How the rise and fall of hormones each month affect your body and
training performance and how best to control them
Welcome back to another blog! I’m back again with another hormone packed write up covering all the side effects of changing hormones throughout the month, how they effect your workouts and how best to manage them! As there is quite a lot to cover with this topic I am going to break it down into 2 different blogs.
In part 1 I will cover ability to make & maintain muscle, bloating, cramping and digestion. In part 2 I will cover temperature rise, headaches, cravings and mood swings.
To begin I’m going to dive into how the different stages of your cycle greatly affect your ability to make and hold onto lean muscle mass. During the luteal phase the rise and fall of hormones such as estrogen and progesterone greatly impact muscle cell turnover and protein synthesis.
This means essentially that the sex hormone estrogen turns down the anabolic capacity (the energy required to grow and build muscle) and progesterone turns up the catabolism capacity (breakdown of muscle tissue) which obviously makes it much harder to make and maintain muscle. It is much harder for the body to access amino acids when these hormones are high.
It is very important when you’re working out during this phase to be consuming protein high in leucine or BCAA (branch-chain amino acids including leucine, iso leucine and valine. Leucine is one of the main muscle-building amino acids however all 3 of the BCAA’s make up about 1/3rd of the bodies muscle tissue. You can take BCAA’s as a supplement before and 30 minutes after exercise. Whey protein is quite high in leucine so it might be worth taking during this phase.
Bloating is another very common side effect of changing hormones throughout the month and are especially prominent during the luteal phase and right before the start of your period (Hello PMS)!!
This is mainly due to the fact that high estrogen and progesterone levels affect the fluid in the body. Estrogen increases the level of a hormone called AVP.
AVP (arginine vasopressin) is responsible for retaining water and constricting blood vessels. Progesterone affects a different hormone called Aldosterone which is responsible for retaining sodium. Both AVP & Aldosterone compete for the same receptor sites in the brain which results in less aldosterone being released and more AVP being released.
This results in less total body sodium retention, a reduction in cardiac output and blood pressure. This bloating not only effects our ability to train physically but internally, exercise around this time will feel much harder as less blood is pumped out due to the blood being thicker as plasma volume is lower.
The best way to minimize bloating prior and during your period is to increase hydration and reduce salt in the diet. Try to consume foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean protein, complex carbs. Moving the body and low impact forms of exercise will ease some of the discomfort also.
Cramping is a very common and often uncomfortable and painful part of the menstrual cycle. During the menstrual cycle the lining of the uterus doesn’t just shed itself it contracts. This is caused by the release of hormone- like substances called prostaglandins.
These prostaglandins trigger the uterine muscles to contract causing cramping. An excess of these hormones are associated with more intense and severe cramping. There are a couple of things we can take to try reduce the effect of cramping. About 5-7 days prior to the start of your period it is advised to take Magnesium, Omega 3 Fatty Acids and a low dose of 80mg of aspirin (not ibuprofen or any other NSAID).
Magnesium works by relaxing the smooth muscle of the uterus and reducing the pain caused by prostaglandins. Omega 3 Fatty acids will aid in decreasing inflammation caused during the high luteal and bleeding phase. Aspirin suppresses the production of prostaglandins over a long period of time.
Prostaglandins are also another reason why you may experience a change in bowel habits around the time of your period. As mentioned above, prostaglandins cause uterine shedding and contractions. If the body makes too many prostaglandins than is needed then these hormone-like substances simply float around the body and can trigger other smooth muscle such as the digestive tract to respond in the same way.
This then leads to stomach and bowel upset such as diarrhoea & excess gas. In extreme cases, this over production of prostaglandins can lead to nausea and even vomiting. To avoid this happening simply follow the above advice for dealing with cramping (Magnesium, Omega 3 Fatty Acids and Low Dose Aspirin).
I understand there is quite a lot to digest in this blog but I hope you have enjoyed it and found it helpful nonetheless. Don’t forget this is a 2-part blog and I will be covering the final topics of headaches, mood swings & temperature rise in the next blog.