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The Female Cycle and Training

Coach Caron continues her series about the female cycle and how it pertains to training.


The Luteal Phase

Around day 12 of a woman’s cycle estrogen levels surge along with luteinizing hormone (LH), which stimulates ovulation.  Estrogen levels dip and then rise again along with Progesterone, which surpasses Estrogen.  Both hormones hit peak levels about 5 days before menstruation, which is when PMS symptoms can kick in. 

This high hormone phase has shown to leave women with reduced reaction times, neuromuscular coordination and manual dexterity.  There is also evidence that blood sugar levels, breathing rates and thermoregulation are negatively impacted which may account for a slight decrease in aerobic capacity and strength. 

Exercise can feel harder during those high-hormone days as your hormone impact your exercise metabolism, the fuels that you burn, your plasma volume levels, how well you tolerate heat, mood and much more.

Over my next few posts, we will explore some of the specific impacts of the high hormone phase and some actions you can take to perform your best at any time of the month. 


 1. Its harder to make muscle:


The rise in estrogen and progesterone in the luteal phase has a big impact on the muscle-cell turnover and protein synthesis.  Estrogen turns down the growing (anabolic) capacity of the muscle and progesterone turns up the break down (catabolism) of muscle tissue, making it more difficult to access amino acids. This results in higher rates of muscle break down during hard efforts and it is harder for women to make and maintain muscle when our hormones are high. 

It is important for women to consume protein that is high in the muscle-building amino acid leucine or supplement with branched-chain amino acids (BCAA’s containing leucine, isoleucine, and valine) before and after (within 30mins) of exercise. 

Below are 10 foods which are high in leucine and some related foods with a slightly lower leucine content:

  1. Poultry (2000mg per 100g) – highest content in chicken legs.
  2. Beef skirt steak (2945mg per 100g) – and other red meat.
  3. Pork (2185mg per 100g) – highest content in pork chops.
  4. Tuna (2431mg per 100g) – salmon, tilapia and clams are also a great seafood source.
  5. Firm tofu (1392mg per 100g) – edamame is also a good source.
  6. Navy beans (639mg per 100g) – large white beans, kidney beans and lentils.
  7. Skim Milk (319mg per 100g) – also yogurt and low-fat buttermilk.
  8. Low-fat ricotta cheese (1235mg per 100g) – low-fat cottage cheese, swiss and gouda.
  9. Roasted squash and pumpkin seeds (2388mg per 100g) – pistachios, peanuts and almonds.
  10. Eggs (1075mg per 100g)

By consuming more foods high in leucine, you can reduce the impact that the high hormone luteal phase has on your muscle tissue.