Fitness Synced to Your Calendar: Put Your Hormones to Work for You!

A young woman who is raising her arms and celebrating her sportive success.

One day you feel like you could climb Mt. Everest or run a half-marathon like nothing… 😉 But then on the next day you feel really out of sorts. Have you ever considered that this could be related to your hormones? In today’s instalment of our “Your Healthiest & Happiest #RuntasticSummer2016” series, we show you how you can use your menstrual cycle to your advantage, improve your fitness and build muscle.

A young woman who is raising her arms and celebrating her sportive success.

How does the menstrual cycle work?
Normally, when you hear the words “hormones” and “fitness” in the same sentence, you probably think of bulging bodybuilders pumped up full of steroids. But hormones and fitness can also be your own personal success story if you know how to use your menstrual cycle to your advantage. Research has shown that coordinating your training with your menstrual cycle can be very beneficial. But first, since you’ve probably forgotten most of what you learned in biology class, let’s take a look at how the menstrual cycle works. That is, provided your body is not on any synthetic hormones (i.e. the pill).

Progesterone and estrogen are the two main hormones involved in the menstrual cycle. The cycle begins on the first day of the period and ends on the last day before the next menstruation and lasts, depending on the woman, between 25 and 35 days. In the first half of the cycle, estrogen causes the uterine lining to grow. During this time, estrogen levels in your blood are highest. In the second half, progesterone plays the primary role: this hormone prepares the uterus to implant a fertilized egg. If the egg is not fertilized, the period begins. And then the cycle starts all over again…

Two women are doing workouts on the floor, one is doing sit-ups, the other one is assisting her.

Estrogen fuels your muscles
There have been a number of studies over the past few years devoted to planning exercise around menstrual cycles. For example, one study took muscle samples from women during various phases of their cycle to show how the body’s own hormones influence muscle growth. The women participating in the study were asked to exercise on different days of their cycles. The results were quite spectacular: When the women worked out shortly before ovulation, their training was far more effective than on the days afterward. Why? Because estrogen levels surge at the time of ovulation in preparation of fertilization. The body’s reproductive strategy during this time is to feel strong, beautiful and fit. Naturally, this also comes in handy while training.

The interesting thing is that estrogen promotes the production of protein – and thus muscle building. Progesterone, on the other hand, is said to have a catabolic effect. This means that the hormone inhibits muscle growth.

Note: Of course, there are two sides to the coin 😉 This is also true of estrogen. While the sex hormone strengthens your muscles, it also loosens your tissue! This is why you shouldn’t get too carried away with your “ovulation power.” Otherwise, you might find yourself getting injured quickly.

Weight loss? It’s got to be progesterone
But the post-ovulation phase also comes with certain benefits: Progesterone, the main hormone during this time, really turbocharges your metabolism. And thus – you guessed it – our fat burning, too. So if you want to shed a few extra pounds, interval training is always a good option, but particularly effective during this time.

Working out during your period… yes or no?
After the “progesterone phase,” your period begins, provided that the egg has not been fertilized. Because many women feel fatigued and out of tune with their bodies during this time, the question frequently arises whether sports is a good idea or not. Here, the same rule applies as usual: listen to your body and see how it feels after a run or another fitness activity.

The good news is that a moderate run can help reduce the stomach pain associated with your period by stimulating your blood circulation. Plus, the movement will trigger the release of the “happy hormones,” serotonin and endorphins. Therefore, there is no reason not to exercise during your period – but you should decide for yourself whether you want to take some recovery time or not.

So, do you feel like going for a run? Well, before you pound the pavement, you might want to check out 8 Questions that Every Female Runner Has Asked Herself .

Two women in their sportswear, one is putting her arm arround the other one's shoulder.

The pill’s hormones stop muscle growth
Finally, there is another interesting study from the USA that deals with the synthetic hormones found in the pill: 70 women were asked to do a specific workout and they were also instructed to intake the same amount of protein. The results? Women who didn’t take the pill were able to put on 60% more muscle mass! Therefore, the pill has a negative effect on muscle growth.

Bottom line: It is certainly very important to know your cycle – and to use it once in a while for your fitness sessions. But sport shouldn’t be limited to the first half of your cycle 😉 Because how much you benefit from your training always depends on one thing: you yourself.

What’s your opinion on planning workouts around your menstrual cycle? Let us know what you think in the comments below, on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook and don’t forget to use the hashtags #RuntasticSummer2016 and #femalechallenges!

Young flexible woman is stretching her leg.

And next week our nutritionist Julia will show you how to have a BBQ evening that is both healthy and delicious! 🙂

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Tina Sturm-Ornezeder Tina loves the written word, avocados & yoga and is very curious. She likes to discover new trends and report on them. View all posts by Tina Sturm-Ornezeder »

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