Your menstrual cycle is a fundamental rhythm of life ruled by interacting levels of hormones. Science has investigated the menstrual cycle and the fluctuations of estradiol and progesterone in order to understand the impact this has on female metabolism. Tuning into your menstrual cycle and your body can be not only empowering, but also beneficial.
An average woman’s metabolism increases by approximately 4% in the third quarter of her menstrual cycle. However, the urge to consume more food is also increased by approximately 4%.
But there is however a way to take advantage of this temporary metabolic boost. A study conducted by Ohio University, found that exercising during the luteal phase (when there are higher progesterone and oestrogen levels), burns more fat than at other times of the month.
The Menstrual Cycle and Hormones
A woman’s menstrual cycle lasts an average of 28 days. Throughout these 28 days your hormone levels are changing.
Between days 1-14 (the follicular phase), there is a dip amid ovulation (which generally happens around day 14). Soon after ovulation (the luteal phase), hormone levels rise again. As your period approaches, these hormones go back to baseline.
Progesterone levels are also dipping and rising throughout your cycle, rising only for ovulation, and fall on the final day of your cycle together with oestrogen. This hormonal tango creates many changes within your body, one of which is a change in the female metabolism. Phew, that’s a lot to digest!
Your Metabolism Reacts to the Hormonal Tango
Taking into account that both metabolism and menstrual cycle are affected in their own rights but numerous different factors (exercise, nutrition, age, etc.), not to mention that the exact time of ovulation is individual and may differ monthly. Answering this big question is not so black and white, but scientists are investing their time in understanding this nevertheless.
Numerous studies have shown that (for some) women, the intake (the food you eat) and use of energy (what your body burns) during the luteal phase (after ovulation) increases. For these women, an average of 100-500 extra calories daily were consumed, and calories burnt averaged around 100-300 [calories] per day.
Understanding your Menstrual Cycle and Maximizing Exercise and Nutrition
As mentioned earlier, your menstrual cycle has three phases:
- the follicular phase
- ovulation, and
- the luteal phase
Nutrition and exercise throughout these phases will differ. Here we will discuss the when? and what? To maximise your cycle and prevent the fluctuations that often cause issues for women trying to lose fat.
The Follicular Phase
The follicular phase occurs during days 1-14. During this time of your cycle your focus should be on working out to the max. The elevated oestrogen levels allow you to be more tolerant of the pain and difficulties of intense exercise, and so this is the time to use this.
During this phase your sensitivity to insulin is also peaking, meaning that you will burn carbs best now. So use this well, up your carbs intake, reduce fat intake and keep protein as a constant.
The ovulation phase occurs at around day 14. During this time you will be at your physical strongest. This is great, but it is important to remember that due to higher levels of oestrogen you are also prone to injury, therefore make sure you listen to your body and only push as far it allows you to. (This is a time to be extra villegant with your exercise form).
During ovulation, you will likely experience the cravings and increased metabolism discussed earlier, so sure you intake enough protein to ensure satiety, whilst taking note of a balanced fat and carb intake.
With that in mind, if you experience a higher craving for carbs and sugar, you can always slightly reduce your protein intake to make up for these cravings, reducing overeating.
The Luteal Phase
The luteal phase occurs around day 15 to day 18. This phase is the toughest on women, often causing intense cravings for sugar and carbs, irritability and overall lethargic both mentally and physically.
Therefore during the luteal phase, it is advised to turn your focus on ‘recovery’ and lighter training, for example going for walks, yoga, pilates etc.
But it’s not all bad news, during this phase, your body is prepared to burn the most fat, so even these lighter exercises will still serve well towards the greater goal of fat reduction.
Once your period is over, the cycle will begin again and you can go back to maximizing training for the follicular phase.
Losing fat is not as easy as it sounds and it is harder for females than their male counterparts. There are a number of reasons for this, but one big part of this is the menstrual cycle.
On average a woman’s menstrual cycle lasts 28 days, by understanding your cycle you can maximize your nutrition and exercise, helping you achieve your end goal much easier.
During the follicular phase (the first phase), you should reduce your fat intake, keep protein consistent and increase the carbs.
During ovulation (the second phase), due to higher oestrogen levels, women perform at their best with an increase in metabolic rate. This is the time to challenge yourself, however this should be done mindfully to reduce injury that is prone during this period.
During the luteal phase (third phase), women often experience cravings and have the lowest insulin sensitivity. Reducing carb intake during this period helps increase fat loss.