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How to Use the Tracking of Your Menstrual Cycle to Your Advantage

November 14, 20236 min read

How to Use the Tracking of Your Menstrual Cycle to Your Advantage

This month’s blog is geared specifically towards women (sorry, not sorry guys). As a woman myself, I have found that sometimes my training and competitions/races follow predictable patterns (train hard, perform well), and sometimes they do not. The latter leads to a lot of frustration for me. I trained for 20 weeks for November’s New York City Marathon, which included slowly building up my mileage each week, focusing on speedwork and hill training, running-specific strength training, cross-training, and more. I was very purposeful with my fueling in terms of timing and how much and I even researched what flavor nutrition would be provided on the course (orange SIS gels and lemon-lime Gatorade) so that my body would be as familiar with everything as possible. 

I woke up on Race Day, but without enthusiasm or my usual nervous energy. I felt almost lethargic. I hoped that my competitive spirit would kick in at some point while I waited for hours in Athlete’s Village, but even as I walked to the start line, I just didn’t feel energetic. The cannon went off, “New York, New York” blasted, and nothing. My legs were moving, but it felt surreal. Several hours later, I finished the race, but not anywhere near my goal time. I was frustrated and confused because I had trained so purposefully and hard, and yet it’s like the” athlete switch” never turned on that morning. 

So I did a little research on what could have been going on. I found an exercise physiologist and nutrition scientist who focuses specifically on women athletes, Dr. Stacy Sims. Most research on athletes focuses on elite male athletes, ages 18-22. Since I am not any of those things, this means that the research may or may not be helpful to me. However, I’m still interested in learning about my body, how it works, and how to optimize my training so that I can be the best I can be. Most of the following information comes from Dr. Stacy Sims’s microlearning course “Menstrual Cycle Tracking.” 

First, let’s talk about the menstrual cycle. The average menstrual cycle lasts 28 days. Day 1 is the first day you start menstruating (bleeding). Around Day 14 is ovulation - your body releases an egg that could be fertilized and implant in the uterine lining. It’s a bit more complex, but for our purposes, this is an important day because this is the day where you have a shift in hormones. From Days 1 through 14, you typically produce more estrogen and from Days 14 through 28, your body typically produces more progesterone. Along with the progesterone, your basal body temperature rises just slightly. The long and short is that from Days 14 through 28, your body is in hyperdrive preparing itself for possible implantation and pregnancy. 



What impact does your menstrual cycle have upon training and racing? In theory, none (haha… NOT the answer you were expecting). A woman can train or compete at any point during her cycle and have a PR (personal record) because psychological supersedes a physiological. 

With that said, it is more likely that you will feel more energetic and recover faster from your harder training efforts during the first 14 days of your cycle. Your body is more resilient to stress and even your immune system is more attuned to handling viruses and bacteria during this phase. So you’ll want to focus more of your heavy loads and high intensity training efforts (think sprint intervals) during this point in your cycle. 

Around Day 14, one of two things can happen - you can feel “bulletproof” or you can feel “flat.” If you feel bulletproof, then by all means, continue to take advantage of the opportunity to train hard. However, if you feel flat, listen to your body, and dial your training back.

From Days 14 through Day 23, you may require a bit more recovery time. This would be a  great time to focus more on steady state, threshold, plyometric, and/or descending weight sets for your training. 

From Days 23-28, you may need to focus on functional movement (bodyweight exercises), technique training, or maybe even total recovery because your body’s capacity to be resilient to stress is at its most diminished (remember my performance at NYC - this is where I was in my cycle).

So what does this mean for you? Track your cycle (if you aren’t already). There are lots of apps that can help you track your menstrual cycle and many of them allow for you to track more than just menstruation. They often include places to put in your daily activity, weight, sleep, mood, and more. (The following is a link to an article with almost a dozen great apps:
https://www.womenshealthmag.com/health/g26787041/best-period-tracking-apps/) This will help you determine if there is a pattern in your performance and motivation. It can allow you to be more cognizant of why you are feeling energetic and bulletproof or why you are feeling lethargic and emotional. It was incredibly disconcerting to be standing on the start line of the New York City Marathon with 40,000 racers, and not feel anything. It may not have changed the outcome of my performance that day, but I would have had much less anxiety and could have enjoyed the experience a lot more had I known in that moment that I was at the “low” point in my cycle and it was “normal” to feel this way. 

Should we all start emailing Silas with our menstrual cycles so that he can program the BFP workouts to match our menstrual cycles? Obviously we cannot logistically do this (please, please do NOT email Silas with your menstrual cycle). However, knowledge is power. Understand that women are not men. Men can typically train in a linear fashion, however women have natural cycles. We can track that cycle, and perhaps determine a pattern, which we can use to our advantage. We can look at the workouts and know that depending upon where we are in our cycle, it may be more beneficial to push heavier weights, perhaps even larger numbers than prescribed in TrainHeroic. Or we can be aware that we’re in the last five days of our cycle and feel lethargic when “Max Lift Day” is programmed. We may not be able to PR on this particular day, but it makes more sense to take advantage of “Redemption Day” a week later, when our body is better recovered and we are in a better headspace psychologically. 

For the purposes of this blog, I did not go into more detail about shorter or longer menstrual cycles, or how using birth control may affect training/performances as well. If you are interested in learning more, visit
https://www.drstacysims.com/.

Coach
Steph

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