We never thought that would be a title we would be writing, but as more and more women see the benefits of weight training (historically, a very male-led world), we asked Shimmering Sands Takes you Beyond Human Performance Nutritionist, Michael Sole if it’s as easy for women to be as consistent in the gym as men, or if that time of the month is likely to sabotage dedication in more ways than just reaching for the nearest bit of Cadbury’s…
MS: “The menstrual cycle is a topic that you might not be that comfortable talking about, however... this is life, and it can effect you if you’re weight training. Bear in mind this is subjective, though - there’s a huge variation in every woman’s symptomatic response to their cycle.
To break it down, I’m going to talk about it in terms of weeks - i.e. which weeks you’ll be able to kill it in the gym, and which weeks you’ll feel like you can push less than before.
WEEKS 1 AND 2
These are called the follicular phase. This is essentially the bit where generally you feel quite energised and ready to hammer it in the gym - and yes, there’s plenty of science behind it.
Oestrogen levels begin to increase, and subsequently your ability to metabolise carbohydrate goes up too - hence your ability to train a lot harder and handle a considerably greater amount of intensity in the gym and life in general.
Go hard in the gym during this period and look to build your strength because your hormonal environment is perfect to make these things happen. You can also generally get away with a few more carbs as a result of the increase in training intensity. That’s always fun.
WEEKS 2 AND 3
The second half – or the luteal phase to be more scientific – is where you need to be a bit more careful with what you’re doing. Be a bit more aware of how you feel.
Towards the end of this phase is when you tend to see energy levels decrease. Hunger levels start to go a bit crazy, and yes, yet again there is a scientific explanation. Progesterone levels start to go up, causing a drop in your ability to metabolise carbohydrate as efficiently. I’m not suggesting removing all carbs from your diet in this phase, but a slight decrease from the previous two weeks’ intake will likely help to regulate your appetite a bit better. As a result, a tendency to over-consume calories during this time will be moderated. Due to your reduced training intensity, and if you do feel a bit more lethargic, this slight decrease in carbs will probably balance things out quite nicely.
On the training side, again this is subjective, but the main message is: don’t get yourself in a tizzy if you find you’re not able to push as hard as usual, or your strength just isn’t the same as it was last week. Accept the situation and come back in phase one ready to smash it!
By being mindful of your cycle’s effects, eating a well-balanced diet and consistently training to the best of your ability – relative to your energy levels and capabilities – you’ll be able to ride the month-long wave more smoothly.”