The Menstrual Cycle Manifesto – A Complete Guide To Mastering Your Time of The Month
A Man Talking About The Menstrual Cycle:
Nobody likes a period.
Let’s not beat around the bush, that time of the month is akin to that weird aunty who visits every now and then and brings nothing to table but dull conversation about topics she thinks are important.
She sometimes arrives unexpectedly and can even hover around for longer than first predicted, she occupies your space and time preventing you from training and eating right because “carbs make you fat and training makes you bulky”.
“Oh is that so aunty? You must know so much about nutrition and training with all your training, research in the field along with your earth-resembling body shape. Please tell me more.”
But I digress.
Unfortunately, she is family so you have to accept her and realise she is a part of your life.
Fortunately though, if she is visiting frequently at the same time each month, she hasn’t caught on about your resentment towards her which means things are operating the way they should be.
*Her annoyingly, precise timing is a sign of great health and hormone function. \
And you’re not pregnant.
For everyone who still has that annoying aunt, this article is for you. For those who have cut off all ties (contraceptive) this article won’t help you as much.
With that eloquent introduction out of the way, let’s dive into some knowledge.
When discussing female hormones, the two sex hormones that are very pronounced and influence a woman’s entire physiology are estrogen and progesterone.
Women still produce testosterone but in ridiculously minute amounts in relation to males.
For some context, a woman on the high end still produces 17 times less testosterone than a male on the extreme low end.
Do you see why most trainers roll their eyes when a woman says “won’t weights make me bulky”?
It is close to physiologically impossible for women to put on that much muscle.
Your bulkiness isn’t from too much muscle, it is from having too much fat.
Stop being delusional.
The female bodybuilders you’re basing your visual references from are injecting exogenous testosterone to look the way they do.
In a nutshell, cholesterol is the main building block of all these sex hormones.
Cholesterol is then used to synthesize pregnenolone, which can then go one of two ways.
One way is the formation of progesterone which can further be used to make cortisol (stress hormone that increases blood sugar) and aldosterone (hormone that regulates blood pressure and water balance).
The other way is the formation of DHEA which then follows a few more enzymatic steps that you don’t need to know to finally make estrogen.
Side note: There is a concept in the alternative medicine field called pregnenolone or progesterone “steal”.
Meaning that under severe stress, the body will use its building blocks to make hormones such as cortisol in favour of the sex hormones. This could be one of the mechanisms why the reproductive system goes to shit during periods (no pun) of high stress.
Loss of libido is a very common side effect of this phenomena which makes sense. Your body is recognising a stress that it needs to deal with by activating the “fight or flight” response.
This response sets off an entire cascade of activities to help you deal with this danger and downregulate “not as important” functions such as reproduction and digestion.
Unfortunately, the body still thinks being chased by a jaguar is the same as a cock cutting you off in traffic therefore the response is the same.
Chronic activation of this “fight or flight” response can impact not just a female’s menstrual cycle, but her health and fat loss endeavours can also take a hit.
There is also a correlation between belly fat and high stress levels due to cortisol’s direct impact on the fat cell receptors around this area.
The fat cells around the mid-section have a much higher affinity to cortisol than anywhere else in the body and are much more responsive to its negative effects.
This is why stress reduction should be a large component of ANY health and physique orientated goal.
Got carried away there, sorry. Back to your period!
Before I get into the juicy stuff, in bullet points, here is some information on estrogen and progesterone that will help make sense of things later on.
- Estrogen and progesterone CAN indeed impact a woman’s fat burning metabolism.
- Estrogen (excitatory) and progesterone (calming) both work in a balance to keep women healthy.
- The ratio fluctuates from high estrogen in relation to progesterone during the follicular phase (day 1-14) with the reverse happening during the luteal phase (day 15-28).
- Many women with low progesterone relative to estrogen will report feeling like a completely different person before ovulation (the first two weeks of cycle) vs. after ovulation (last two weeks of cycle), where they feel much worse.
- This ill feeling usually manifests as depression, breast tenderness, moodiness, fatigue, lack of motivation, bloating, and other complaints.
- Estrogen can act as an insulin sensitizing hormone (helping you use insulin much more efficiently) as well as one that controls the negative impact of cortisol.
- Progesterone opposes the action of estrogen on insulin (making you less insulin sensitive), yet works TOGETHER with estrogen to control the negative impact of cortisol. Confused? Delightful.
- Insulin and cortisol, together with testosterone and low estrogen, are implicated in belly fat deposition in women (menopause).
Primer On The Menstrual Cycle:
The first half of the menstrual cycle (Day 1-14) is referred to as the “Follicular Phase” due to the relatively large production of FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone) from the pituitary gland (Master gland that regulates our hormones).
