Fat Loss & The Menstrual Cycle

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Fat Loss & The Menstrual Cycle

When discussing fat loss there are a lot of different variables to take in to consideration. One thing to consider with fat loss for women specifically is the Menstrual Cycle & I break down in this blog just exactly how much of an impact it has

Why are woman different?

We always see the phrase train like a man to look like a woman, or woman are just little men. This isn’t exactly true and that’s down to one glaringly obvious difference you give birth, have a menstrual cycle and don’t stop moaning! In all seriousness, you need to approach diet and training in a different manner and all the above are actual reasons for this, so without further ado….

Let’s talk menstrual cycle

Since a lot of what I will be focusing on today is going to involve the menstrual cycle I’ll start off with that. A pain in the arse for woman and a taboo for men, the period seems to come across as nothing but negative, when in fact it is important for a few reasons. Some more obvious than others like pregnancy, but it even goes a far as playing a role in bone health.

The average length of a healthy woman’s menstrual cycle is 28 days, but can range from 24 – 35 days. Though there are some medical cases where this is not the case, if this is you it may be worth speaking to medical professional? For those with a regular cycle, you have 2 stages to the menstrual cycle:

Follicular – Day 1 – 14

Luteal – Day 15 – 28

With Ovulation occurring in the middle two weeks, around days 8 – 20. Hormones, water retention and even hunger are affected differently at each stage of the cycle, we can even split each phase into early and late, as shown below:

Follicular phase (days 1 – 14)

Now insulin sensitivity and levels of estrogen are increased and you use carbs for fuel at rest, so now would be a good time to increase overall carbohydrate intake, why? Simply you will be less likely to store carbs as body fat especially if you carry out some moderately high intensity training (and no I don’t just mean HIIT classes and sprints). Only change is in the later part of the follicular phase when you may tend to retain more water. Who knew you weren’t lying when you said you felt bloated.

Luteal Phase (days 15 – 28)

This is when it gets difficult, higher levels of progesterone mean you tend to increase body fat mass instead of muscle mass. Insulin sensitivity is lower and you use fat stores for energy regardless of your level of activity, so a higher carbohydrate intake during these two weeks isn’t the best choice. Your also hungrier and the last few days you hold the most water weight, so expect an increase in scale weight. It isn’t all bad though, metabolic rate increases meaning you can and should eat slightly more food.

Day 1 of your cycle to day 14

We know you use more carbohydrates and therefore need to consume a higher amount of carbohydrates in your diet but that doesn’t mean you can eat alllll the carbs. Also the best time to start your new diet….again. If you track calories and macro-nutrients use this simple sum to figures your intake out:

Calories: Weight in pounds x 14-16 depending on activity level – deficit %.

Protein: 1g/lb of bodyweight

Fat: 0.25lb/lb of bodyweight

Carbohydrate: Rest of caloric intake

Easy enough for those who understand tracking calories and macronutrients but for those who cant or don’t weigh out food just try to include more sources of carbohydrates like sweet potato, rice, bread some fruits and veggies instead of fattier foods, whilst keeping a good amount of protein in there too.

Higher carb intake, lower fat intake

Day 15 of your cycle to day 28

Now the hard part, your hungrier, moodier, more bloated and probably weigh more during this part of your cycle which means most aren’t particularly enthusiastic about their physiques or doing anything about it. But there are ways to make things a little better. In this time woman predominantly use fat for fuel even when exercising, so excessive carbs during these 2 weeks are a bad option. If you track calories and macro nutrients use this simple sum to figures your intake out:

Calories: Weight in pounds x 14-16 depending on activity level – deficit %.

Protein: 1g/lb of bodyweight

Carbohydrate: 0.5lb/lb of bodyweight

Fat: Rest of caloric intake

Now this advice can be carried through the 2 weeks but with one slight but possible game changing alteration from day 21 onwards…. More food!

Days 21 -28 hunger and therefore carvings are intensified. Allow yourself an extra 1-200 calories to try and stifle any binges, dark chocolate seems to work well. This is strictly damage limitation, so still be vigilant with the extra calories if your goal is fat loss.

Birth control – Minimal effect other than shot.

Not something your personal trainer, coach or friends should be advising on. One thing I will put out there though is there are studies citing minimal weight gain as a direct result of birth control (around 2-4lb at most) except for the Depo Provera injection. In terms of body composition likelihood that fat mass will increase and muscle mass will drop (bad). What I will say is if you are having issues or are not happy about whatever birth control you are on seek advice from a medical professional and no one else.

Let’s talk disruption, causes & fixes

Now there are woman out there that don’t have a typical cycle or a cycle at all (disruption). This can be purely genetic but there are situations were disruption is brought on through extreme dieting and over exercising. In fact most woman bodybuilding competitors will at some point lose their period when dieting and training down to extreme levels of body fat. The best way to get back to normal is lower exercise and put on some body fat. The sooner this can be done the better from a health standpoint. If you are concerned about anything mentioned again my advice is to speak to a medical professional.

Training recommendations

How your cycle will affect training differs from woman to woman, issues generally arise around PMS and whilst some can continue to train at a high intensity, others will have to drop loads as much as 50%. Unfortunate if you’re an Olympic weightlifter whose competition day/week falls within this time. One way to ensure intensity stays as high through a training block as possible is to schedule your deload around PMS, a deload is a scheduled lowering of intensity in a training program.

Practical guidance

Diet:

Days 1 -14: Eat a higher percentage of carbohydrates than fats along with a good amount of protein.

Days 15 -28: Eat a higher percentage of fats than carbohydrates along with a good amount of protein. Second week of this phase increase food intake by up to 200 calories.

Training:

PMS – Deload, drop loads by 10 – 20% or lower amount of working sets over all sessions for that week.

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About Author

I am an ex-professional athlete & personal trainer based in No Limits Strength & Conditioning Gym in Liverpool I have the first-hand experience of first class training and nutrition. I can build a program to suit your goals and needs, teaching you everything you need to make that transformation. A keen interest in Nutrition and exercise has led to me to enrolling on Exercise and Sport Science Degree which allows me to bring advanced and ground breaking methods into practice. Whether you’re interested in muscle gain, fat loss or performance I have proven strategies to produce continual progress with my clients.

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