We tell you everything you need to know about fat loss in women. All the variables at play: training, diet during the menstrual cycle…
Having a little free time, I’ve decided to write a guide for those women looking to improve their body composition (fat and muscle mass).
Women and the Menstrual Cycle
The first thing we need to know is that the hormonal fluctuation of women is very different to that of men:
- For men, we have stable levels of testosterone over the whole month, meaning we don’t need to worry about it. That’s to say, we simply need to train, rest and eat correctly and the results will come…
- For women, our beloved menstrual cycle causes hormonal, metabolic and even behavioural changes.
When we talk about the menstrual cycle, we can divide it into two phases:
- Follicular phase, which, as its name indicates, is characterised by the development of follicles, where one of them will mature to release the egg that will go to the fallopian tube.
- Luteal Phase, where the corpus luteum develops and if fertilisation does not take place, detachment occurs, producing the menstruation.
Why do I mention this?
Simply because hormones vary a large amount in both cases. In this article, I’ll focus principally on two: Oestrogens and Progesterone.
Oestrogen, despite always being seen as the bad hormone in the movies, helps
- Improve sensitivity to insulin in muscle;
- Oxidate more carbohydrates;
- Reduce appetite (Czaja & Goy, 1975), and in general,
- Provides more energy for carrying out activities.
This effect might be due to its interaction with the leptin hormone, which plays a fundamental role in controlling the amount of calories we take in and burn.
What has been observed is that when oestrogen levels are low, the effect of leptin at the central level decreases (especially in the arcuato nucleus on AgRP and POMC).
PMS (Pre-Menstrual Syndrome)
On the other hand, during PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome), appetite increases (Asarian & Geary, 2002), sensitivity to carbohydrates worsens, and women tend to partake in less physical activity.
This creates ideal conditions for an increase in body fat.
Some studies1, have shown that during the pre-menstrual phase, women increase their calorie intake through high fat and refined sugar foods, and lower their protein consumption.
As a reminder, women tend to store more fat in the lower body, especially in the hips and gluteus.
It is in these areas that larger adipocytes (fat storing cells) have been observed, as well as more alpha and less beta receptors, making it difficult for the body to use these cells to release fatty acids for energy.
Hormones and fat
You’ll never guess which two hormones also regulate the amount of “fat” we store.
Yes, oestrogen and progesterone.
- Oestrogens reduce the activity of LPL, an enzyme (protein) that promotes the storage of body fat.
- Progesterone increase the activity of this3, 4.
How to put all this information into practice during the menstrual cycle?
Diet and Exercise during the Menstrual Cycle
Dividing our plan into two phases:
- High amount of carbohydrates and workouts of a greater intensity
- High amount of fats with more aerobic or less intense workouts.
Obviously, this will be marked by the menstrual cycle, having more carbs pre-ovulation and more fat post-ovulation (which would be the week before menstruation).
During the Follicular Phase
In the post-menstruation phase:
- Weights exercises.
- High intensity workouts, which we’ll recover from easily thanks to the high-carbohydrate diet (and largely the improved sensitivity to insulin through the oestrogen).
- At this stage we will consume around 1.8g of protein/Kg body weight.
- Foods such as rice, potato, sweet potato, honey, fruits and quinoa, etc. – without forgetting a moderate contribution of fats, vegetables (particularly green leafy vegetables).
During the Luteal Phase
- We’ll do aerobic exercises.
- We’ll increase the protein intake to 2-2.5g/Body-Kg (because of its satiating effect)
- We’ll base our diet on foods rich in fibre and with low calorie density (vegetables and green leafs).
- Monounsaturated fats or those rich in omega 3 (anti-inflammatory).
Supplements for PMS
There are a number of supplements that can help reduce the symptoms of PMS: anxiety, stress, bad humour, and fatigue..
I hope this is helpful for you and that, above all, makes it easier for you to keep to your nutritional plan!
- Changes in nutrient intake during the menstrual cycle of overweight women with premenstrual syndrome. Cross GB1, Marley J, Miles H, Willson K.
- Modest changes in dietary intake across the menstrual cycle: implications for food intake research.Bryant M1, Truesdale KP, Dye L.
- Oestrogen regulation of adipose tissue lipoprotein lipase— Possible mechanism of body fat distribution. Thomas M. Price, MD,a Susan N. O’Brien, PhD,b Brenda H. Welter, MT(ASCP),b Richard George, MD,b Jyoti Anandjiwala, PhD, b and Michael Kilgore, PhDb
- Effect of Local Application of Progesterone on Human Adipose Tissue Lipoprotein Lipase. M. Rebuffe-Scrive, A. Basdevant and B. Guy-Grand
- If you want to find out 4 reasons women should do strength training, click here.
- How to treat cellulitis? There’s more information in this post.
- Supplements for the Menstrual Cycle.