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Optimizing Performance: How Does the Menstrual Cycle Impact Female Athletes?

Written by: Kaitlyn Pscodna

Female Athlete Menstrual Cycle

How Does the Menstrual Cycle Impact Female Athletes?

  • What's going on in the follicular phase?

  • Characterized by a gradual and substantial rise in estrogen, peaking in the few days prior to ovulation.

  • The impact of low estrogen in the early FP is observed by lower muscle glycogen levels, as a result of increased glucose production, glucose uptake, and carbohydrate oxidation

  • The increased carbohydrate oxidation results in increased inflammatory markers in women, which has been shown to possibly be mitigated with increased carbohydrate consumption

  • There is a reduced capacity for glycogen storage in the early FP which has been found to be improved by increasing carbohydrate intake during this phase

  • Estrogen rises and peaks a few days prior to ovulation

  • Estrogen promotes fat oxidation and spares glycogen utilization

  • What's going on in the luteal phase?

  • Initiated by ovulation, then there’s a drop in estrogen and progesterone rises to its peak before estrogen rises to it’s second peak

  • The increased presence of progesterone promotes glycogen storage

  • As a result, glycogen super-compensation may be more difficult to attain in the LP without higher daily carbohydrate levels

  • Carbohydrate intake during the LP is an important nutrition consideration in order to saturate muscle glycogen for performance, as well as to support the immune system

  • Energy expenditure is increased due to demands of cell growth with development of the endometrial lining, indicating an increase in total daily caloric intake may be beneficial to support training loads and performance

  • Progesterone increases to meet increased cell growth demands, depleting amino acid levels. Early evidence suggests increasing protein intake may be beneficial to help mitigate increased amino acid oxidation

  • Having a pre exercise snack can mitigate the changes in glucose use across menstrual cycle phase!

It should be noted and understood that every woman’s body is different and these are general observations that may (or may not) be helpful. The above also does not take into consideration females who are taking hormonal birth control.

Reference: Smith-Ryan, A. E., Cabre, H. E., & Moore, S. R. (2022). Active Women Across the Lifespan: Nutritional Ingredients to Support Health and Wellness. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 52(Suppl 1), 101–117.

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