Tag Archives: hormones

Women in training, how hormones affect us.

Women in training, how hormones affect us.

In her book, “Roar”, Stacey Sims reminds us that, “Women are not small men”. For both men and women hormonal fluctuations cause a reaction in the body that can affect your training and nutrition. But when it comes to hormones, clearly women are different; we go through cycles during our life, our menstrual cycle, the pregnancy cycle, and the menopause. And yet to date, most scientific research on the effect of hormones and sports performance has honed-in on men between the ages of 18 and 30!

In this post I am focussing on what happens during your monthly cycle. I encourage my female athletes, to track their cycle, to make them more aware of the hormonal changes that happen each month. You can use an app like Hormone Horoscope, or monthly info to keep tabs on where you are in your cycle. Even if you don’t use it to inform your training, I still feel it is a useful thing to be aware of. If you’re not convinced then have a read of this article.

Let’s talk about it

I’ve found that some women are keen to get in tune with their cycle, and others just don’t want to talk about it. The messages that we are given in the media are, that it shouldn’t stop us from doing anything. Periods are an inconvenience that we need to try and ignore or take pain relief for. Its great that we can carry on with our lives when we have a period. But we also need to be aware of the effect that our hormones will be having, so that we can better understand our motivation levels, and our training and nutrition needs.

First let’s have a look at what happens every month in a menstruating female.

Women in training, how hormones affect us.

What actually happens?

A womens menstrual cycle lasts anywhere between 21 and 40 days, and it can also be outside these ranges. It is pretty common for there to be variability from one month to the next in the length of your cycle. As long as it’s not wildly out every month, then its normal for this to happen. The picture above assumes that you have an “average” 28-day cycle, (very few women actually do have a cycle this length!)

The first half of the cycle (days 1-14) are from the day that you get your period until the day that you ovulate. Which I’ll refer to as the low hormone phase. The second half of the cycle (days 14-28) I’ll refer to as the high hormone phase. The day that you ovulate is not necessarily day 14, it is usually around midway through your cycle.

During the low hormone phase, and just after you get your period, oestrogen starts to rise. In this half of your cycle you are more able to make strength gains, and your mood will probably be better. You can follow general advice for nutrition and hydration because you are physiologically more like a man at this point in your cycle. If you have your period on race day, its not such a bad thing. There are numerous stories of women performing well when they have their period. In Victoria Pendletons’ book, “between the lines”, she refers to winning races when she had her period. From personal experience I have found that it does not really impact my performance.

In the second half of your cycle, progesterone starts to rise, which may make you feel lethargic. It gets harder to recover, and sessions that felt easy a few days ago, now feel harder. You may have cravings, because your metabolism increases slightly, due to increased basal temperature, and you may also feel bloated as your body retains water.

What can I do about it?

In one study it was found that amongst women trying to lose weight, those who followed an exercise/nutrition plan tailored to their menstrual cycle lost more weight than the ones who just restricted calories. For best performance you need to pay attention to the timing of nutrition and hydration, particularly in the high hormone phase. Stacy Sims recommends 10 to 15g of protein and 40g carbs at this time before any workout lasting longer than 90 minutes, and after sessions. Also hydrating well, and preloading before long, harder races with salt would be beneficial. During the high hormone phase your blood plasma volume is lower, which is why those hard sessions feel more challenging. Your blood is essentially thicker which makes it harder to get oxygen to your muscles, and as your core temperature is increased you will feel the heat more, and therefore need to ensure that you hydrate and keep cool, especially in hot weather.

I’m looking forward to seeing future research in this area, as more women take part in endurance sports, and become interested making their training more effective. Watch this space!

An unexpected result

An easy week

After last weeks mini holiday, it was back to it. Luckily I had an easy week planned as there was the washing, shopping, and general catch up that you need after going away. I had also entered Pembrokeshire coast Triathlon at Broadhaven at the weekend so it meant I would have a bit of a rest before the race.

I had a great bike session on Tuesday. I had been thinking on my previous long ride that I tend to get a bit lazy towards the end of a ride and start dropping the watts, so when I was at the side of the road checking my bike for creaks, and a man flew past asking if I was OK I thought I would see if I could catch him!

