Optimizing Training for Females
Chelsea Hall, PT, DPT
Fit For Life Physical Therapy
As females competing in sports, our training and recovery can sometimes get grouped into exactly what our male counterparts are doing. However, with our unique female physiology and hormone cycle, we can use this to adjust our training and work with our bodies to optimize our training. Interested in what you can do? Read further!
A quick review on the menstrual cycle which has several distinct phases: menstrual, follicular, ovulation, and luteal. The menstrual phase begins when a female gets her period, and her estrogen and progesterone levels drop. This phase typically lasts 3-7 days. This also begins the follicular phase which starts on day 1 of your period and continues until ovulation, around day 16. During the follicular phase, the follicular stimulating hormone is released. As estrogen levels rise, the luteinizing hormone is then released, and ovulation then occurs around day 14. One sign that you have ovulated is a rise in basal body temperature. At last, the luteal phase begins where estrogen and progesterone levels rise followed by a drop in both and the beginning of the delightful PMS symptoms…hello bloating, mood swings, cravings, and difficulty sleeping. This phase lasts 11-17 days. Using an app such as the Natural Cycles App is a straightforward way to keep track of where you are in your cycle.
As females, to optimize our training and decrease risk of injury, there are several things to consider in each phase.
- During the follicular phase when hormones are lower, this is the time for moderate to high intensity exercise with normal recovery as you are likely to feel less pain and recover faster when hormones are low. Greater strength gains are also seen during this phase. During the menstrual part of the follicular phase, you may need to modify for period symptoms and eating high quality protein plus carbohydrates to improve muscle recovery is necessary.
- During the luteal phase when hormones are higher, this is the time to perform lower intensity exercise as your risk of injury increases during the phase. Your heart rate also spikes in this phase so your heart will be working slightly harder than normal. Focus on easy to moderate pace workouts and longer steady state endurance work. Progesterone increases during this phase which increases muscle breakdown. It is important to eat more during this high hormone phase to rebuild muscle and diminish the chances your body will store body fat. Focus on leucine rich protein, such as salmon, chickpeas, brown rice, eggs, nuts, and beef. Sleep is also particularly important for recovery but extra important during this phase. Focus on getting 7-9 hours of sleep, as able.
Some doctors refer to your period as your 5th vital sign as it is a critical indicator of overall health. Start by tracking your cycle and symptoms (Natural Cycles app). This will allow you to learn what is regular for your body. What is normal for one person may not be normal for you. Additionally, varying the volume, intensity, and overall recovery based on what phase your body is in may help reduce the risk of injury and optimize performance.
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Romero-Moraleda B, Coso JD, Gutiérrez-Hellín J, Ruiz-Moreno C, Grgic J, Lara B. The Influence of the Menstrual Cycle on Muscle Strength and Power Performance. J Hum Kinet. 2019 Aug 21;68:123-133. doi: 10.2478/hukin-2019-0061. PMID: 31531138; PMCID: PMC6724592.
Bruinvels, G., Hackney, A.C. & Pedlar, C.R. Menstrual Cycle: The Importance of Both the Phases and the Transitions Between Phases on Training and Performance. Sports Med52, 1457–1460 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-022-01691-2
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