The female menstrual cycle & fat-loss
The female cycle means constant fluctuations in hormone levels, energy, strength, appetite, mood, and it can change day to day. Does it affect your fat-loss goals?
There is no reason to stop or pause your efforts when it comes to fat-loss or your fitness-related goals. The weight that stares back on the scales may fluctuate and spike, but it does not represent your fat-loss progress.
There are 3 phases;
The follicular phase (Days 1-14)
The luteal phase (Days 15-28)
There’s nothing to say you cannot lose body-fat in any of the phases, and taking time out is only going to make progress slower. It may become important to adapt to how your body feels and soldier on!
Water retention throughout the cycle is common, especially in the luteal phase (days 15-28), so don’t freak out if the scales are showing an increase in weight. It’s water, and not body-fat! This is one reason I prefer the approach of either weighing yourself daily and taking weekly averages, or tracking weight less often when drops in body-fat will be more noticeable.
The cycle can have some effects on your training too. The fluctuation in hormones during the cycle can also have an effect on your training, especially if you’re looking to gain strength.
Testosterone and estrogen are higher during the follicular phase, meaning the feeling of having more energy and feeling stronger, especially in week 2. This would be a good time to hit the weights and gain some strength! This effect is reversed in the luteal phase (Day 15-28) as Progesterone, a catabolic hormone is higher, meaning a response to strength training may be reduced compared to the follicular phase, so don’t beat yourself up for a rubbish gym session!
If you train with intensity, the same workout would feel more intense during the luteal phase. The body will also feel warmer during this phase, so don’t be surprised to feel more fatigued and require more fluids.
A woman’s metabolism is typically reduced during the follicular phase, meaning the need for calories is reduced. This reverses during the luteal phase where it’s increased, so time for more calories during week 3 and 4!
Cravings are common, especially for women, and this is more likely to occur during the luteal phase. It’s going to be important to fight these cravings if your goal is fat-loss. In contrast however, the follicular phase is where you’ll be more inclined to train harder, meaning the extra calories are more useful here, rather than when they’re being craved.
Of course, every body is different and variations will occur from person to person.
Finally, it is important to mention that females dieting with a low-calorie intake for longer periods and substantial drops in body fat may lose their period. This is a further reason why a diet should be more structured and monitored to take this into consideration.
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