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  • Writer's pictureSue Bentsen

Synching Your Exercise Routine with Your Hormonal Cycle

Your physiology changes throughout your menstrual cycle so why not adapt your workout routine to optimize adaptation, enhance results and fuel your vitality!

While hormones and cycles vary with age, hormonal imbalances, use of hormonal birth control, during pregnancy and after delivery, etc. there exists some common threads we can capitalize upon with regard to exercise, and fueling for fitness!

A regular cycle ranges from 21 to 35 days, with a typical cycle lasting 28 days.

You can think of your menstrual cycle as four quarter turns of a dial. Each quarter turn represents one fourth of your cycle. When referring to a 28 day cycle for example, each quarter turn lasts seven days, or one week.

Days 1-7: During this first quarter is when 'menstruation' or bleeding occurs, typically lasting 3-7 days. Estrogen begins to rise in this first phase fueling creativity and coordination. Your body adapts more easily towards burning fat for fuel making it a prime time to reduce carbohydrate intake and extend your fasting window (from dinner to the next day’s meal) ideally, aiming for this overnight fast to be 13+ hours.

Days 8-14: The second quarter is when estrogen peaks. As sensitivity to insulin increases you become more carb tolerant. If you follow a keto or low carb diet, days 12-14 are excellent for carb cycling. By increasing carbohydrate intake during these days you can reduce overall stress on the body and improve tissue recovery. As energy demands increase it becomes important to ensure adequate protein intake as well. For many women, protein is the category where they are consistently undernourished. Inadequate protein intake can contribute to food cravings, fatigue, brain fog, decreased endurance and is a primary reason why weight loss stalls. Most women benefit from 55-75 grams of protein daily. If you eat three meals per day, that equates to approximately 20-25 grams of protein per meal. If it isn't easy to determine from food labels, do a quick internet search or use an app like My Fitness Pal or Cronometer to calculate the amount of protein in your next meal. You might be surprised to see where your protein intake typically falls.

Days 15-21: During the third quarter estrogen begins to take a back seat, slowly declining as progesterone begins to rise. This is the phase in your cycle in which ligaments become laxed making joints more prone to injury. Make time to adequately warm-up prior to exercising. And, be mindful not to over stretch after work outs or during intense yoga sessions as this tends to overstress joints and ligaments. Like the first quarter, lowering carb intake and fasting are recommended to support metabolic changes during this phase.

Days 22-28: The fourth quarter is an interesting turn of the dial with an ever so slight level of testosterone making a debut giving you a boost of confidence, strength, and stamina! However, it is progesterone that takes center stage of all three hormones at this time while estrogen levels decline. Energy demands are at their highest the last day or two of this last quarter. Now is the time to prioritize sleep and self-care. Carbohydrates become the preferred fuel source again. However, stomach emptying tends to slow causing a feeling of fullness or mild indigestion. Choose foods that are nutrient dense and easy to digest like bone broth, sweet potatoes, beets, or squash, legumes, or berries.

Adapting your routine each quarter turn of your cycle can lead to promising results! Knowing when to take advantage of fasting, or carb cycling can guide food choices can improve metabolism. Modifying your exercise routine to take advantage of enhanced coordination, strength, or stamina can enhance performance. Focusing on form and an adequate warm up when ligaments are laxed can reduce risk of injury. When your routine is in synch with cyclical changes, you are better able to meet energy demands, fuel up efficiently and ultimately, realize faster results. Get in synch and watch your body thrive!

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