Post by Marti Susanne
As females, from an early age we become very aware of the impact hormones have on our body. It’s unavoidable. Our period’s start, we develop breasts, experience mood swings and our bodies alter from the ‘boyish’ shape into a more curvacious feminine body. All these things happen because of an intricate communication system of chemical messengers called hormones. You’ve heard of the most commonly known ones progesterone and estrogen. Well, these are only 2 of the hormones that play a role.
Women have monthly fluctuations in certain hormone’s that are vital for procreation and the survival of our species, that’s the obvious part we all know. Yet you can also use these hormones when training, wanting to gain muscle or lose fat.
A quick brief on what happens. The female monthly cycle is made up of 2 phases and varies in length from around 28-32 days. The first phase is called the Follicular phase and is when your body is maturing an egg in a follicle. This maturation phase relies on certain hormones and chemical messengers to get the job done and is a time where ‘estrogen’ is higher in relation to ‘progesterone’. The next phase is the Luteal phase. This is when ovulation occurs triggered by a rise in another hormone that causes the follicle to rupture and release the egg. There is a subsequent increase in progesterone as a result of this that alters the internal chemistry of our bodies and if fertilization does not occur then estrogen and progesterone levels drop off and menses start (a period).
Right then onto the cool stuff – you can use this hormonal edge to get the best out of your training sessions and nutrition throughout the month. Exercise scientists call it ‘Metabolic Flexibility’. At certain times in the month your body will have a preference to burning sugar or fat as fuel & you can manipulate your nutrition and training accordingly to give yourself a little competitive edge. Exercise metabolism or the fuel source you use is dependent on the concentrations of progesterone and estrogen at certain times of the month
Ok so you can’t change your hormone status, however you can change what you eat, when you eat & how you train right?
If you want to pull out all the stops in your quest to looking lean then you can try this method, but a word of caution here you must have adopted a diet that is based around a lower proportion of starchy carbohydrates. The insulin response to food needs to be on the lower side as Insulin and cortisol have powerful effects on the body. These will therefore over ride the ‘female hormonal’ advantage mentioned.
So what does this all mean? Well going back to those 2 phases within the female monthly cycle. Day’s 1-14 is an Estrogen dominant time and this is a better fat burning time as estrogen opposes the action of insulin making in your body less likely to store fat and more likely to release it! It is also a time where you are considered more ‘anabolic’ so in training, lift heavy for 4+ sets using big compound moves like the squat or deadlift. Plus you can introduce steady state cardio in this phase with less chance of breaking down lean muscle tissue. Nutritionally you can add a few more starches too, in the 45 mins post workout ideally, so your body can store this energy for your next workout rather than extra insulation.
During Days 14-28 because of the hormone status at this time, you are more catabolic, meaning more likely to lose muscle, so you should avoid cardio in favor of metabolic/HITT conditioning type workouts that are shorter in duration and using circuits or giant sets.
Remember the less lean muscle you have the slower your metabolism will be, and you will not achieve that hard toned shapely look you actually want! Too many women over do the cardio, which really is not necessary unless your goal is endurance based! In this phase, nutritionally be careful of too much starch in your diet too and keep protein on the higher side to support protein synthesis (this will help prevent muscle loss). This phase is also a time when cravings might kick in so have a plan. If you are someone who gets cravings, there are many things you can do to help prevent them and one solution I would suggest is, not leaving any more than 3 hours between eating a meal. This will support your blood sugars and keep those hormones in check.
Marti specializes in establishing lifestyle programs for females that promote long term sustainable transformations to optimize healthy living. Her attitude is simple: “Believe it; you will achieve it.”
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