- The menstrual cycle can affect energy, hunger, strength, and body weight, a personal trainer said.
- You may feel your most energetic after your period, Hayley Madigan told Insider.
- In the second half of your cycle, however, you may feel weaker, heavier, and hungrier.
- Read more Working It Out here.
For the last month I’ve been doing regular workouts and trying to eat well as my goal is fat loss and muscle gain. I’m not counting calories but am aiming to be in a calorie deficit, and I’m doing a mix of strength-based fitness classes, swimming, and walking.
However, I’ve found my weight fluctuating a lot (I weigh myself every few days), and how I feel in my workouts varies a lot too. I’m wondering if these could both be linked to my menstrual cycle, and what other effects my period might have that I should know?
— Period Puzzles
Congratulations on getting into good habits over the last month, it sounds like you’re doing all the right things to achieve your goals.
You’re absolutely right to think yours menstrual cycle could be affecting how you feel during your workouts and your weight, which isn’t necessarily down to gaining fat or muscle.
I asked personal trainer and women’s health coach Hayley Madigan to explain how it all works and what to expect.
“The menstrual cycle can affect many aspects of our physical and psychological well-being, including changes in our mood, body weight, and energy levels,” Madigan said, adding that hunger can be affected too.
More research on the link between the menstrual cycle and workout performance and results is needed, Dr. Lynae Brayboy, chief medical officer at period tracking app company Clue, previously told Insider’s Gabby Landsverk. But there’s still guidance available to keep in mind that could help you hit your goals.
You may feel more energized after your period
At the start of your period, you may lack energy, suffer cramps, and feel fatigued, Madigan said. There’s evidence that regular exercise can help ease symptoms, but listen to your body.
Things are likely to improve afterwards, Madigan said, as you get further into what’s known as the follicular phase, which starts on the first day of your period and lasts for 13 to 14 days. Estrogen starts to rise around day seven of the menstrual cycle then peaks around day 13.
This means we typically have more energy, don’t hold on to water or bloat as much, and our muscle growth is greatest during this time, Madigan said.
Research suggestions that the follicular phase is also when we’re most likely to make strength improvements.
“As we peak at ovulation we get a surge of testosterone, this allows us to feel stronger with more energy and typically reduces our appetite.” Ovulation occurs around day 14.
This lasts up to two weeks, and is typically when you will feel your best in your body and with your training, so work hard and lift heavy if you feel good, Madigan said.
Energy dips as progesterone increases
Days 14-28 are known as the luteal phase, and while you don’t need to stop training, you might want to ease up a bit, Madigan said.
“I would advise a reduction in HIIT during this time as we are more susceptible to injury, especially in our ligaments,” Madigan said. “Keep weight training and just reduce your weights if you feel the need to.”
One study found that soccer players were twice as likely to suffer tendon injuries around ovulation.
You may find your mood and energy dips around day 18 of your cycle (if yours is regular), as this is when progesterone increases.
Progesterone is what causes our moods to change, and we typically have a little less energy and feel less strong, Madigan said.
This can affect your motivation to work out and you may find yourself feeling hungrier, she said.
Madigan recommends fueling yourself with satiating foods like fruits, vegetables, and protein during this period in particular if you’re feeling extra hungry.
You hold on to more water at different points of your cycle
We’re more likely to retain water at different points in our cycle, so bear that in mind when weighing yourself. For this reason, Madigan recommends comparing your weight at the same point every month.
“For example, weighing yourself around day seven would typically show your lightest weight, so only compare this result with day seven of last month,” she said.
Water retention is highest at the end of the menstrual cycle, at around days 26-28, due to a drop in all hormones, Madigan said.
This is why you might feel most bloated before your period, and I certainly do.
“Ovulation does cause a slight increase in water retention so do expect your weight to go up during this part too, but expect to weigh your heaviest at the end of your cycle just before you bleed,” Madigan said.
Make sure you take the number on the scale with a pinch of salt because it can fluctuate for all sorts of reasons. If you find your mood and motivation being affected, stop weighing yourself and track your progress with pictures or measurements instead.
Use this information to be kinder to yourself
It’s important to remember that every person who menstruates will have different experiences, and yours may not tally up exactly with the general trends.
But the takeaway message is that, yes, your weight, energy, motivation, and hunger may all be affected by your cycle, which can make fat loss and fitness progress seem harder to achieve.
For me, knowing this is helpful though. It helps me be kinder to myself on the days where I feel weaker in my workouts or I find myself needing extra snacks to keep hunger at bay.
Listen to your body and keep doing your best. You’ll get there.
Wishing you well,
As a senior health reporter at Insider and a self-described fitness fanatic with an Association for Nutrition-certified nutrition course under her belt, Rachel Hosie is immersed in the wellness scene and here to answer all your burning questions. Whether you’re struggling to find the motivation to go for a run, confused about light versus heavy weights, or unsure whether you should be worried about how much sugar is in a mango, Rachel is here to give you the no-nonsense answers and advice you need, with strictly no fad diets in sight.
Rachel has a wealth of experience covering fitness, nutrition, and wellness, and she has the hottest experts at her fingertips. She regularly speaks with some of the world’s most knowledgeable and renowned personal trainers, dietitians, and coaches, ensuring she’s always up to date with the latest science-backed facts you need to know to live your happiest and healthiest life.