If navigating the female menstrual cycle was not complicated enough, understanding how a female’s entire menstrual cycle can impact energy and performance can also be a bit conflicting depending on the female.

Let’s start with the basics: The predominant role of female sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone) is to facilitate reproduction, but since both may also impact both substrate utilization (which is essentially whether fat or glucose is being used for energy) and also endocrine regulated functions, it is not uncommon for fluctuations in mood, sleep, performance, etc. Not every female’s body is the same, nor is their menstrual cycle. Lifestyle, training methods, diet, etc. can all have a significant impact on the sensitivity of the endocrine and reproductive systems. Some studies show improved performance during various stages while others show very little variation throughout the menstrual cycle, which means there is plenty of opportunity in the years to come for research on menstrual cycle in relation to performance. However, here is what we do know, for now.

The menstrual cycle is broken up into essentially four phases, which on average lasts around 28 days:

1. Early Follicular (Actual menstruation) 
2. Late Follicular (Pre-ovulation)

3. Early Luteal (Post-ovulation)
4. Late Luteal (Premenstrual)

Early and late follicular phases are generally the time of month when the female hormone levels (estrogen and progesterone) are their lowest, and typically the least detrimental to energy demands. This time of month is generally when the body can take on the most intensity with more easy (strength, high intensity, heat, etc.). 

1. Early Follicular (Actual menstruation)
Hormones: Your estrogen and progesterone levels are typically at the lowest level they will reach during the month, and testosterone levels are at their highest.

Workouts: During your period, your body can synthesize muscle better and recover more efficiently than at any other point of the month, making this is a great time to capitalize on high intensity and strength workouts! 

Sleep: Sleep efficiency may be impacted during this phase so keeping a pulse on your sleep habits (environment, bed time, no alcohol/coffee, etc.) may be extra important. 

Cramps/Inflammation/Arthritis? If you find that you cramp or experience arthritis like symptoms just before and/or at the beginning of your period, the best real-time medicine is exercise. Even though exercise may be the last thing you want to do, physical movement is the best medicine for menstrual cramping and arthritic symptoms. The entire month leading up to your period can be to credit or blame for your period experience. Essentially, the higher the exposure to inflammation in the body (consumption of alcohol, various food sources that do not agree with your body, etc.), the higher correlation rate with increased symptoms such as headaches, cramping, etc. during your ‘time of the month.’ 

2. Late Follicular (Pre-ovulation)
Hormones As the body gets closer to ovulation, estrogen will begin to increase.

Workouts: This phase still has a greater tolerance for intense workouts without demanding additional recovery, but that tolerance will gradually decrease as ovulation gets closer and the demand for recovery will generally increase. Quality warm ups and recovery protocols should be prioritized during this phase. 

Early and late luteal phases have more hormonal changes than follicular phases. With estrogen rising and progesterone joining the party, more of the body’s energy goes toward supporting these changes and the newly released egg. The luteal phase ends at the point progesterone peaks, and if you are not pregnant both estrogen and progesterone drop, signaling your period to start and a new cycle to begin. 

Estrogen tends to facilitate fat oxidation during exercise, and although evidence is trivial, research shows that women rely less on carbohydrates and more on fat during the luteal phase – making endurance and lower intensity workouts naturally more appealing. 

3. Early Luteal (Post-ovulation)
Hormones: Estrogen and progesterone levels (as well as body temperature) will rise and the body allocates energy to support the newly released egg

Workouts: Because of energy going more toward supporting the newly released egg and potential changes in substrate utilization, it is not uncommon to find that producing energy for intense workouts may be harder, and as stated above, you may find that endurance and lower intensity workouts are actually easier during this time. 
– Keep in mind: With a higher body temperature during this phase, your body may have a harder time with heated workouts (hot yoga, pilates, etc.) as heat is a form of intensity. 

4. Late Luteal (Premenstrual) 
Hormones: Think roller coaster phase! Your hormones will fluctuate the most during this phase, which means your body is typically using more energy than usual (outside of exercise) just to stay upright, and it is not at all uncommon to feel sluggish.

Workouts: Your body will likely have a harder time recovering from workouts during this phase, so this is where water, electrolyte intake, quality food choices, and doing everything to keep energy/recovery at a high + stress at a low are all extra critical. If you are taking all of the necessary steps and your energy is low, that is your cue to create intentional rest. 

With lower energy and the body constantly trying to create homeostasis, it makes sense why there are usually increased cravings and feelings of hunger late in the luteal phase. Your body wants energy – feed it! This is a really great time to load up on quality, nutritious foods. This phase, in comparison to the follicular phase, is typically more susceptible to not only tolerate but also perform well in endurance workouts. 

Curious about how your body responds during different phases? We definitely suggest investing in a WHOOP or begin keeping some form of a journal to see how your energy, performance, etc. and map that along side where you are in your cycle, what you are eating, etc. All of the information can be super beneficial in helping you make more informed decisions when it comes to your mental health, training, nutrition, and overall health.