menstruation womens fitness (1)

Menstruation and Fitness: Everything You Need to Know

The first and most important thing that you need to know: your menstrual cycle absolutely has the ability to affect your fitness journey. 

One of my main motivations in becoming a Women’s Fitness Specialist was to be able to work with the women who have had the effects of their menstrual cycle disregarded by coaches and fitness professionals.

Right off the bat I will tell you this: there is not substantial scientific evidence that solidly proves how the menstrual cycle affects fitness. 

However, because of bias in the medical industry there’s not a lot of substantial scientific evidence on how the menstrual cycle affects anything for a woman, honestly.

But as women, we know: some women are more affected by menstruation than others but we feel it…

At some part of the month, your energy and strength are high: you can lift heavy and stick to your meal plan…

Two weeks later, your energy is crashing, your weight lifted is lower and you are constantly hungry and craving carbs and sugar.

No: you’re not crazy or lazy, and you’re definitely not alone!

My goal with this blog is to help you understand what is going on throughout your monthly cycle, and how you may adjust your fitness habits to respect your body’s cycle better.

To help you learn about and respect your body’s cycle in your fitness habits, I will be reviewing the following information:

  1. What are the phases of my cycle?
  2. What might I notice or feel during each phase?
  3. How can I adjust my exercise to each phase?
  4. How should I be eating for each phase of my cycle?
  5. Listening to signals from the body

I will also be linking other helpful information throughout the blog, and I will recap all of it for you at the bottom, along with linking you to one of my favorite books about female hormones!

What Are The Phases of My Cycle?

Most women have a 28-32 day menstrual cycle during which they experience various hormone fluctuations that cause unique symptoms.

On average a woman can spend anywhere from 5-10 days in any given phase of her cycle.


Menstruation is the part of the cycle that signifies the end of the previous cycle and is the week (or so) during which a woman bleeds.

Menstruation is instigated by progesterone production which should also come with a spike in estrogen.

During this phase, the previous cycles uterine lining and egg are excreted from the body by contractions (similar to giving birth).

It is because of this, that this phase of the cycle is known to come with cramping and dehydration which needs to be taken into consideration by fitness professionals.

Follicular phase

The follicular phase is the phase of the cycle during which Follicle Stimulating Hormone is high to promote growth of a new egg:

This is the time of the month that your body is preparing for fertility.

During this week, most women are going to be recovering from menstruation as energy and hunger levels return to normal.

Ovulation phase

Ovulation is prime time for most women: aside from fertility, your energy and strength will most likely peak at this time of month.

Before and during ovulation is when nearly all of your sex hormone levels peak to contribute to all of your energy and fertility.

During this phase of the cycle, women tend to feel noticeably more energetic, able to lift heavier, less hungry and more able to control their moods.

It is also during this phase that you may feel exceptionally social so be careful what you sign yourself up for-lol!

Luteal phase

The Luteal Phase is often referred to as PMS and is the phase of your cycle directly before menstruation.

Once the body realizes that it was unsuccessful in getting pregnant during ovulation, it starts the process of removing the uterine lining and unfertilized egg from the last cycle so as to prepare for new growth. 

During the phase, the majority of the sex hormones decline dramatically in production.

This can result in various symptoms such as:

  • Disrupted sleep
  • Not feeling fullness or hunger
  • Reduced energy and motivation
  • Reduced strength and endurance
  • Water retention that disrupts thirst signals
  • Abdominal cramping and migraines

I have also noted that during this phase and menstruation, my client’s average heart rates will often be significantly lower, causing them to decrease exercise performance and reduce caloric burn.

What Might I Notice or Feel During Each Phase of My Cycle?


During menstruation a woman’s uterus can increase in weight to get up to 8 oz, which is double the normal weight of the uterus, and can be quite uncomfortable. 

In addition to that, a woman might lose up to a tablespoon of blood a day during menstruation. 

As a result, menstruation often causes a woman to feel very fatigued for the duration of her bleeding period, as well as dealing with low moods, no motivation and sometimes depression. 

Here are some other common things to feel during menstruation:

  • Hip pain in all positions 
  • Symptoms of anemia 
  • Total body inflammation
  • Brain fog and lack of focus 
  • Sensory sensitivity 

Of course, every woman’s menstruation symptoms are unique to her so there are a lot more things that a woman can experience during this phase.

Follicular phase

During the follicular phase the body is presented with the opportunity to recover from the stress of menstruation, and energy levels and moods will typically begin to rise. 

Here are some examples of things that you may feel in your body during this phase:

  • Reduced flotation and inflammation
  • A measurable weight loss
  • Increase energy and desire to move
  • Increase ability to focus and maintain stamina

Again, this is unique for every woman, but typically this is where most women feel a rise happening in their body.


Ovulation is the main event of this cycle and it is typically the time of the month when a woman will be in her main character energy.

***Disclaimer because I work with so many women who have estrogen dominance: during ovulation women with estrogen dominance may actually feel more fatigued, depressed and tired due to imbalanced estrogen levels. 

For women who don’t have estrogen dominance, you are going to feel at your peak during this time of month-you are going to have the most energy and desire to be active. 

Here are some examples of things that you may experience in your body during ovulation:

  • Increased libido
  • Higher body temperature 
  • Reduced appetite
  • Increased strength and stamina

This is typically a woman’s best week of the month…I know, why do we only get one?!

Luteal Phase

The luteal phase is often referred to as the PMS phase (incorrectly) and is essentially the time when you feel the symptoms of menstruation starting to happen. 

These symptoms can include but are not limited to:

  • Increased appetite, especially for carbohydrates
  • Achiness throughout the body, especially the hips
  • Energy starting to reduce
  • Anxiety and lack of mood control 
  • Reduction in signals for thirst
  • Water retention and bloatation
  • Headaches and migraines

These are only a small handful of the symptoms a woman can experience in the face before her bleeding begins. 

Many women experience significant and various symptoms unique to themselves in this phase of their cycle. 

How Can I Adjust My Exercise For Each Phase Of My Cycle?

If you are looking to adjust any part of your lifestyle to accommodate your menstrual cycle, it is probably because you have noticed extreme fluctuations in your capabilities throughout the month.

Please respect both your doctor’s expertise and your own intuition when adjusting your lifestyle in any way. 

The suggestions that I am offering here are based on what I do, and what I have noticed works for my clients. 


During menstruation I have continuously observed that a woman will have a hard time getting her heart rate up to a normal elevated heart rate based on other times of the month.

The low heart rate also comes with a tendency towards dizziness, and for both of those reasons I really don’t like cardio, heavy lifting, cross-training, or compound movements for clients who struggle with their menstruation. 

Instead I recommend the following activities:

  • Total body stretching/ yoga or hip specific work
  • Gentle walks outside in nature, preferably in sunshine
  • Breathing exercises and meditation
  • Joint mobility movements 
  • Stability and balance exercise 
  • Whatever feels nice for them this week 🙂 

For some women this is just a week of “do what you can do”-and that’s okay.

Follicular phase

During this phase the energy will be rising, but there still may be a little fatigue from menstruation so it might not be feasible to expect that a woman will be able to go back to high intensity workouts this week.

During the follicular phase, my clients tend to be more capable of getting into:

  • Steady state cardio
  • Short circuit training or H.I.I.T. workouts
  • Moderate weight training
  • Contralateral and compound movements

This is basically the time where you can start revving your engine again and kicking it up a notch. 

You might not feel fully able to get into heavy lifting just yet but you do feel more capable than you did last week. 


If you struggle with fluctuations in your energy and strength during your menstrual cycle, I highly recommend you take advantage of the ovulation phase.

During this phase most women will have the highest capacity for performance.

It’s during their ovulation phase that I noticed my clients do their best:

  • Heavy weight lifting
  • Interval training
  • Cross training
  • Testing for PR 
  • Endurance training
  • Adherence to nutrition program
  • Drinking of water

This is the time of the month to really challenge yourself in the gym and modestly increase the exercise intensity.

(If the mention of weightlifting made you cringe, make sure to check out our Women and Weightlifting blog to help debunk any myths you may have heard.)

***Be wary of overtraining. Don’t do anything that you know your body is not capable of or cannot heal from: you will be approaching menstruation soon! 

Luteal Phase

In my experience the training for this phase varies from woman to woman.

Some women ride the high of ovulation all the way until a few days before menstruation. 

Other women immediately feel the end of their ovulation and will have a difficult week or so before the menstruation even happens.

Because of this, my following recommendations are very modest and very generalized, and I strongly assert my constant recommendation that you do what feels right for your body

Here’s some gentle things to help your body approach menstruation:

  • Foam roll and work on joint mobility to reduce muscle soreness before menstruation begins
  • Try out the jacuzzi or sauna, not only for stress relief but to help your body cleanse from any toxins and prevent any imbalance of hormones
  • Shorten up your workouts but keep the intensity by dialing down to H.I.I.T. workouts for 30 to 40 minutes
  • Try a workout class that makes you feel good, instead of thinking about which one is going to make you burn the most calories. If you find a workout class that you like before the depression of menstruation hits you may stick to it even though you are going through menstruation

Just kind of do whatever feels good for your body at this phase, and consider and respect the fact that you are going to be bleeding soon. 

Take into consideration how menstruation is for you. 

Do you bleed a lot? 

If so, you probably don’t want to do anything that’s going to contribute to any dehydration like crossfit outside in the sun for 2 hours.

Do you tend to have a lot of cramps? 

If you do then it’s probably not a great idea to do anything that makes you really sore before menstruation is going to start. 

How Should I Be Eating During Each Phase of My Cycle?

As I said above, if you are changing anything about your lifestyle to accommodate your menstrual cycle, it is probably because you have noticed your body fluctuating with your cycle.

Please make sure to always respect your body and your doctor’s advice before making any changes to your lifestyle. 


During menstruation women tend to have low energy which can cause cravings for carbohydrates and specifically fast-acting carbohydrates like simple sugars. 

Learn about fast acting carbohydrates and simple sugars on my blog, Are Carbs the Devil

Women can also be experiencing things like dehydration, depression, symptoms of anemia and more! 

To assist with this my clients have found it helpful to:

  • Increase intake complex carbohydrates 
  • Increase intake of healthy fat sources
  • Increase intake of leafy green vegetables
  • Increase intake of watery fruits 
  • Decrease intake of processed or pre-prepared foods
  • Decrease intake of dairy and animal product 
  • Consume smaller meals more frequently 

Unfortunately this is also the time of month that you will probably be craving the most junk food, and it will be the hardest time of the month for you to digest that without negative side effects. 

If possible, I would recommend avoiding junk food during the week of menstruation. 

Follicular phase

During the follicular phase a lot of your cravings are going to subside and your hunger levels may even start to decrease.

Some women are still recovering from menstruation during this phase and find it helpful to continue organizing their eating.

Here are some things that can help you with recovery:

  • Increase intake of fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Gently increase protein intake
  • Increase water intake, if necessary
  • Add probiotics into your diet, if they are not already

Eating during this time of month tends to be pretty simple as your appetite is starting to decrease naturally, but your nutrient intake should be high from the menstrual phase. 

***Learn about sources of probiotics in our Gut Health Blog


Believe it or not, in my experience, ovulation can be one of the trickier phases of the cycle for women to eat during.

If a woman has estrogen dominance, she may have a feeling of sickness which causes an inability to eat.

If a woman does not have estrogen dominance and is hormonally balanced, she will still tend to have a reduced appetite during this time of month and a tendency to forget to eat. 

Either way, under-eating is common during this phase which is detrimental because this is also the phase during which a woman may be the most active. 

It is also more common for women to socialize and do outings during this phase of their cycle-I have observed a higher intake of alcohol and restaurant food consumption in my clients during this phase of their cycle. 

To help balance this here is what my clients do:

  • Increase water intake
  • Increase intake of nutrient dense snacks or meals such as mixed salads or blended smoothies
  • Increase availability of non-perishable snacks such as granola bars, chia seed pudding pouches, or trail mix
  • Moderate carbohydrate intake, especially in the latter half of the day
  • Use the energy to meal prep and restock the kitchen this week

Ironically this is a great time of month for activity, and a notoriously awful time of month for eating!

Luteal Phase

It is during the luteal phase that women tend to experience the most cravings.

Every woman’s cravings are different, but they tend to either be something salty and carb-dense, or sweet and carb-dense.

I speculate that the carb cravings are probably caused by the decline (and then abrupt estrogen rise) of hormones and the fatigue that it causes. 

Also, because of water retention, a lot of women naturally feel less signals for thirst and so naturally drink less water during this phase of their cycle.

To help their bodies adapt to this, my applicable clients make the following adjustments to their diet during this phase of their cycle:

  • Increase intake of fresh fruits
  • Increase intake of complex carbohydrates
  • Increase intake of polyunsaturated fats
  • Avoid processed sugars
  • Consume natural anti-inflammatory foods
  • Eat and smaller meals more frequently

This is another phase of the cycle that is hard to stick to healthy eating habits due to cravings.

Be gentle and be patient with yourself. 

If you find that you are indulging your cravings during this part of your cycle, do not try to save calories by under-eating after. 

You are going to make your cycle more miserable.

If you overeat or eat junk food, let it happen, forgive yourself, and eat normally the next day. 

Listening To Signals From The Body

Taking rest

Knowing when to rest is the trademark of a truly strong person.

Recognizing and respecting your body’s need for rest is one of the best things that you can do for your fitness journey. 

Here are some indications that your body is asking for rest:

  • You find yourself going to bed earlier or waking up later 
  • You notice a reduction in strength or endurance during a workout 
  • You have trouble staying focused and energized throughout the day 
  • You are craving a lot of sugar, especially at night 
  • You notice that you are irritable and short-tempered 
  • You feel chronically achy or sore 
  • You feel depressed about working out or eating 
  • You notice that you are chronically catching colds 

There are many more ways that your body may be telling you that you need rest but these are just some of the top ones.

If you feel that your body needs a break, that’s something that your intuition is going to tell you, and it is always something that you should respect.

Breaks can be used for things like soaking in the tub, massage, stretching or just laying around all day.

When you are taking a break, make sure it is a break for you and something that helps your body truly unwind. 

Eating more food

The cue to eat more food during certain parts of their cycle, is something that women often fear and ignore.

It can be confusing when your appetite suddenly increases, and when you find yourself insatiably craving foods that you know are bad for you. 

My recommendation is this…

Eat more food! 

Eat more food that you know is healthy for you, and watch how much that decreases your cravings for less healthy foods.

And honestly if you do indulge in a less healthy food, it’s not that big of a deal as long as you are balancing that habit with healthier habits. 

If your body is sending more hunger signals, respect them because they are happening for a reason.

One of the most notable things that I have noticed in both myself and many of my clients, is a similar reaction to trying to adhere to a strict diet during the luteal phase of the cycle. 

Ignoring the increased hunger cues often led to an increased feeling of inflammation and location, whereas respecting the hunger cues and increasing food intake often results in reduced inflammation and an increased look of leanness on the body. 

Respecting the need for more food during this time of month has also seemed to reduce symptoms of cramping, lethargy and fatigue in myself and a lot of my clients. 

This often results in an ability to resume normal training during the luteal phase of the cycle. 

It’s amazing what simply listening to your body can do! 

Drinking less water

Reduced water intake is something that I have observed in women as they are in the luteal-menstrual phase of their cycle.

It does not seem to express symptoms of dehydration as it would in other phases of the cycle, so I believe it to be related to water retention.

It is actually a automatic thought in my brain now, when a client comes to me and tells me that for some reason she has been struggling to drink her water this week and that every time she goes to drink water she almost feels gross and disgusted by it, I immediately asked her what phase of her cycle she is in and we pull up her projected menstruation date.

It is always the case that this is happening five to seven days before menstruation begins.

When this happens I just ask that my clients get as close as possible to their recommended daily water intake, and try to consume fresh fruits and vegetables as an additional source of water, but I also don’t stress about it very much because I know that water intake is going to increase dramatically once menstruation begins. 

Special considerations

If you have any hormone imbalance or condition that affects your hormones at all this information will probably not be applicable to you.

As I have mentioned briefly throughout, conditions such as estrogen dominance can cause women to feel directly oppositional to what I have described. 

Afflictions such as PCOS and endometriosis can also have a similar disruptive effect on the body and the cycle that will cause this information to be irrelevant to you. 

Even birth control will make your cycle feel wildly different than what I have described.

If for any reason this information does not feel applicable or right for you and your body, that is completely okay!

The real point of this article is to encourage you to listen to and respect your body. Even if it’s telling you something different!

Please always consult with your medical doctor before making any changes at all to your lifestyle-especially if you struggle with hormone balance.

What’s the takeaway?

The cycle that the female body is on can be a struggle for some women, especially during a fitness journey. 

Learning about your different phases and tracking your cycle is a great way to start respecting your body and what it needs in every phase. 

Listen to, interpret and apply the messages and information that your body is giving you to really optimize your health!

Here is a recap of the additional information that I offered throughout:

And here is a link to one of my favorite books and a must-read for any woman: Hormonal by Martie Haselton.

Your monthly cycle may change your ability to adhere to your fitness program, and that’s okay! 

Respect your body and it’s phases to maximize your results on your fitness journey!

This article was written by Elexis Smolak CPT, CNC, WFS founder of Adapted Fitness and Integrative Health and Fitness Specialist for Women. Learn more or schedule a virtual coffee at