You guys have been following along this journey with us and now should have a grasp on the phases of your cycle and the hormones involved. Well, how can those factors affect how we exercise?

Research is still in the early days in this particular field, as only recently there has been an increase women’s participation in exercise. So, research can be conflicting until further studies can be done. However, I will talk you through the current evidence and how oestrogen and progesterone may affect how we exercise.

How does oestrogen and progesterone affect our muscle strength?

Research tells us that oestrogen can help us build muscle (Baltgalvis, KA et al 2010). During the late follicular and ovulatory phase when oestrogen is high it may lead to increased strength gains compared to the late luteal phase.  Oestrogen may also influence your endurance capacity by utilising fat stores more readily than progesterone. Prior to ovulation oestrogen may be more susceptible to musculoskeletal injuries such as ACL rupture due to its effects on ligament laxity. (Shultz et al 2005)

Progesterone has anti-oestrogenic effects, meaning it does the opposite of what oestrogen does to the body. Progesterone supports the breakdown of proteins in the body. But the presence of heightened progesterone during the luteal phase has limited research into its effects on the body during exercise.

What does the research say?

The research has told us that there is a large variation between individuals, their cycles and the levels of hormones they have. Therefore, a generalised guideline for exercise at this time is not possible. A 2019 study by Blanca et al looked at the phases of the menstrual cycle and its effect on muscle strength and power performance. The conclusion of this study was that changes in muscle force and muscle diameter were not affected by the menstrual cycle phases. They mentioned that previous studies conducted by Sung etal 2014, reported that resistance training should be completed in the follicular phase as this has the highest levels of oestrogen. The increased levels of oestrogen would allow our bodies to utilise this and build more muscle compared to another phase of the cycle.

Mentally how does oestrogen and progesterone affect us?

Psychologically oestrogen helps to block the uptake of dopamine (the happy chemical) in our brain. When we are in the follicular phase oestrogen is high and can help with making us feel happier. (Yum Sk et al 2019) During the luteal phase oestrogen drops and can be a cause why we experience more feelings of sadness, depression, anxiety leading into our period. Taking care of yourself and listening to your body when it comes to exercising around your period is important.

There is still much to learn in the way of exercise and the menstrual cycle. It hasn’t been until the last few decades that women were included in any scientific research. So, there is a lot to catch up on!

References

  1. Handy AB, Greenfield SF, Yonkers KA, Payne LA. Psychiatric Symptoms Across the Menstrual Cycle in Adult Women: A Comprehensive Review. Harv Rev Psychiatry. 2022 Mar-Apr 01;30(2):100-117. doi: 10.1097/HRP.0000000000000329. PMID: 35267252; PMCID: PMC8906247.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8906247/
  2. Oosthuyse T, Bosch AN. The effect of the menstrual cycle on exercise metabolism: implications for exercise performance in eumenorrhoeic women. Sports Med. 2010 Mar 1;40(3):207-27. doi: 10.2165/11317090-000000000-00000. PMID: 20199120.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20199120/
  3. Rocha-Rodrigues S, Sousa M, Lourenço Reis P, Leão C, Cardoso-Marinho B, Massada M, Afonso J. Bidirectional Interactions between the Menstrual Cycle, Exercise Training, and Macronutrient Intake in Women: A Review. Nutrients. 2021 Jan 29;13(2):438. doi: 10.3390/nu13020438. PMID: 33572821; PMCID: PMC7910908.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7910908/#:~:text=Known%20as%20the%20catabolic%20breakdown,%2C%20particularly%20catecholamines%20%5B69%5D.
  4. Romero-Moraleda B, Coso JD, Gutiérrez-Hellín J, Ruiz-Moreno C, Grgic J, Lara B. The Influence of the Menstrual Cycle on Muscle Strength and Power Performance. J Hum Kinet. 2019 Aug 21;68:123-133. doi: 10.2478/hukin-2019-0061. PMID: 31531138; PMCID: PMC6724592. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6724592/