How does the menstrual cycle affect cycling and training?

Understanding the effects that the different phases can have on your body can allow you to train smarter and more effectively

Clock09:57, Friday 26th January 2024

The menstrual cycle affects 50% of the population in one way or another. For some women, it has more pronounced effects than others but the changes throughout the month can have a real impact on your ability to train and its effectiveness.

To find out more about how the menstrual cycle can affect cycling Manon Lloyd aims to dig deeper into the subject. For male riders out there, training patterns are largely controlled by motivation levels and fatigue. For female athletes, there is considerably more at play and even a potential benefit to planning your training around your menstrual cycle.

What is the menstrual cycle?

The menstrual cycle is made up of four different phases: menstruation, follicular phase, ovulation and the luteal phase. Typically a healthy cycle can vary from 21 days up to 40 with the global average sitting around 28 days.

Menstruation

This is the first phase of the cycle and is where a woman's period takes place. The length of this phase varies from person to person but typically ranges from between two and seven days. This begins after an egg from the previous cycle isn’t fertilised and the hormone levels of estrogen and progesterone begin to drop as a result. It is common to experience side effects at this time including cramps, a sore back and bloating.

Follicular phase

This starts on the first day of your period and goes on until ovulation, typically lasting between 13-14 days. During this phase hormone levels begin to rise again in preparation for ovulation. As a result of the increase in hormone levels, it is likely that you can experience sensations of optimism and high energy.

Ovulation

As estrogen levels reach their maximum this triggers the pituitary gland to release luteinising hormones, thereby starting the ovulation process. This lasts for between 16 and 32 hours and can sometimes be felt as a rise in body temperature. Ovulation typically occurs on day 14 of a 28-day cycle.

Luteal phase

This is the last phase of the menstrual cycle and can last from between 12-14 days. In this window, the body is beginning to prepare itself for a new cycle. In this time you might experience a drop in energy levels that coincide with the reduction in estrogen and progestogen levels in your body. Some signs that you are in the luteal phase of your cycle include mood swings, breakouts and bloating.

What effect can it have on performance?

When the phases are broken down and explained in this way it makes sense that energy levels and mood/motivation fluctuates through the whole menstruation cycle. Manon catches up with former professional cyclist and now-coach for Synrgy, Hannah Barnes. Synrgy is a female-specific coaching platform that looks to work with female athletes to optimise their training and performance with the menstrual cycle in mind.

Read more: Special agent Barnes: A retiring rider's passion to support female athletes

Barnes explains the differences in physiology between the different phases of the cycle and how that can benefit from adaptive training. As a former Women’s WorldTour rider herself, she discusses how roles within the team might change based on riders' cycles to get the most out of each athlete depending on their hormone levels.

The key to getting the most out of yourself and the training you do is to listen to your body and be able to identify the phases of your cycle. This will then help you to maximise your training.

For example, full gas, flat-out efforts should take place during the follicular phase, as this is hormonally the most appropriate window for when your body is able to produce more power for less perceived exertion, when compared to the luteal phase.

Manon also takes the time to catch up with Will Harper, a former pro himself and the founder of Synrgy, to dig deeper into just how women’s coaching has evolved over the years.

Harper discusses how until fairly recently, female athletes would have received identical training methods and structures to male athletes, even though the demands on the athletes are markedly different. He goes on to explain some of the changes female athletes should make and also some of the most interesting things he has learnt from coaching female athletes whilst giving greater consideration to menstruation.

To catch both interviews with Barnes and Harper in full, make sure to watch the video linked at the top of the story. For more health and fitness features head over to our dedicated page.


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