Think you’ve optimized your working out and racing strategies, but can’t recall the start date of your last period? There might be one crucial element that you’re not considering, and that’s your monthly cycle. Dr. Stacy Sims has made her life’s work proving that ‘women are not small men.’ Her latest book, ROAR: How to Match Your Food and Fitness to Your Female Physiology for Optimum Performance, Great Health, and a Strong, Lean Body for Life, drove that point home, and really dove into the subject of menstruation and how each phase of the month impacts our fitness and our training.
You guys know that talking about this stuff—from periods to saddle sores—is kind of my jam, so I was super excited to talk to Stacy about what she says is one of the most important metrics a woman can track when it comes to her athletic performance. And since March is Women’s Month, I figured it was a great time to get real about some of these topics. (Next up, all about IUDs!)
(Oh hey—we also read ROAR as our January Athletic Bookworm pick! Check out more of my favorite findings from it here.)
But back to period-tracking as it relates to fitness… “Women should know their menstrual cycle and how they feel,” Stacy says. “That’s the biggest thing, when I start working with someone. I ask how their cycle impacts them and what day they’re on, and they don’t know. You should have a general idea so you can start understanding your mood and fitness around it.”
How Your Period Impacts Your Fitness
Typically, women will perform the best during the first half of your cycle—including during actual menstruation—so you can start planning higher intensity or tougher weeks then, while giving yourself more rest days right before you get your period. Of course, that might not be exactly true for every woman: you might find that your PMS requires more rest time due to a low mood, even though you’re in a good place physically. Tracking symptoms will help you start to figure out how to work with, not against, your cycle.
“Every athlete and coach should be aware of how a period effects training,” Stacy adds. Don’t follow typical training plans, work around your physiology by figuring out how your period works. Once you start doing that and you understand your moods and body, yo can train in accordance to your cycle and get bigger gains, feel less tired, and really achieve your potential.”
Why Track Your Period?
Don’t just note when you have your period, though. Sims wants women to start writing down symptoms as well—this is especially helpful if you don’t get a period because of an IUD, or a hormonal imbalance that you’re working to correct. Most women are still going through the phases, Stacy says, they just don’t always have bleeding. So note things like mood, bloating, cramping and other PMS symptoms you commonly experience. Also note the workouts you did that day and how you felt. After a few months, even without bleeding, Sims says you’ll start to see patterns emerge and be able to figure out how your phases work for you.
How Can You Track Your Period?
- Old school in a pen-and-paper planner
- Apps like Clue designed for period tracking
- Your fitness app’s note section
- Google calendar
What it comes down to is self-knowledge, Stacy says. “You want to work with your body, not against it.”
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