Happy Friday and Canada Day my friends!
I’m sorry that this post did not make it up last Friday but as I mentioned in my last post, I headed back home for that beautiful weekend to celebrate my birthday a week early with my parents and grandparents. Birthday’s aren’t a huge thing for me these years so I typically enjoy most just having a nice family BBQ in the sunshine and maybe grabbing dinner with some friends. This year, since Rita and I are sticking it out in Guelph and her birthday happens to be the day before mine (almost twinnin!), Em is going to hike her way back from Montreal for the long weekend to celebrate with us.
As we are in Guelph and without a car, we will have to scrounge for things to do (kinda wanna get dressed up and go out for the night but things are a little dead in that department) buuuutt we shall see where life takes us.
FYI if you care, I will be a quarter of a century old on July 3rd, but who’s counting really, 25 sounds all cool and all, but age doesn’t really phase me. I’m just about living life and learning to love it more and more with time.
For today’s Fitness Friday, I was inspired by a few recent podcasts that I was listening to. Actually I have been on a fitness-research podcast roll as of late. It’s just so interesting to see the differences in the genders and how research has really come to challenge all of the things we used to say regarding fitness, nutrition and physiology of the body.
So speaking of the genders, I bring you to this weeks topic….
The Menstrual Cycle
Sorry boys, feel free to skip out on this one, unless you want to here how much more complicated our system makes life then yours.
So ladies, we complain every month when Auntie Flow drops in on our lives and makes us hungry, bloated and emotional wrecks right? Well, have you ever really wondered what really happens to the body with regards to things like nutrition (hello cravings and water retention) and fitness (weakness)?
Well, I’m going to shed a lil bit of light onto that here because I thought it was quite interesting to actually hear the research experts discuss these things that I would feel during these times. Also to come is why people in the bodybuilding world who use estrogen blockers because “estrogen makes you fat”should stop because they appear to be BS.
…But what else is new really?
First I just need to do a lil catch up first so we are all on the same page. Here’s the cycle in a few sentences. This is extremely general, nothing fancy.
We all go through a few main phases in our cycle:
Follicular Phase: When the follicles (your eggs) are maturing. Progesterone is relatively low and estrogen builds over this phase to a peak right before ovulation to cause the ejection of the egg (the actually release is due to the luteinizing hormone, LH, surge). At the same time, the lining, or endometrium, of the uterus is forming to be ready for a fertilized egg to be implanted.
Ovulation: Egg is released into the fallopian tube.
Luteal Phase: The corpus luteum begins to form from the remains of the follicle (egg) and that is the main contributor of progesterone, which peaks during this phase. Estrogen levels drop at the beginning of this phase, but there is a second increase, or surge, in the middle of the phase. Without a pregnancy, the endometrium is shed and bleeding starts.
So now that we are all up to speed, lets start with the nutrition side of things shall we…
I want all the chocolate!
Sound familiar to some of you?
I don’t experience cravings and never have really (I tend to often be an outlier in many things) but many females do and you know what, it’s not just in your head. These intense thoughts and demands for a certain food are quite real and appear to be related to your hormones during your period.
Your overall caloric intake actually tends to increase during the luteal phase of your cycle (Study: see here) and cravings are also higher during this time (Study: see here). From the research there is a possibility that the increase in the intake is maybe due to the increase in the BMR. This has been attributed to progesterone as BMR tends to be lower during the follicular phase where estrogen reins supreme, and heightened in the luteal phase (Source). The cravings on the other hand have been associated with lower magnesium levels during this phase. A study done by Abraham and Lubran (1981, link) found that women during the mid-luteal phase had significantly lower serum levels of magnesium and hypothesized that perhaps women did not absorb it as well during this time (perhaps stress induced or something else) or they were excreting it more. The concrete reason for ‘why’ is up in the air, but if it is paired with a lowered consumption, this could then lead to depletion.
