, breast tenderness, constipation, headaches, pelvic and back pain. Constipation and bloating may still be present, focus on getting enough fiber and water.
When I started writing this post, I had to make a chart to keep it all straight! I put that chart into a pinnable graphic for you so that you can keep it somewhat straight too!
Remember this information is not intended to replace advice from your doctor. Even though I am a Registered Dietitian please note that these tips or guidelines may not be true for everyone. If you have questions or concerns please schedule an appointment with a Dietitian. Also, note that if you are on birth control these tips will not hold true as your body is not cycling hormones as described above.How to make your hormones work for you!Click To Tweet
- Recovering from 5 Years of Amenorrhea
- Post-Pill Amenorrhea Update (4 months later)
- Seed Cycling for Amenorrhea, PMS, or irregular periods
- Iron Foods, Functions, and Facts (related)
- My friend Ashley wrote an ebook called Fit & Fertile (affiliate link)about her experience with Amenorrhea as a Group Fitness Instructor and what she did to get pregnant naturally. Her experience was different t n mine, but similar in some ways as well. Either way, it was definitely a comforting read.
- Gretchen, et al. Menstrual cycle phase and oral contraceptive effects on triglyceride mobilization during exercise. J Appl Physiol 2004;97: 302-309.
- Davidson, et al. Impact of the menstrual cycle on determinants of energy balance: a putative role in weight loss attempts. International Journal of Obesity. 2007;31:1777-1785
- D’eon et al. The Roles of Estrogen and Progesterone in Regulating Carbohydrate and Fat Utilization at Rest and during Exercise. Journal women’s health and gender based medicine 2002;11(3):225-237.
- Nakamura et al. Hormonal Responses to Resistance Exercise during Different Menstrual Cycle States. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2011 Jun;43(6):967-73
- Oosthuyse & Bosch. The Effect of the Menstrual Cycle on Exercise Metabolism. Sports Medicine. 2010;4(3):207-227.
- 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 Medicine2 (2002): 182-188.
- Sarwar, R., B. Beltran Niclos, and O. M. Rutherford. “Changes in muscle strength, relaxation rate and fatiguability during the human menstrual cycle.” The Journal of physiologyPt 1 (1996): 267.