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The female triathlete’s guide to modulating training around your menstrual cycle

Dr. Melissa Rattue explains how your body and training is impacted during each phase of your menstrual cycle.

— Dr. Melissa Rattue MD, emergency and sports specialist

Every woman knows how your period can affect your mood (ok guys, guess you noticed too) and your body, but how about your endurance sport training? And how, with just knowing how and when to train the specifics, can you organize your training periodization so it will not affect you as much? Here is a guide to how your period works on your body and how you can modulate your training for best results:

On average, a menstrual cycle lasts 28 days and consists of three phases:

Phase one, the follicular phase: 

In this phase, your estrogen levels are at their highest, meaning a surge in your testosterone level (not as much as men of course). All of this means, good mood, high motivation, time to bring on your heaviest training goals. You will find it easier to push yourself hard and respond to stress. Also your body craves healthy foods, so you want to change an eating habit? Go go go, it’s time!

Phase two, the luteal phase: 

This phase is characterized by an augmentation of your progesterone level, meaning water retention, bloating, lethargy feeling, mood swings, irritability, basically you feel your worst! Your basic metabolic rate also increases because of an increase in your core temperature, so here comes the craving for salty and sweet foods.  In this phase, it will be hard to focus on speed on running drills. Put your energy into swimming, cycling, endurance, not intensity. Eat low glycemic carbs to decrease cravings, and your body will need the extra energy since it’s basic metabolic rate will be a bit higher.

Phase three, menstruation:

Alright — this is where you can feel most discomfort, but training can bring on some good endorphins. We all know how endorphins can boost your mood and decrease your pain. Also when you train, you sweat. How about losing some of that water retention from the last phase?

So, yes, periods are not always welcomed, but scheduling your training with your cycle can help. Having your period is also a good sign that your body is healthy, and that exercise is not too intense that you are in amenorrhea (no menstruation), which can bring on early osteoporosis (female triad, also related to poor eating habits).

If your planned race is scheduled in the second or third phase of your cycle, take it into consideration. Rest more, eat more, practice a “test race” in that same period during a prior month, and see how your body reacts — just as you would with new materials and new food.

Happy training girls!