I was near the end of my ride so it was ideal for me to push a bit more than usual. It became apparent that I was catching him on the ups and then he was pulling away slightly on the downs. I managed to reel him in after Yerbeston, on the Ironman course, we got chatting and it was someone whose name I had seen on strava (Dave Swan if you’re curious!) I turned off at Molleston and left him to complete the rest of the Ironman loop.

You can see my increase in power at about 2 and a half hours in!

You can see my increase in power at about 2 and a half hours in!

Still getting the power dropouts, but have sent my power meter back, again…I may write a post about that bit of kit someday! Had a long run on Thursday and was surprised to see that my running has improved again!

A similar run last year and my run this week

A similar run last year and my run this week

Cancelled my swim session on Friday, as I was feeling a bit fed up with the pool and I didn’t want to do another session for the sake of it. On Saturday I raced Broadhaven and won! That was a real surprise, I knocked 5 minutes of my previous time, so I was obviously very pleased with that! Full race report is here.

Comparison between the years

Comparison between the years

I still need to do some work on programming myself to believe that I am a strong swimmer, as it was always my weak sport, so, in my subconscious, I still think I am not good, but the last 2 races I have done I have had pretty good swim times. Must keep that in mind 🙂

Look away now if you don’t want to read about hormones, and periods!

One thing men don’t have to worry about too much is how their hormones affect them during races, they pretty much have the same cycle of hormones every day ( high testosterone in the morning, which drops off during the day and is lowest in the evening) This is also affected by their actions, e.g. racing will produce a rise in testosterone, read more about this here.

Women, as you will know have varying hormones throughout the month, so at times all we really want to do is sleep all the time, when at other times of the month we are outgoing and confident, this corresponds to our cycle. I have been doing a bit of research on this, as I find it quite interesting. There is a lot more detail on hormone horoscope, which I find really helps me to deal with moods and how I feel certain times of the month!

The female cycle

The female cycle

The reason I am writing about this is that my period was due on the week of Broadhaven and all week I was worrying about when it would start, and whether I would have to deal with it on race day. I looked at a couple of forums, and found a post by a man who said don’t worry about it, chances are nobody will care, or notice, just wear some black shorts and get on with it. This relaxed me quite a bit, and I also mentioned to Patrick the night before, that the last time I had my period on a race I won!

I didn’t get my period until after the race but I still find it really interesting, as I am about a kilo heavier in the week before I start my period, so you would think that my performance would be worse. You would also think that there would be loads of interesting research on this, but I’m not sure if there is or where to find it. I did read Victoria Pendleton’s book and she mentioned that she always seemed to have her period on competition days. Maybe its time we started taking it into consideration, it is a massive part of women’s lives, but seems like people don’t really want to talk about it, although with online forums maybe people are starting to discuss more topics like this.

I did find some useful information here, which I recommend to anyone interested in how hormones affect your training and performance.

Abergavenny, Welsh Champs, more visitors and next years races!

Welsh Champs in Abergavenny

At the beginning of the summer, we decided that we would go camping for a few days if the weather was good. As I had entered the Welsh championships in Abergavenny I suggested a camping trip there! We had a great few days and I had a PB on the 10 mile course of 25:36, which I was pleased with.

Results here, and photo’s here

Great park in Abergavenny

Great park in Abergavenny

Visitors again

Patricks brother, wife and daughter came to stay over the bank holiday weekend, we made the most of the weather and it sent me into a cooking frenzy again! So I started experimenting with  some photo’s of my food, (not as easy as it looks), but you have to start somewhere!

Next season

‘Tis the season to be bombarded by emails about events for next year. As I wind down, I have entered Half Outlaw (which sold out in record time) and the Tour of Pembrokeshire, unfortunately Patrick and I clicked on a link for the Wasdale triathlon, and I now have another on my lake district list, (Helvellyn being another). Too little time and too many races !

Pleased with the year overall, but I think I’ll do a bit more high intensity stuff next year before Half Outlaw, as I am a collector of numbers, here is my data from the year….

I just need to figure out which power meter to buy, as I’m hiring one at the moment from the lovely Nick Brown. I suppose I should give it back soon, seeing as I’ve had it for a year!

Performance management chart for last 365 days

Performance management chart for last 365 days

All my lovely graphs!

All my lovely graphs!

Women’s stuff

Found a great site about hormones, which explains quite a lot, like why I just shouted at the kids! There is a bit about men too 😉

The website is here I found it quite interesting, and useful!