How your menstrual cycle can improve your performance

When it comes to your exercise routine, do you know how to use your menstrual cycle to your advantage? We look at the benefits of your menstrual cycle for sports performance.

Periods and exercise are two words that do not often appear together in the same sentence. Shockingly, the menstrual cycle stops 73% of 16 to 24-year-old women from exercising altogether [1].

Growing amounts of evidence show that regular exercise throughout your cycle (even at low intensity such as stretching) can help manage symptoms during your period [2]. What’s more, getting to know your own body and the hormonal changes you experience can help you work out at your best, but how?

Understanding your menstrual cycle

Your menstrual cycle is your body’s natural reproductive changes, controlled by your hormones. On average, a menstrual cycle will last for 28 days, but cycles can last for anywhere from 21 days to 40 days [3].

The effect of the menstrual cycle on sports performance

Every woman is unique, and so are their hormones and exercise needs. However, a good understanding of how the phases of your menstrual cycle can affect your energy levels can help you maximise your workouts during your cycle.

Here is a basic guide to exercise throughout the four phases of your cycle. 

1. The early follicular phase (days 1-5)

Your early follicular phase is when your body sheds its lining (ie. you have a period)[1]. This is the time when both of your hormones oestrogen and progesterone are low. It is not uncommon to experience symptoms such as painful cramping and tiredness during this phase.

Exercises for the early follicular phase:

  • Regular physical activity (such as stretching) can be beneficial for menstrual symptoms [2], so you don’t need to stop your routine.
  • You could try doing more yoga or pilates during this phase. These exercises are lower in intensity but still offer considerable benefits to your health.

2. Late follicular phase (days 6-14)

During your late follicular phase, your symptoms will likely start to reduce, which can make you have more energy and feel more motivated. The day before ovulation (day 13), oestrogen is at its highest. Oestrogen is known to help with strength and building muscle mass (it is anabolic) [4,5], meaning it is the ideal time for more strength and resistance exercises.

Exercises for the late follicular phase:

  • You may feel like picking up your exercise pace or intensity, and you may start to think about taking yourself on a jog.
  • You may gain the most benefits from your strength training at this time [12] - so lifting weights can be beneficial during this phase.

Make sure you warm up and warm down, though (as always). Some research has found that high oestrogen levels are associated with increased injury risk [4], such as ligament injury.

3. Ovulation (around day 14)

Around day 14 of your cycle, you will get a surge in hormones called luteinising hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). The release of these hormones triggers ovulation – this is when your ovaries release your developing egg from your follicle, which then travels from your ovary into your womb (uterus).

4. Luteal phase (days 14- 28)

The second stage of the menstrual cycle is called the luteal phase. This is where (unless fertilised) the empty egg follicle in your ovary turns into a structure called a corpus luteum. This corpus luteum produces more hormones, including high amounts of progesterone and small amounts of oestrogen.

Progesterone can improve sleep quality (essential for repairing your body after a bout of exercise) [6] but the late luteal phase could also lower your mood and make you feel more fatigued [7,8]. It has also been found that your body temperature is higher during the luteal phase, which can increase your sweat loss [12], so ensure to hydrate well!

Your energy needs increase by around 9% in the luteal phase, meaning you may crave more calories [8, 9, 10, 13]. Remember that it is good to give your body the fuel it needs - it is essential to ensure you fuel properly before and after exercise. A shortfall in calories, along with insufficient rest and recovery, could put you at risk of overtraining syndrome.

If the egg does not get fertilised by sperm, the corpus luteum breaks down, and your hormones fall to low levels. This fall in hormones occurs at around day 28 and triggers the beginning of menstruation (a new period).

Exercises for the luteal phase:

  • Aim to keep your exercise enjoyable and straightforward at this time. Choose the exercises you know well and enjoy most. This could lift your mood and increase your overall feelings of accomplishment.

Get to know your own body.

Every woman’s body is unique, so do not use this as a strict guide. The key to success is to listen to your body and track your data. Here are a few ways to do that. 

  • Our Female Hormone Blood Test or Ovulation Progesterone Blood Test can help track your hormones or indicate whether you have ovulated and are in the luteal phase.
  • The Curve – A training programme which allows you to train, eat and recover more intuitively with your female body.
  • Fitr Women – An app which helps you to track your menstrual cycle. It provides personalised training and nutritional suggestions tailored to your cycle.
  • Listen to your body – Record metrics such as your sleep and energy levels, cramping or breast pain or even your body temperature and compare these alongside your sports performance. 

Are your female hormones sabotaging your weight loss? Find out more in our blog on how hormones affect weight loss

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[2] Motahari-Tabari, N., Shirvani, M.A. and Alipour, A., 2017. Comparison of the effect of stretching exercises and mefenamic acid on the reduction of pain and menstruation characteristics in primary dysmenorrhea: a randomized clinical trial. Oman medical journal, 32(1), p.47.




[6] Nolan, B.J., Liang, B. and Cheung, A.S., 2020. Efficacy of micronised progesterone for sleep: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trial data. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

[7] Freeman, E.W., Purdy, R.H., Coutifaris, C., Rickels, K. and Paul, S.M., 1993. Anxiolytic metabolites of progesterone: correlation with mood and performance measures following oral progesterone administration to healthy female volunteers. Neuroendocrinology, 58(4), pp.478-484.

[8] Reed, S.C., Levin, F.R. and Evans, S.M., 2008. Changes in mood, cognitive performance and appetite in the late luteal and follicular phases of the menstrual cycle in women with and without PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder). Hormones and behavior, 54(1), pp.185-193.

[9] Brennan, I.M., Feltrin, K.L., Nair, N.S., Hausken, T., Little, T.J., Gentilcore, D., Wishart, J.M., Jones, K.L., Horowitz, M. and Feinle-Bisset, C., 2009. Effects of the phases of the menstrual cycle on gastric emptying, glycemia, plasma GLP-1 and insulin, and energy intake in healthy lean women. American Journal of Physiology-Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology, 297(3), pp.G602-G610.

[10] Howe, S.M., Hand, T.M. and Manore, M.M., 2014. Exercise-trained men and women: role of exercise and diet on appetite and energy intake. Nutrients, 6(11), pp.4935-4960.

[11] Sung, E., Han, A., Hinrichs, T., Vorgerd, M., Manchado, C. and Platen, P., 2014. Effects of follicular versus luteal phase-based strength training in young women. Springerplus, 3(1), pp.1-10.

[12] Garcia, A.M.C., Lacerda, M.G., Fonseca, I.A.T., Reis, F.M., Rodrigues, L.O.C. and Silami-Garcia, E., 2006. Luteal phase of the menstrual cycle increases sweating rate during exercise. Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research, 39(9), pp.1255-1261.

[13] Webb, P., 1986. 24-hour energy expenditure and the menstrual cycle. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 44(5), pp.614-619.


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