As you probably already know, here at WUKA we’re huge advocates for hitting the gym and smashing out some PBs every single day of the month- period, or no period. After all, our motto is to Wake Up and Kick Ass!
And because there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t exercise on your period, we brought out our Perform range specifically to support your own fitness goals, no matter where you are in your cycle. Whether you lift, run, dance or swim- you can, and SHOULD, carry on doing it on your period, and be confident that we’ve got you covered with our Perform pants, leggings, shorts and period swimwear.
But can you improve your sports performance with cycling tracking? We spoke to Sarah Campus, personal trainer, nutrition coach, mum of three and founder of LDN Mums Fitness for her thoughts on the matter. Sarah is a fitness and wellbeing panellist for Women’s Fitness and appears regularly on TV and in magazines as a fitness expert.
Qualified as a level 2 and level 3 personal trainer and gym instructor, Sarah has completed programmes in Exercise and Nutrition, Exercise Referral, GP Referral, Ante and Post-natal Exercise, Exercise for Older Adults, Bootcamps and Circuits, Advanced Fitness Training, and Indoor Group Cycling. She also specialises in ante and post-natal, weight management, core stability, Tough Mudder, circuit training and abdominal work. Phew! Find Sarah on Instagram @ldnmumsfitness.
How does the menstrual cycle affect sports performance?
If we know anything at all, it’s that certain times of the month have us feeling differently than others. So it stands to reason that our performance could be affected by our menstrual cycle– but how exactly?
To find out more, we need to understand the phases of the menstrual cycle and how hormones affect us during each stage.
The follicular phase begins at the same time as menstruation, just as your period starts. At this time, an unfertilised egg is shed along with uterine tissue, vaginal fluid and mucus. This is what makes up your period flow.
At the same time, Follicular Stimulating Hormone (FSH) begins to stimulate the ovaries to produce follicles, one of which will develop an egg. This also triggers the ovary to start producing oestrogen. As oestrogen levels rise in the body, the uterus lining starts to thicken once more in preparation for a potential pregnancy.
The egg will also mature during this time, ready for fertilisation.
So how are we feeling during this phase? At the start of the follicular phase, period flow tends to be heavier, cramps are more painful and we might not be getting as much restorative sleep as we might need for a good workout.
Sarah told us that during menstruation, we might want to slow things down a little:
“When a woman has their period, hormones are running at a higher level due to an increase in oestrogen and progesterone. More hormones means a decrease in muscle-building capacity. This means that it’s time to take it easier, a time to focus on lower-intensity workouts with more recovery time.
Women will experience less strength and power during these times, so it’s time to focus on technique, using lower weights, less reps, less intensity. Be kind to your body, listen to your body.”
But as this phase continues and hormone levels starts to change, the rise of oestrogen then starts to give us an energy boost. We feel strong, powerful and ready to smash it at the gym. The second part of this phase is a great time to ramp things up a little.
Studies such as this one back this theory up, pointing out that “follicular phase-based strength training induced a greater effect on muscle strength, muscle and type II fibre diameters, and nuclei-to-fibre ratio compared to luteal phase-based strength training”. In other words, during the late follicular phase, you’re not only more likely to feel more energised and ready for a workout, but your muscle building potential is a lot higher too. Time to put some extra weight on the bar!
Ovulation takes place in just one day, as the egg travels down the fallopian tube for fertilisation, and if no pregnancy occurs, the egg is reabsorbed into the body. During this phase, oestrogen levels reach their peak, and Luteinising Hormone (LH) starts to rise sharply too.
When it comes to working out, you might still feel energised and ready to hit the gym hard. As long as you listen to your body and give yourself enough time to recover, there’s no reason why you can’t smash your goals here too.
During this final stage of your cycle, oestrogen levels start to drop and progesterone begins to rise. FSH and LH levels also drop, and the uterine lining begins to break down. The luteal phase ends with your period, which signals the start of a whole new cycle.
Lots of us really feel this shift in hormone, and that last week or so before your period starts can be hard ion terms of PMS symptoms. Your body is not quite as primed for performance during this phase, and that’s totally normal.
Period bloating, headaches, muscles aches, fatigue- it can all lead to reduced performance in the gym, so now’s the time to really focus in on what your body is trying to tell you. Take the intensity down a notch or two, or even opt for lighter workouts such as a gentle swim, walk or some yoga.
Sarah agrees, adding:
“Studies (like this one) show female sports performance to be relatively worse during the early follicular and late luteal phases, due to low energy levels and low motivation.”
So yes, while we truly believe that your period should never hold you back in the gym, we also agree that listening to your body is essential too. It’s ok to slow the pace now and then.
How can cycle tracking help improve my performance in sports?
If you don’t track your cycle, take this as your signal to start. Sarah told us,
“By closely monitoring menstrual cycles, you’ll be able to better understand how you can adapt your workload during each of menstrual phases.
Target high intensity training in the early follicular phase, and focus on strength development during the late follicular and ovulation phases.
Tracking can also help you manage your mood, motivation, and thus give you much better awareness of your holistic health and wellness so that you can plan your workouts better inline with your goals.”
You can easily track your cycle using an app on your phone. Make a note of how you’re feeling during each phase too, and how your performance is affected by PMS symptoms each cycle. You’ll soon know instinctively how to adapt your training so that you’re working with you body, and not against it.
Are there times during my cycle where training is not recommended?
We get it. There are some days where hitting the gym is the last thing you want to do. And yes, it’s totally fine to take a duvet day. But are there any times during your cycle where working out definitely isn’t recommended?
“There’s no scientific reason for women to skip out on workouts during the menstrual cycle. In fact, exercise can actually be beneficial during this time as it releases mood boosting feel good hormones, endorphins, to help with motivation and any cramping pains. The bottom line is this: Continue with exercise, but back off on the intensity, especially if you’re feeling fatigued.”
The takeaway message: listen to your body. Don’t be afraid to workout with intensity when your body is ready for it, but know that rest is equally as important too. Working with your cycle can be really liberating, so learning how to track your cycle and use the different phases to program your workout can really help with performance.
Can having your period slow you down during physical performance in sports?
Studies like this one support the theory that being on your period can slow you down during sports performances, particularly during the late luteal phase. It’s important to listen to your body and if you need to slow down and rest, then do so. Energy levels and strength tends to peak during the late follicular phase and up to ovulation, so make the most of your workouts at that time.
How does the menstrual cycle affect muscles?
Some theories suggest that during the follicular phase, when oestrogen levels peak, we are more able to build muscles and experience a boost in strength. At this time, muscle mass may also increase.
Do you run better or worse on your period?
There’ no reason why you can’t run while you’re on your period, but remember that during the late luteal phase and early follicular phase, energy levels may be lower. You may also be experiencing cramps, headaches, bloating and other PMS symptoms, which could affect your performance.
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