Losing your period with exercise
Losing your period with intense exercise is a common occurence in fit women. It is commonly seen in military women, fitness competitors, and your average Jane. Yet how these women to respond to this bodily response can vary and most think its no big deal. I mean, we all know what a pain in the ass our period is, so most of us don’t mind when it’s one fewer thing to deal with. So why does this happen?
Like any biological being, the female body views reproduction as an excessive energy process. Meaning, that we’re only able to do so when we have enough energy to (i.e. enough nutrients, calories, body fat, etc.). Therefore, if women exercise intensely while restricting too many calories, their bodies may misinterpret this as a way to conserve as much biological energy as possible (think ‘fight or flight’ mentality), which means getting rid of excessive costs, such as reproductive capacity and therefore periods.
This is because this kind of long-term high intensity exercise can increase cortisol which suppresses luteinizing hormone, ovarian estrogen and progesterone secretion (Cho et al., 2017) and other sex hormones. Of course this can be exacerbated by high stress, a naturally leaner physique, poor sleep and nutrition habits and high stress. This can also be known as hypothalamic amenorrhea, which Shangold et al (1990) states is highly correlated in athletes performing long term high intensity exercise.
So why does it matter? While my doctor told me that it was no big deal, this would obvious be more important for females wishing to start a family. But at the same time, hormone health is important for all women.
So how do you balance it all out? Researchers at Precision Nutrition have found that incorporating the proper vitamins, minerals and the right amount of slow digesting carbohydrates will help balance out an intensive fitness regime. Also of course, a more thorough discussion with your doctor will never hurt.
Training during your period
While most people use their period as an excuse to not exercise (present party included), some research shows that it can actually be the best time to go for it and may even boost athletic performance. So if you're looking to maintain your gains, you can use your monthly hormone fluxes to your advantage. Follow this hormone chart and this weekly guide, summarized from Muscle and Fitness to see you can stay fit every day of the month.
Week 1 (Day 1 = first day of your period): Estrogen and testosterone are rising during the first week of your period, so you have higher energy levels and less of an appetite. Use this to add some extra time to your workout, like adding a bit of cardio, and sticking to low sugar foods.
Week 2: When your body goes into baby-making mode (aka ovulation), your body can have higher energy levels, so you can give your workouts that extra push like supersets for fat loss and heavier weights for muscle gain. Stick to the same number of calories in your meal plan but in smaller, more frequent meals to maintain your metabolism.
Week 3: Your estrogen will start to decrease and progesterone will increase after ovulation, so this may be when you want to retreat to your sweatpants and Netflix. However, this is when your workouts should be focused around maintenance such as lower intensity or fewer reps. You can also focus on high fat intake for your diet to help keep you full and avoid cravings.
Week 4: Progesterone will increase right before it plummets. This can boost your metabolism, but because of low levels of your other hormones, this is when your PMS symptoms kick in (hello bloating and cravings!). Use your workouts to help keep your energy level and mood elevated via the release of endorphins. Drink lots of water to balance out bloating and sodium retention.
Periods affect every girl differently, so to accompany your workouts its important to maintain proper nutrition including supplements if you think you may be lacking them from your diet. For optimal health, Paul Dell’Aquila (MD), director of the Preventative and Restorative Center of New Jersey recommends the following daily supplements during your period:
So of course, having your period sucks, but if you have long term goals and don't want to be set back every month due to Aunt Flow, try sticking to these guidelines. It can be hard at first, but breaking the common conception that the week of your period restricts you to sweatpants and mood swings will make it easier to maintain a regular routine and reach your goals that much faster!
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