This abundance of FSH aids in the maturation of follicles that are growing in the ovaries. As the follicles grow in size and in number, a direct, correlating increase in estrogen is also present.
Towards the end of the first half, FSH and estrogen levels both peak and then begin to decline just before ovulation.
This decline leaves only one follicle (the largest and strongest) in the ovaries to be acted on by the “surge” of luteinizing hormone (LH).
This large, sudden burst helps shed the ovum (outer membrane) around the now mature follicle to release the egg for fertilisation.
The remaining ovum then starts to deteriorate as it has no nucleus to help it regenerate. This then becomes the corpus luteum which acts as the sole source of progesterone for the remaining 14 days.
This last half of the cycle is called the “Luteal Phase” where progesterone is relatively higher than estrogen for most of the cycle up until the last few days where they both plummet to very low levels to set up the perfect environment to shed the uterine lining and begin the entire process again.
Good question. Well, now that you know the ins and outs of how your hormone levels differ during your cycle and the pros and cons of your sex hormones, you can actually use that information to help you train and eat intelligently in accordance to your hormone levels.
Instead of me giving you another human biology lecture, let me bullet point everything I want to get across.
- The follicular phase (day 1-14) demonstrates a higher estrogen level in relation to progesterone.
- Estrogen improves insulin sensitivity and reduces insulins effect on Lipoprotein Lipase (Fat storing enzyme).
- Can be viewed as a more “anabolic” time with an increased ability to handle carbohydrates and recover from exercise much more efficiently.
- Estrogen can also positively influence the negative impact of cortisol making recovery from exercise more efficient also.
- An increase in insulin sensitivity, reduction in LPL activity and reduced stress can provide a very strong environment for muscle building, minimal fat gain and better recovery.
- Great time to increase volume of training along with calories with a macro ratio of 30/40/30 (carbohydrate, protein, fat)
- Including steady state cardio during this phase can also have a positive effect.
- Both estrogen and progesterone are high for the majority of this phase but progesterone is higher.
- Progesterone opposes estrogen’s action on insulin therefore making the metabolism more insulin resistant.
- This can be good. Fat cells also become more insulin resistant making it easier to tap into stubborn areas (hips and thighs).
- This phase can be a viewed as a more “catabolic” time with an emphasis on burning fat.
- The first half of the luteal phase is very good time for fat burning but the last few days can tap into muscle and fat (due to the rapid decrease of both estrogen and progesterone).
- The capacity to handle carbohydrates in this phase is lower due to the lower ratio of estrogen in relation to progesterone.
- Keeping intensity high but volume a little lower can be very useful. Heavy weights!!
- This phase is much better adapted to HIIT cardio over steady state.
- Calories can be slightly reduced with a macro ratio of 20/40/40 (carbohydrates, protein, fats)
- Low carbohydrate diets have been shown to be the best way to tap into stubborn fat areas.
- Combining a lower carbohydrate dietary approach with heavy lifting/reduced volume, adequate recovery can be very powerful.
*Caveat: I left out this little bit of information because if I included straight up, it may have made you stop reading.
All the above information, when used appropriately, can be EXTREMELY beneficial to a female who really wants to step it up when it comes to her training and nutrition.
In saying that though, if other areas of your approach are not optimised such as awareness of food quantity and quality, digestion, ability to handle stress along with optimal thyroid, insulin, cortisol and catecholamine (adrenalin, noradrenalin) function, your results will be nothing great.
Optimising your menstrual cycle is the icing on the cake, NOT the cake.
Day 1-14: (Muscle Building)
- Estrogen dominant phase
- Use this time to train HARD and increase calorie/carbohydrate intake.
- Anabolic, insulin sensitive, handle stress well.
Day 15-21: (Fat Loss)
- Deload by reducing volume in HALF but keeping the weights HEAVY.
- Decrease carbohydrate intake while keeping protein and fats relatively high.
- Use HIT cardio if appropriate.
Day 22-28: (Muscle & Fat Loss Possible)
- Start increasing volume again after deload.
- Both hormones will plummet.
- Supplement with cocoa powder (2 tablespoons), 5-10g BCAA’s, 1000mg Tyrosine.
So there you have it. I know it was a little bit lengthy but I hope you got out some information that you can actually use when that annoying, know-it-all aunt comes to town.
Speaking of, if you’d like some more 1:1 guidance on the above article, we are offering 4 spots per day for free 20 minute consults where we can deep dive into what’s been holding you back, and show you a clear path forward to getting the results you want, simply Click Here to book your free spot.
If you want to email me directly on anything I covered in this article you can email@example.com
I hope you found this gives you power to push through the tough periods
Sorry, I just had to
Ivan ‘Period Protector’ Gavranic.
*I want to thank Jade Teta from Metabolic Effect in helping me with a lot of the information I presented. He is one of the few integrative physicians who is really pushing the research in this field.