You're hitting the gym, giving it your all day after day. But as time goes on, something peculiar happens - you're not feeling like yourself anymore. You're fatigued, your mood is swinging like a pendulum, and your body seems to be staging a revolt. What gives? Well, you might be grappling with overtraining syndrome, and it's closely linked to your hormones. Why?The stress response journey: brain to adrenals
Your body perceives this prolonged physical stress as a potential threat and initiates the stress response, primarily managed by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. The hypothalamus, a crucial part of your brain, enters the scene and releases corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH). CRH communicates with the pituitary gland, instructing it to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). The adrenal glands, those small structures nestled atop your kidneys, get the message and start cranking out cortisol.Cortisol vs. Sex Hormones
Cortisol, often dubbed the stress hormone, surges into your bloodstream because your body thinks you're in a never-ending battle. Why? Because those intense workouts just keep coming. Elevated cortisol levels can wreak havoc on your hormonal equilibrium. Cortisol engages in a hormone showdown with your sex hormones, jostling for the same resources. With chronic high cortisol, these resources get redirected away from sex hormone production.
Progesterone takes a hit due to the reduced availability of these resources. This often leads to an excess of estrogen in your bloodstream, a phenomenon known as estrogen dominance. High cortisol can also mess with your hunger hormones, making you ravenous even when your body doesn't actually need fuel.
Overtraining and Metabolism
Your thyroid hormones, which are responsible for regulating metabolism, can also suffer, possibly leading to thyroid dysfunction. If you're a woman, this hormonal chaos can throw your menstrual cycle off balance, causing irregular periods or even amenorrhea (the absence of menstruation). As your hormones start to fluctuate wildly, your body sends you signals. You find yourself constantly fatigued, emotionally all over the place, your sleep patterns are disrupted, and your weight seems to have a mind of its own.
The long-term consequences? Sustained overtraining and the ensuing hormone imbalances can lead to metabolic upheaval, and, for women, fertility issues.
How to Increase Metabolism and Lose Fat Without Overtraining?
1) Lower intensity workouts in the first half of your cycle and higher intensity workouts in the other
We know from another study that a woman’s resting metabolic rate (also known as our basal metabolic rate) decreases during the follicular phase, reaching its lowest point one week before ovulation. Utilizing high intensity workouts in this phase serves as a positive counterbalance to a slower metabolism.
How should you schedule your workouts? You should do high intensity exercise during the first half of your cycle. Your metabolism is naturally slower during the first half of your cycle and HIIT training will help increase it.
How to Get Started?
Learning how to get started with cycle syncing is the first step in optimizing your exercise routine. Women's wellness consultant Clare Rodea-Ryan states “The first step is to get in touch with your body and bring awareness to where you are in your cycle or ‘ your inner season’”.
It’s crucial if you’ve recently stopped using hormonal birth control, which throws on your natural hormonal rhythms.
This is important because your cycle stage can dramatically effect your performance. Stacy Sims is a PhD and leading global expert on female exercise physiology. She references a case report on middle distance runner Jessica Judd. She states, “Take mid-distance runner Jessica Judd: In 2018, she discovered that her 3000m time could vary by as much as 15 secs depending on what stage she was at in her menstrual cycle.” That's the difference between first and last place”!
1) Observe and track your Cycle
You’ll also need to understand the length of your menstrual cycle. You can discover the length by using a period-tracking app like MyFLO, CLUE, Eve or simply mark the first day of your period on a calendar, and track the days until your next period begins. Stay consistent with this method for several months and you should have a good understanding of the length of your cycle.
2) Match your calorie intake
While the Cycle Syncing Method is a great tool to help guide your exercise plan, Vitti thinks you shouldn't let it completely dominate your life. She states, “Drop the perfectionism and instead embrace becoming dynamic and responsive. Listen to your body, track your cycle, track your symptoms, notice how you feel in each phase, notice how doing certain activities makes you feel in each phase, and reclaim the healthy relationship with yourself and your body you are supposed to have.”
3) Plan your exercise routine around your cycle
Planning your exercise routine around your cycle acts as a cheat code for your metabolism. Vitti strongly believes in this and says “Your metabolism changes speed and your resting cortisol levels change in a cyclical pattern, since they are not the same every day, it makes no sense to eat the same amount of calories or do the same workout types or intensity each day. You want to match your caloric intake, workout type, and intensity with each phase of your cycle so you can optimize the use of stored fat as fuel and build lean muscle more efficiently.” Cycle syncing allows you to feel and perform at your best.
DAYS 1 TO 7: LOW-INTENSITY WORKOUTS
YOUR TRAINING: Gentle Yoga, Low-intensity swimming, pilates, walking
- This type of training reduces built up tension and alleviate symptoms by doing an activity that makes you happy
- Try muscle activating weight training workouts with moderate intensity to prepare for the next phase of your cycle.
- Recovery is critical during this phase because of increased inflammation
You have the least amount of energy at the start of your period, so listen to your body by setting aside time for sleep and self care.
For a few days focus on yoga, pilates and walking. Low intensity swimming such as the breaststroke is also a great option during this time. When you sense your energy levels starting to increase return, you can increase intensity again as this can be a great time to utilize the benefits of strength training and HIIT.
DAYS 8 TO 13: INTENSE TRAINING
YOUR TRAINING: HIIT classes, heavy strength training, hills and sprints
- Your body can handle the load of intense training during this phase so go for it.
- Ensure you warm up properly because rising progesterone levels may increase the risk of injury
- Your strength levels peaks in this phase but don't neglect your recovery
It's all about speed and power in this phase. Plan for high-intensity workouts and heavy weight training as testosterone and estrogen levels increase. Grueling workouts will make you feel happy and refreshed at this stage.
This is also an opportunity to try something new. HIIT classes, heavy strength training, all-out efforts, hills and sprints should feel rewarding and improve your mood. This is a great time of the month to shoot for personal bests on your lifts
DAYS 14 TO 21: ENDURANCE TRAINING
YOUR TRAINING: walking, stairmaster, long and easy run
- Keep cardio sessions at a light conversational pace
- Focus on stregnth and endurance during this phase
This is a great time to focus on strength and endurance because your energy is at maximum levels here during your 28 day cycle. Your hormone levels align perfectly for fat to be used as fuel, be sure to incorporate LISS (Low-Intensity Steady State) training, such as walking and the stairmaster. Focus on resistance exercises also. Long, easy runs or hikes in the hills are great options for cardio during this phase.
In order to ensure you’re using body fat for fuel instead of muscle glycogen, keep cardio sessions at a light, conversational pace. You should be slightly out of breath, but able to go for quite a while and still talk in unbroken sentences.
DAYS 22 TO 28: HIGH-INTENSITY WORKOUTS UNTIL ENERGY DROPS
YOUR TRAINING: High intensity workouts and Low intensity workouts
- Listen to your body and customize your workout
- keep high-intensity workouts until your energy level drops
- Prioritize technique and emphasize your form
Looking to burn fat? This phase is it!
You’ll want to start slowly decreasing your exercise load during this phase. Your energy levels will remain high in the beginning of this phase, so you could keep the high-intensity workouts until your energy levels begin to decrease. During the last five days your energy levels decrease, this is when you should move your focus to lower intensity lower-resistance workouts. Yoga, pilates or walking are good examples. Prioritize technique, emphasizing your form. Customize your workout for the day based on your energy levels and be sure to listen to your body.
This calendar is a great example to follow and get an idea of how to create your own workout schedule!
For decades, mainstream fitness advice has been telling women that they need to train the same way as men in order to lose weight and build their best body. The problem is that women have a 28 day hormone cycle while men have a 24 hour hormone cycle. Cycle syncing is the term used to describe matching your workout plan and diet with the phase of your cycle. The four phases are the menstrual phase, follicular phase, ovulatory phase, and luteal phase. These phases all lead to different hormone balances and require different methods of training in order to feel your best.