In the second installment of Nutrition, Training and the Menstrual Cycle I will be explaining the 2nd phase of the cycle, the luteal phase and how this affects your nutrition and training and my recommendations for this stage.
If you missed Part 1 of this article you can find it here: https://www.femalefoodandfitness.com/single-post/2017/04/11/Nutrition-Training-and-the-Menstrual-Cycle-%E2%80%93-Part-1
The Luteal Phase
The Luteal Phase begins at the time of ovulation which can be anywhere between day 10-14 and usually lasts 12-16 days, the end of this phase being the conclusion of that cycle.
As I suggested in Part 1 about the follicular phase being the optimal phase to start a diet or adhere to a calorie deficit to help lose weight the opposite can be said for the second phase of your cycle.
The luteal phase, I am going to be honest, is a dieting nightmare for the majority of women. Not only does it mess around with your appetite It plays around with other important hormones that aid your body in it’s aim to get stronger, fitter and leaner as well as possibly making you feel weaker and lose physical coordination making training a challenging proposition.
Let’s take a look at some of the changes that take place during the luteal phase….
Let’s start with the positive…
Your metabolic rate increases between 5-7% studies have shown which means you should burn more calories than normal.
Now the positive is out of the way let’s look at the challenges…
Ever notice you get hungrier and hungrier the closer you are to being ‘due on’? Well with the increase in metabolism comes an increase in hunger and due to this you can easily eat an extra 500 calories a day on average.
Due to the severe drop in oestrogen over the 2nd phase compared to the first phase leading up to ovulation you will also see a dip in your “happy hormones” serotonin and dopamine. Serotonin helps regulate your mood, anxiety and happiness. This may be a reason for why your mood can alter day from day and is most likely the reason you start craving foods high in sugar and fats close to the end of your cycle…for example chocolate.
The other hormone to drop is dopamine, a neurotransmitter that aids our memory, attention, cognitive function, our movement and ability to learn. It is also the chemical which mediates pleasure in the brain, we get dopamine boosts every time we get a hit of pleasure be it a like on Instagram, the sound of someone texting you, sex or tasty food high in sugars and fats.
The drop in dopamine is worth noting when it comes to training too as it can lead to that feeling of brain fog, a lack of attention span or physical coordination. This can make training harder and more hazardous especially if you are doing more complex movements or exercises which take more focus and balance.
Ever get days in the gym or when you’re living your daily life and you feel exhausted and weaker than usual? It’ll most likely fall in this phase due to the hormones levels in your body. Because of this you really shouldn’t beat yourself up if you can’t hit your usually high level of performance in the gym.
One last thing that happens during this phase, some to a low degree and others to a higher degree is your body becomes more resistant to insulin. This simply means your body is not as effective or efficient and moving the sugars from our food in to the cells that need it in our muscles and liver. The issue with this is it can lead to either more insulin needing to be produced or less of your nutrients from food being utilised for energy and more of it being stored as fat.
But it’s not all doom and gloom.
Here are my recommendations to tackle the luteal phase and to make the most of a more challenging situation.
If you have taken my advice then you will stay in a calorie deficit in the first two weeks of your cycle from the day your period starts so that you can increase your calories to match your metabolic rate in the luteal phase without (theoretically) gaining weight or inches. Recent studies have shown dieting 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off had better results and better long lasting effects than those who try to diet every week of their life.
Keep on you a 25g bar of 70%+ dark chocolate in times of cravings. The high cocoa content will satisfy your cravings and assist your insulin levels due to it being much lower in sugars than milk chocolate
In the first phase carbs are advised as your body can utilise them better however in this phase due to the fact your body becomes more resistant to the utilisation of sugars in your diet I would recommend reducing the amount of carbohydrates in your diet, preferably stay low carb in the day and eat 1-2 portions in the evening where it’ll provide you with a serotonin and dopamine hit, recharge your energy levels for the next day and aid you in getting a good night’s sleep.
When it comes to the gym and your training, do not use it as an excuse to not go however I would consider altering your routine. Do less compound resistance exercises which rely on strength and coordination and implement more resistance machines and cardio instead.
So there you have it, a guide to eating and training around your menstrual cycle.
If you have any further questions or enquiries about either female nutrition or training please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org