Feeling weaker on your period isn’t an illusion — here’s how to keep building strength during your follicular phase.
Exercising when we’re on our periods can be hard. You might feel sluggish, crampy or so bloated that the last thing you want to do is pull on tight Lycra. And if you do make it into the gym, you might feel like you can’t push your weights anywhere close to what you usually do.
But a new study has found there’s a way to beat period fatigue during your follicular phase and – surprise surprise – it’s down to your caffeine intake.
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In the research, published in the Journal Of Sports Sciences, gym-going women with regular period cycles had their muscle strength, power and endurance tested using different variations of squats. That included a one-rep max test, counting reps to failure at 80% of the participant’s max, using an isometric hold and a squat jump test.
The women showed reduced muscular performance during their early-follicular phase, just as their period started, providing further evidence for the under-researched subject of how our cycles impact our workouts.
But most importantly, researchers found that this decline in performance was rectified by drinking 5mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight (around 350mg for a 70kg woman, the equivalent of roughly three and a half cups of coffee).
In fact, the “magnitude of gains” in each exercise was higher in the early-follicular phase after caffeine than in the mid-luteal phase without the boost. Researchers concluded that the energy gained from drinking caffeine mitigates the decline in muscular performance we see during our periods.
That means we could experience less sluggish workouts by simply drinking more caffeine. As well as helping you feel more motivated and less frustrated during your bleed, that might mean improvements in long-term strength gains as you won’t be reducing your load for a week every month.
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However, it’s worth noting the study was preliminary – and only included 14 participants – so we can’t yet apply these conclusions to every woman. And the amount of caffeine was high – given the safe upper limit is 400mg per day, it’s a lot to consume in one go, especially for those who are sensitive to caffeine.
But it’s still a hugely interesting study, particularly as little research has been done on the effect of periods on strength training and weight lifting. You probably shouldn’t take this as gospel, but it’s useful to know that downing another coffee might help you lift more when your period strikes.
Alternatively, you can use this research as further evidence that your period fatigue is down to your biology and you can accept that there will be a few sessions a month in which you don’t feel your best – and that’s OK.
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