Let's Talk About It: Period Tracking for Better Performance
by Bevan McKinnon
Ed. Note—Bevan McKinnon, host of Fitter Radio and owner of Fitter Coaching in New Zealand, is sometimes colloquially known as "The Period Whisperer" for his openness in coaching to this needlessly taboo subject. Bevan joins us this month to talk frankly about something all coaches should use in their arsenals, and to give us some information athletes can take into their monthly training schedules.
Whether it's the words “menstruation or post-menopause,” talking about periods has often been a taboo subject. A woman’s cycle may not be a common topic of conversation between athletes and their coaches, but it turns out that tailoring your training routine to account for the process (a technique known as “phase-based training”) empowers you to look and feel your best and perform at your fullest potential.
When you think about it, the idea makes so much sense it’s shocking it’s not more commonplace or accepted. The way you move and breathe, how your heart beats, and your body’s reaction to exercise varies throughout your menstrual cycle. Any woman can maximize her workouts by learning to work with the phases of her menstrual cycle. Even women using hormonal contraception can benefit by understanding how these synthetic hormones affect her body.
The first step? Get to know your cycle. A period-tracking app such as Wild.ai can help you understand each part of it—and how it impacts the body. You’ll be amazed by how good you feel once you match your training, nutrition and recovery to your cycle. If you’ve never understood what is happening to you during a healthy menstrual cycle then here are some guidelines.
image courtesy of Sarah Purdy
Menstruation: Days 1–5
At the start of your period you’ll experience low levels of estrogen and progesterone which may have you feeling pretty unmotivated to get moving, but it’s actually an optimal time to build strength and muscle. Depending on motivation and symptoms you can choose to train hard to maximize hormonal response, but if symptoms are strong then it's also ok to focus on restorative movement, low-intensity workouts like Yoga, Pilates, and stretching during your period.
Follicular Phase: Days 6–14
Between the end of your period and about three days before ovulation, there is a surge in estrogen and a peak in testosterone, which means you’ll have more energy to work out and recover faster. Now’s the time to up your training intensity. If you feel next-level amazing, make the most of it by continuing to lean in to strength training, plus high-intensity workouts.
Ovulation: Days 15–23
After the pre-ovulation estrogen surge, that hormone briefly drops in concentration but progesterone rises. Higher levels of progesterone can contribute to muscle breakdown, making proper recovery even more important. Make sure to prioritize your protein intake, and if you are going to hit higher intensities, be sure to have some extra carbohydrate during exercise, as your body has a greater reliance on fat for fuel. Remember, every individual feels a bit different, so don’t be afraid to take an extra recovery day or total day off if feeling fatigued or overly sore.
image courtesy of Nils Nilsen
Luteal Phase: Days 24–28
At this point, both estrogen and progesterone are at their highest, right before they fall and you start your period. As a result, PMS symptoms and inflammation can impact motivation. This is a great time to reduce overall training load by focusing on low intensity, recovery, or technique workouts. With strength training, this is a great time to focus on form and technique without load, so next week, when your hormones are at their lowest, you can nail those lifts! Use exercise to reduce stress here, rather than increasing it!
WILD.AI Tracking App
o create the best routine for your body, it pays to start recording how you feel and respond to training throughout your cycle. Apps such as WILD AI not only help you log your symptoms but also incorporate nutrition and physiology support, all adjusted to the personal information you place into it. This first-of-its-kind app uses artificial intelligence to generate a personalized plan based on your training goals and the cycle information you track.
If you’re a coach or a female athlete I encourage you to take a look at the app and you could also help in the advancement of the coaching and training of female athletes by completing one of these surveys: