Optimizing Training Around Your Menstrual Cycle
Understand how the menstrual cycle impacts training and discover actionable tips for adapting your workouts, nutritional needs, and hydration strategies for each phase of your menstrual cycle.
Published January 17, 2024.
As women in sports and fitness, the pressure to meet high training standards is common. Yet, our menstrual cycle, an often-ignored aspect, distinctively affects our athletic performance.
Notably, a study indicates exercise performance might slightly diminish during the early follicular phase.  However, every woman's experience with her menstrual cycle is different, so customizing your training routine to align with your menstrual cycle can get you winning results in the gym.
4 Phases of the menstrual cycle
Incorporating menstrual phases into your fitness planning can lead to more effective training around your menstrual cycle. The menstrual cycle comprises four phases:
1. Menstrual phase
The cycle begins with the menstrual phase. During this 3-7 day period, estrogen and progesterone levels drop. Understanding this phase is important for adjusting workouts around your period.
2. Follicular phase
This phase, lasting about 16 days until ovulation, is when the pituitary gland releases follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), influencing how to train during the menstrual cycle.
3. Ovulation phase
Marked by luteinizing hormone (LH) release in response to rising estrogen levels, ovulation often involves a slight rise in body temperature. This phase can affect how you feel at different stages of your menstrual cycle.
4. Luteal phase
The final stage, spanning 11-17 days, sees a rise in progesterone. This phase is key for menstrual cycle-based training, especially considering its familiar PMS symptoms like:
- Weight changes
- Food cravings
- Sleep disturbances
Working menstrual phases into our exercise routines
For endurance workouts
The study indicates variations in heart rate during the luteal and menstrual phases, with a higher pre-exercise heart rate in the luteal phase and a lower peak heart rate during the menstrual phase.  VO2Max and other endurance measures were also lower in these phases.  That's why shorter, less intense workouts could be more effective for events like cycle training during your period.
Takeaway: Optimize your training around your menstrual cycle by planning higher-intensity workouts after the luteal phase. Reaching higher heart rates is more challenging during your menstrual phase, impacting endurance.
» Ready to reach endurance highs? Climb into the right way to safely train at altitude
For strength workouts
Fluctuations in steroid hormones across the menstrual cycle don't significantly affect muscle strength or fatigue. 
The takeaway: This aligns with the concept of menstrual cycle strength training. Continue your regular strength workouts, but be mindful of how your body feels, especially if you're experiencing PMS symptoms like fatigue or mood changes. Adjust your training accordingly.
Hydration and training during your menstrual cycle
Fluid status varies throughout your menstrual cycle, affecting exercise, especially in hot conditions. Training during your menstrual cycle requires attention to these changes.
- Mid-Luteal phase and training: During the mid-luteal phase, your exercise endurance decreases due to increased body temperature, a key consideration if you're figuring out how to train during your menstrual cycle. 
- Fluid retention and oxygen delivery: Estrogen and progesterone cause fluid retention, peaking in the first half of the luteal phase. This reduces plasma volume and impacts oxygen delivery to muscles, affecting your training strategies during your menstrual cycle. 
- Sweat rate and cooling: Reduced fluid levels lead to a lower sweat rate, affecting body cooling and temperature regulation, which is essential when working out according to the menstrual cycle.
Changes in macronutrient needs
How our bodies metabolize macronutrients can change in the following ways through our cycle.
Carbohydrates and training during menstrual cycle
Women perform better in the follicular phase in a fasted state. However, during exercise, especially lasting over 60 minutes, fueling with carbs is essential due to estrogen and progesterone's impact on energy utilization. [3, 5]
Tip: Female athletes preparing for endurance events in the luteal phase should ensure adequate carb intake during exercise to meet increased energy needs. 
Protein and menstrual cycle
Luteal phase protein needs
Protein catabolism increases with progesterone levels in the luteal phase, emphasizing the importance of higher protein intake during this cycle phase.  Consider increasing your protein intake, especially during intense training cycles.
Iron biomarkers and performance during the menstrual cycle
- Iron markers resilience: Despite menstrual blood loss, performance-related iron markers like hemoglobin and hematocrit remain largely unaffected. 
- Monitor ferritin levels: To prevent potential anemia from insufficient iron intake, monitor ferritin levels closely. 
When and how to optimize training around your cycle?
For women whose performance relies on muscle output or VO2 max, in-depth cycle-based planning might not be necessary.  But there are some things to keep in mind.
Women in endurance exercise, particularly in hot and humid conditions, should align their competition schedules with their cycles.  This accounts for shifts in fluid, body temperature, and metabolism, which can affect training and recovery during the luteal phase of your menstrual cycle.
» High training load? Find out how to protect your body against illness and injury
Tracking your cycle
Start cycle tracking so you can understand your body's phases, related symptoms, and necessary adjustments. Remember that each woman's menstrual cycle is different and influenced by factors such as:
- Oral contraceptives
- Eating disorders
- Medical conditions like PCOS or uterine fibroids.
IUDs and menstrual cycle tracking
IUDs, whether hormonal (progestin-based) or non-hormonal (copper), can stop your monthly periods, but your menstrual cycle and hormonal fluctuations continue silently. Despite the absence of monthly bleeding, tracking your cycle remains valuable for IUD users.
Monitor nutrition and hydration
Keep a food journal to keep an eye on your macronutrient intake, particularly when your body's needs are higher. Conducting sweat tests during your cycle helps you monitor significant changes in fluid requirements. This ensures proper hydration and replenishment between exercise sessions.
The finish line
As female athletes, a closer look at how our bodies change throughout our cycle can be an incredibly helpful tool. When we understand what’s going on inside, we can set ourselves up for success in reaching our health and fitness goals.
Start by exploring essential biomarkers and discover recipes to enhance them in Inside Tracker's comprehensive guide for women's well-being. Stay fit, stay informed, and own your journey!