As women, we know the world expects a lot from us but not as much as we expect from ourselves. For me, the gym was a place to burn off steam and laugh and feel strong no matter what else was happening, but there were days that I just couldn’t get myself to move the same or weights felt heavier. I know there are a lot of factors that go into your energy levels such as diet, sleep, over/under training, stress, progressing workouts, etc. Having heard about hormones coming into play too, my nerdy nurse brain needed answers and I set out to learn as much as I could about how hormones effect our bodies at different points in our cycles.
Things to remember: Always talk to your doctor about any concerns and before starting any new program. Everyone is different and the information here is based on a 28 day cycle. It may be helpful to track how you’re feeling to see if you notice any patterns. Lastly, listen to your body! These are suggestions but you know your body best!
Days 1-7: Menstruation
No matter how long your period lasts, this is when estrogen and progesterone are at their lowest, and we start the follicular phase of building up the next egg to release. Think of estrogen as energy and progesterone as heat and calm. No wonder you aren’t always in the greatest mood and want to lay on the couch snuggled up with the dog, chips and gummy bears. Prostaglandins are high which is what causes the uterine cramps, but the muscles in your intestines also respond to these and increase their activity leading to diarrhea. Isn't it just so much fun?
Since estrogen is low, so are energy and libido. You might have more bloating and motion sickness. It’s common to have brain fog so it may not be the best time to learn something new. Your immune system is running lower leading to flare ups in autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, eczema or psoriasis. Try to rest, decrease stress and eat healthy.
The good news? No need to skip your workouts this week! Try lighter cardio, walking or yoga. Make sure to drink extra water, and if you have heavier periods, stand up slowly.
Days 8-14: Post-period
This means estrogen is on the rise to its peak. You are feeling great! Energy is up. Bloat is down. Your brain is back, and you have a higher pain tolerance. Progesterone is staying lower. Testosterone is increasing which helps build lean muscle while estrogen helps the connective tissue that binds muscle to bone.
This is your week to get at it! Try something new because you have increased memory and concentration, and tend to have less depression symptoms. Challenge yourself by increasing your intensity and aerobic activity in a boot camp, strength or HIIT classes!
Day 14-ish: Ovulation
We are just past the peak of estrogen, starting its decline. Energy and libido peak because your body wants you to get pregnant even if you don’t. Your cartilage is looser putting you at higher risk for joint injuries. Protect your joints by doing a good warm up, stretch, use good form and watch out for fatigue. Progesterone is on the rise, increasing your body temperature and metabolism. There is a slight decrease in serotonin which may damper your good mood and increase food cravings. On the other hand, your testosterone has peaked making you more competitive and ambitious.
Days 15-21: Mid-cycle
Your estrogen is overall on its way down. Workouts may feel harder. Progesterone peaks around day 21 and so does your body heat and metabolism. You may feel more serene as progesterone rises and testosterone decreases.
You have better lung efficiency and stamina so think longer, steady aerobic work instead of anaerobic HIIT work. You can still do your favorite strength and bootcamp classes but may notice lower performance. Try barre, Pilates, steady cycling, swimming or running.
Days 22-28: Pre-period
Both estrogen and progesterone plummet. Your body feels completely out of whack: increased headaches/migraines, insomnia and nightmares, mood swings, fluid retention, cravings, asthma attacks, pain sensitivity (avoid waxing and plucking if possible). You may be more clumsy or drop things, possibly related to fluid retention. Those prostaglandins will affect your bowels and you may poop too much or not enough. Mentally, you may have a lack of concentration and motivation, poor memory, and increased depression and anxiety. The good thing is that exercise increases the blood flow to your brain. Small, frequent meals may help handle the cravings, and dark chocolate is an excellent mood booster.
This is the time to do whatever workout makes you happy, maybe arrange to meet a friend for yoga or cycling. Boost your endorphins to boost your mood to boost your energy.
Peri-menopause and menopause are their own challenges because the hormones lose their regular pattern. It’s not easy to determine when your highs and lows are. It’s easier to gain weight and harder to lose it. Due to bone density and muscle mass loss, it is important to continue aerobic work but continue or add weighted strength work and really focus on your warm up. There are a lot of great resources on how to stay active and deal with this stage.
The moral of the story is to just keep moving and don’t be too hard on yourself! Take advantage of those energy highs and lows and above all listen to your body!