When the body is missing something, it tends to tell you! Guess what happens to be a significant source of magnesium…Chocolate (Source).
So how does this relate to fitness?
Well think about those in prep. These days coaches basically have to have a good understanding of the menstrual cycle when dealing with female clients. Men are a lot easier to deal with as you can see. They don’t change and so you can predict how they are going to respond to food changes and cuts (as long as they are consistent and honest about their intake) much easier. Women not so much.
As pointed out in the videos above:
~It’s a bad idea to start prep during the luteal phase where cravings are highest and where they are technically hungrier.
~The weighing method for updates is a problem for women who can fluctuate up to and above 5lbs during this time simply due to shifts in water.
~Women have to find methods to get around cravings
…and the biggest issue with women is that they are all different! It’s trial and error for the most part which can be a problem when signing up for a show and having a deadline.
Why Must I Cramp Up?
Cramping can range from person to person, but it is definitely there even when it presents itself in the mildest of forms. Cramps come from your uterus shaking the uppermost lining off (where the egg would implant) and so with the shaking, comes zee cramping.
It typically appears in the later stages and initiates the bleeding portion of the cycle but if they are on the more severe side, they can actually leave you immobile which obviously would get in the way of training (or even getting up…) in any form.
Keep in mind though that mild cramping can be tamed a bit with exercise just FYI.
So, So Weak.
Many women will hit points of weakness and excessive tiredness over their cycle. Typically this shows up in the luteal phase. On the other hand, they may actually see a slight raise in strength during ovulation as the testosterone goes up slightly. Lyle mentioned in the video that during the follicular phase, or the peak of your estrogen levels, there are actually studies that find that skeletal muscle can be re-modelled and that allows for us women to adapt and respond best to our training which means MORE STRENGTH.
In the second phase (luteal phase), where progesterone is dominant, we actually see the opposite pattern in some women…
Lyle explained that progesterone has been found to increase muscle protein breakdown which decreases adaptation to training….
…which can then make us feel weaker!
Again this isn’t seen in all women, but many do find that their strength is lessened during this time and can even be dramatic!
Estrogen, The Evil Hormone That Makes Me Fat.
This is one part of the video that really stuck out to me. So many of us are stuck on the whole ‘estrogen makes you fat’ concept. One of my guesses for why this remains is from the fact that we know that women are predisposed to carry more body fat (hello we make babies!) and we tend to forget that we have two dominating hormones. So poor estrogen takes the hit. It is such a concern that there are actually estrogen blockers on the market for targeting just that. Lyle explained how estrogen actually tends to be our friend..
~Increases fat burning enzymes and skeletal muscle
~Can help reduce muscle soreness <- which can positively affect your training and ability to push yourself further
~Increases insulin sensitivity <- this is a great thing! It means that your body doesn’t need to produce as much insulin to keep your glucose levels stable.
He went on further and stated that when you go through menopause and estrogen drops off the charts you typically see weight and fat gain and a decrease in metabolic rate (see Study). Is this a coincidence or evidence to suggest a role of estrogen in fat metabolism amongst other things?
When he then went into discussing the forgotten female hormone, progesterone, things aren’t as positive.
~Often you see hunger and cravings go up in the luteal phase where progesterone is dominant.
~It causes slight insulin resistance.
~Decreases muscular protein synthesis (Lyle explained how it binds and blocks the androgen receptors in the body which then relate to protein synthesis)
So given these pieces of evidence hold true, you can see that we need to stop blaming estrogen for everything (not that you should be blaming your hormones, that just what is natural and we have to deal). Estrogen blockers are stupid because when you see these points, estrogen is good! If you’re going to point fingers, it’s actually progesterone that may be associated with all these nasty symptoms.
So ladies, and perhaps some curious guys, this is what we have to deal with. Mother Nature can be cruel sometimes but all of these things are natural and what we have to work with. I hope you found this as interesting as I did.
I hope you have a great Canada Day my Canadian friends and to all my American readers, a great Independence Day!