Exercising for Your Body: How to Work With What Your Mama Gave Ya
Did you know that most, if not all exercise and diet regimen out there are based off of the male anatomy and hormonal cycles? A man’s main hormone, testosterone, is known to peak in the morning and slowly decline throughout the day, with some spikes during moments of exercise or other stress-inducing activities. This makes it easy to track how certain types of stress, macro-nutrients, and food withholding can effect their metabolism, weight loss, and muscle mass. It’s a little different with us ladies.
In fact, because our hormonal cycle is complex and can last up to 36 days, women are often excluded from scientific studies on exercise and weight loss methods.
It’s like, “well women need special attention because of those lady parts, so we’re just going to exclude them from this study in order to show statistically relevant results, without having to worry about the deficit that an outlier like a woman may cause”. Sad but true. Thank goodness we have some serious lady bosses out there that are wanting to change this.
More and more studies are focusing in on women’s health and specifically how our hormonal cycles effect our rate of fatigue, basal metabolic rate (the number of calories needed to keep your body going at your resting rate) and glucose levels. Which means there is more evidence that support how WE can work with our bodies to get the results we want faster as well as just feel better overall.
So let’s break it down. How many of you have felt completely spent after a run, workout, or HIIT exercise that you breezed through less than a week ago? Or have you ever started an exercise program, saw amazing results and then felt like you plateaued? This can be directly contributed to how our metabolic rate, motivation, and insulin resistance is controlled by our hormones. It is easier to achieve wanted results by listening to what our bodies are doing behind the scenes and elevating this work rather than fighting a losing battle. First things first, our “menstrual cycle”.
Here’s a quick recap from your 5th grade English/math teacher explaining to you what “your time of the month means” (LOL! I am still traumatized from this) There are four distinct phases to our cycle: your period/bleeding, follicular, ovulation, and luteal phases. Each cycle begins with the first day of your period. This is also the beginning of your follicular phase, which is when your ovaries produce an egg or two to maybe become the next little one in your life. When that egg is released into your fallopian tubes, this is ovulation, & finally when it is determined that you are either going to have a bun in the oven or not, this is when your body flips into luteal phases. The first half of the cycle is all about building a little nest in your uterus for that potential bun and the second half of the cycle is all about Marie Kondo-ing it, and getting ready for your next period.
So, how does this effect our exercise. Recent studies have found that in your follicular phase (the first half of your cycle), the increase in estrogen also decreases the sensitivity of insulin to glucose— meaning that our body is able to burn through extra calories at a more efficient rate (and that we can eat more carbs too… but more on that later), which is why exercising 3-4 days a week and doing things that are particularly stressful on your body like High Intensity Interval Workouts, Weight lifting, cycling, or if you are a runner then speed workout should be your go to.
After that little egg has been dispatched and it doesn’t look like nine months of prepping for your little one to come into the world, our bodies also make a shift and our estrogen and testosterone actually drop. This means a couple of things. For one, we actually need to increase our caloric intake. Yep. That’s right… that chocolate you crave right before your period. There is a reason for it. We may intake more calories during this phase, but our basal metabolic rate, or the amount of energy needed at rest also increases. So, giving into these cravings generally does not end in weight gain.
Ok the second thing that happens in the luteal phase is that we fatigue easier during our workouts, making it harder for our bodies to recover and rebuild the micro-tears we make during exercise (which results in bigger and stronger muscles). So instead of torturing yourself through a HIIT workout that can end in tears, this is the time of month to focus on slower, methodical types of exercise like walking, yoga, pilates. Runners should focus more on slower recovering running during this half of the month with a mix of yoga and pilates to continue to build strength in your core to protect your leg joints. Cyclist— this is the time to grab some good miles without the added weights or focus on shorter cycling classes that won’t have your body hanging onto every ounce of energy it can get. These workouts will reduce your body’s overall fatigue & allow you to rebuild muscle for better results overall.
So how can you even start to find out what’s going on with your body? I started with period tracking. There is about a million apps out there that allow you to try your period, how you are feeling on any given day, and even what you are craving. By understanding when your cycle starts, it allows you to know when it’s time to pump up the action or slow down and recover. Remember, the follicular phase last the first 14 days of your cycle, ovulation is day 15, and the luteal phase is the rest, until you start your period again.
I am currently tracking my period with the free version of “Clue” app, just to figure out what is happening when. I am also attempting to mix up my workouts to see what results I can get. I will happily share what this feels like in a month or two when I actually have had time to go through the motions of it. Until then, I plan on completing 3-4 HIIT work outs via Kait Hurley or my own list (I have some yoga HIIT workouts & circuits I like to knock out) for the next couple of weeks and then plan to switch my focus to restorative yoga and strength building via pilates.
Email me and tell me what you are planning to do! I would love to hear more about how this can become a norm!