Gentlemen, consider yourselves informed: I am about to discuss the effect of women’s monthly hormone cycles on training and athletic performance. If words like “ovulation” and “luteal” phase weird you out, just stop reading now and go back to your Men’s Health mag. Consider yourself fore-informed.
I ovulated yesterday.
It was miserable.
Cramps, impatience, and the kind of fatigue that makes you just want to put your head down anywhere (that nice stack of shirts on the table at the Prana store looks so comfortable…..). Seems counterintuitive, seeing as how we all know what evolution clearly wants to occur during that day, but that’s how it is for me and certain women. I don’t want to do that, I don’t want to lift, I don’t want to run, I just want to curl up in my bed and snuggle with my Care Bear and purple sock monkey. Luckily, the other time of month does not have nearly the same effect, while for some of you it does.
At this point you may be wondering why I am *ahem* venting about lady time on this site. I think most of you are aware of the benefits of periodizing (ha! See what I did there?) your training for a particular competition or event. See it as a blessing, see it as a curse, but our bodies intrinsically force us to further adjust our training flow (Oh man I am on a roll!) on a monthly basis. We can thank our hormone fluctuations for that.
Shannon Clark wrote an excellent overview on the effect our monthly cycles have on our training for T Nation (+1 for the irony of the site’s name, given the subject matter). http://www.t-nation.com/training/hormone-cycle-and-female-lifters
Being an athlete requires a particular attuning with the individualized workings of your own body: your strengths and weaknesses, what foods work for you and which do not do so well, what kind of training your body thrives on (regardless of what your brain might try to tell you during hard workouts!), and what kind of sleep schedule and amount of sleep allows you to function at your best. For all of us, but women in particular, hormone fluctuation cycles play a huge role.
Let’s get down to specifics. I am going to use myself as an example for the remainder of this piece, because my body is the one I know best!
The day I ovulate (around day 12, 13, or 14 in my cycle), I just want to sleep. I slog through my workouts. That key track workout? Nope. Not happening. The attempt at a max deadlift? Uh uh. I try to steer clear of any workouts that require significant nutritional recovery because the increase of progesterone in my system inhibits digestion. Thanks GI tract, PS I’m not incubating a miniature human right now, I’d like to absorb those nutrients thank you kindly! So what can and do I do?
First, I eat, because supporting 50% of a wannabe human requires energy. Luckily, this is also the time that metabolic rates are highest, so while it’s not an excuse to eat ALL THE DELICIOUSNESS (save it for after a marathon!), I feel fine about listening to my body and fueling it. This is also an excellent time to focus on more base/maintenance oriented workouts (and not the best time to attempt that deadlift max, save that for a few days after ladytime when your pain tolerance is high and you’ve started to replenish your iron levels).
Then…… Ladytime! Our favorite, right? However, for all the whining we do about it, I secretly do kind of like *some* aspects of it. As a kundalini yogi, that is the time to replace Breath of Fire with long, deep breathing (and to avoid inversions too). In that way, it’s a nice reminder to periodically be gentler on your body. I also like that it feels like a release, a cleansing. Letting go of the old to allow room for the new. After the plummeting of progesterone (I can digest again HALLELUJAH!), estrogen begins to rise and emotions begin to stabilize. And buh-bye water retention (Hi abs, missed you last week!) Ahhhhh, normalcy. At least, my version of normalcy 🙂
So how do these fluctuations actually benefit us? You could take the perspective that it forces us to microperiodize, thus keeping us in the mental game with workout variance, and decreasing the likelihood that our muscles will get used to the training and result in a plateau. It also keeps us aware of how our hormones affect our emotions (which carry over into all parts of our lives, not just fitness) and motivation. Quite simply, I’m a proponent of knowing your body, your mind, and the interplay between the two. I hope with this new knowledge, we can say GOAL: ACHIEVED!
Lastly: I use the following iPhone app to track my cycle. It allows me to see what point I will likely be at a few months in the future, which helps for planning competitions and races. I also include notes sometimes, because if anything seems out of the ordinary I can see my doc and provide her with as much info as possible.
Thank you science, I’m sorry you have to be a scapegoat sometimes. We all still love you!