As part of our Menstrual Magic campaign to highlight awareness of our periods as performance enhancers, we are taking a look at the different factors at play to start to understand what is taking place in our bodies each month, and how we can begin to unlock the potential of our menstrual cycle when it comes to skating.
To do this, we must first understand the underlying hormones at play, and what they are each responsible for…
Let’s delve in!
Estrogen and progesterone are the main female sex hormones, and both help to regulate the menstrual cycle.
Please note; Our illustrations are for edutainment purposes only – both Estrogen and Progesterone are important hormones – it’s all about balance!
Predominantly responsible for the physical changes that occur in puberty – boobs and body hair – Estrogen is also responsible for those changes you feel at the beginning of your menstrual cycle.
This stuff is produced in higher quantities each day during the first couple of weeks of your cycle and is mostly produced in the ovaries, with adrenal glands and fat tissue coming in with some secondary back up juice.
Estrogen moves throughout your body and affects nearly EVERY tissue, including your brain, bones, heart, skin, and more.
So what does it do?
Studies indicate that estrogen levels play a role in how the menstruating body metabolizes macronutrients. When estrogen levels are high, the body increases the use of fat for fuel over carbs during endurance activities. So if you have a goal of losing a bit of fat, going for a skate when estrogen levels are highest may help – and if not, then pack some cake with you to the park!
Since the body chooses to use fat as its primary source of fuel during these high estrogen times, stored energy from carbs is not depleted as quickly; so you may find your skating endurance is increased. Some runners consider this an ideal time to participate in long-distance events.
Many people who menstruate note that they feel the strongest when estrogen is at its peak (ovulation phase). It’s thought that this might be because testosterone levels are at their highest during this time too. So, if you are looking to learn a new trick, or try something a bit bigger or scarier than usual, do it around the time of ovulation!
Estrogen also appears to influence serotonin (the “happy hormone”), so this is likely why you may feel more energetic and confident as estrogen levels rise during the follicular phase (first half of your cycle – more on this later). This might be a good time to meet friends for social skates or visit new skateparks!
While estrogen can make us stronger, faster, and more confident, it’s important to note that it can also make us more prone to getting injured. Estrogen has been shown to make our ligaments more lax, increasing the risk for injury when levels are high. Don’t let this put you off the thought of pushing yourself – just make sure you are mindful, do your warm up (and warm down!) stretches, and maybe wrap up with some support tape around this time if you have pre exiting injuries.
Also mostly produced in the ovaries (busy little beans!) as well as the adrenal glands, and the placenta when pregnant. Progesterone is known as the more “chilled” hormone of the two, and production of this stuff is ramped up during the last couple weeks of your cycle.
What does that do?
Progesterone “counters” the effects of estrogen in the body – this helps to increase sleepiness, build and maintain bone, and promote appetite and fat storage, among lots of other things.
During the Luteal phase (latter half of your period), estrogen levels calm down and progesterone levels step up. We can thank progesterone for our moodiness, cramping, cravings, and lots of other PMS symptoms. If you are feeling low energy – maybe you can’t ollie as high or push as fast – that’s probably because your estrogen has left home, so try to be kind yourself! Since overall strength and performance isn’t at its highest, this would be a good time to have a more chilled skate, go for a cruise, or just had a bit of self care time!
As your estrogen dips, your serotonin is also likely to wane. This can lowers our energy levels and is also probably the reason our self-confidence has seen better days. Stay strong, and remind yourself that you’re not ‘getting worse’ at skating, you also aren’t imagining things; chemicals are to blame and they will level off after a week or so.
If you haven’t already noticed, progesterone’s effect on the body seems to be in direct opposition to that of estrogen. In this phase, the body prefers sugar for fuel, which is the reason for those cravings in the period lead up.
Progesterone also has a catabolic reaction to protein. This means that if you don’t eat enough protein in the luteal phase, you risk losing muscle through something called ‘muscle protein breakdown’. Be sure to eat as much (if not more!) protein than usual during this phase.
Progesterone increases core body temperature, which means you are likely to get tired more quickly when you skate – so maybe hold off that heavy session until next week.
So to recap, the closer you get to your period, the more likely you are going to be tired, have cravings and cramps. There are better phases to go for those super hard skate sessions, but if you can’t avoid it, just make sure to eat plenty of protein whilst progesterone levels are high!
So now that we know the two main hormones and when their concentrations are at their highest, we can take a look at the menstrual cycle itself, see the natural patterns, and work out ways to harness their power. There are four main phases in the menstrual cycle – Menstruation, Follicular, Ovulation and the Luteal phase. There is some overlap between the phases, with Follicular and Luteal sometimes being split further into ‘early’ and ‘late’ phases.
Here we take a very brief look at the different phases of the menstrual cycle, we’ll go in to each of these deeper in the coming weeks.
First day you bleed = Day 1 of your cycle.
Days 1-7 (ish); Rest – It’s the Menstruation Phase!
Lasting anywhere from 2-7 days with an average of 4, the menstruation phase is the most well known phase of our menstrual cycle – for obvious reasons. Emotions are high and irritability is strong! Depending on how your body copes with symptoms, you may feel the need to take it easy, or stay in and rest during this time.
Days 1-14; Level it up – It’s the Follicular phase!
Overlapping with the menstruation is the follicular phase. As you near the end of your period you start to perk up, and in the week leading up to ovulation, you are able to skate harder and for longer. Pain and discomfort tolerances are higher, and your strength and stamina are ramped up. Time to get skating!
Day 14 (ish); Beast mode – It’s the Ovulation phase!
You are an energy channeling powerhouse during this phase! Now is the perfect time to go for those bucket list tricks, but don’t just take our word it – this study in the Journal of Physiology goes into the finer deets. Make the most of the increased power, strength and confidence this week, skate hard but remember to be diligent and do your warm up stretches as estrogen is high – which as we spoke about earlier – can make you prone to injury. Metabolism is ramping up but insulin sensitivity is starting to decline. Eat a balanced diet and listen to your body.
Ovulation occurs around day 14 (obvs dependant on your bodies natural groove).
Days 15-28+; Chill out and eat cake – It’s the Luteal phase!
During the luteal phase, its likely you’ll be more tired, struggle to ollie as high, and have less stamina. Your body also tends toward burning fat for fuel and insulin sensitivity is lower, so if you have no interest in losing weight, it might be helpful to eat some more fats! This is a good time to take it a bit easier when it comes to skating, a chilled cruise or a mini ramp skate could be perfect during this phase. Do remember that PMS symptoms creep up toward the end of this phase – so go easy on yourself!
Each week throughout March we will be focusing on a different phase, we’ll learn the finer details of the dominant hormone of each phase, what to expect, what to avoid, and what measurements we can take to maintain our health and enhance our performance.