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How to boost your natural qualities according to your biology

Uppdaterat: 22 okt. 2023

Improve your wellbeing with your Period - A manifesto for female health-ivism


Let's start with the Bio-basics & tools

Women have three hormones (oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone) where men have one (testosterone). This blog focuses on these three and how we can work with and not against them, in order to instantly improve your overall wellbeing - including men that can improve their understanding of your fellow sisters, girlfriends, daughters and mothers.

The first bio-tool is that women will benefit from planning and working in monthly and not weekly or daily cycles. This means that your mental, physical and emotional wellbeing will instantly improve when you start using this natural periodisation in your fundamental life trinity of recovery, nutrition & movement.


One clear example of this is to use your hormone cycle to naturally periodise your training.

See our previous blog about Period and periodizing - How your natural hormones can boost your training, that describes how your low hormonal phase (follicular phase, day 1-14 isch) and high hormonal phase (day 15-28 isch) enables a perfect monthly training programming.


You can also listen to our episode about Female health and hormonal balance together with Food pharmacy, episode nr. 300 published the 19th of October 2023 - in Swedish.


What does this mean?

What these different hormonal phases enables is periods within the monthly period to push hard with training and external work as well as to recover and focus more on internal work.

The second bio-tool therefore follows as how we in short term can track, see and feel each low- and high hormone phase and compare them to the next months' in order further understand and take control of our long-term wellbeing - i.e. we compare low-hormone phases to each other and high-hormone phases to each other.

If you're using some kind of health tracker you will see most of these changes in your data log/app, otherwise you will for sure feel it. The values to the left during the low-hormone phase are the most stable and preferred for wellbeing "data-wise", example a low resting heart rate and respiratory rate are preferred to a high resting heart rate and respiratory rate.


Looking at the high-and low hormone phases like this clarifies why you should not compare low hormone weeks to high hormone weeks. Instead, track and compare your low-hormone weeks to the next month's as well as comparing your high-hormone weeks to the next month's. Preferably during several months so you get a better understanding of your hormones and cyclic uniqueness.


Why is this happening?

Your hormones affects your autonomous nervous system (ANS) that has two main divisions: The Parasympathetic (recovery) and Sympathetic (stress).


Progesterone that increases during the high-hormone phase has a high sympathetic drive which decreases your vagus nerve toning, where oestrogen does the opposite. Another converse is that oestrogen is an anabolic hormone (building), where progesterone is catabolic (breaking) and use your lean body mass to build endometrial lining in the uterus. Progesterone also takes carbohydrates from the liver and the muscles to use it as glycogen storage in the endometrial lining. This is why your RHR and respiratory rate is increasing, and your HRV and immune system is decreasing.


Peaking hormone levels also make recovery and sleeping difficult, which can decrease the amount of needed restorative sleep. The switch in immune system, to decrease and be more pro-inflammatory, is mainly because that the body does not want to “attack” a potential fertilized egg.


This means that a woman's entire autonomous nervous system (ANS) naturally changes every month- going from being a energised lioness one week to stressfully fleeing from one the week after.

The above means that during your high-hormone phase (day 15-28 isch) your whole body is in stress and a light survival mode - in order to create new life. Therefore it's not just your physical training that will benefit from flowing with these hormonal waves - but also your cognitive and emotional performance.


How do I start?

Your goal is not to change, but to work with your natural hormones and nervous system somewhat cyclic changes. All cycles are individual and can't be generalised, so since it's your very own hormones you need to start tracking your own cycle.



1. Start by tracking your period for around 12 weeks (3 cycles isch) and measure your biological values/data during this and onwards: such as RHR, HRV, respiratory rate, temperature, sleep, training intensity and mood etc. Use Whoop, Fitbit, Oura or whatever suits you.* If possible, do a blood test to check your vitamin, mineral and organ values.


2. Compare your values in your high and low hormone phases separately, i.e. compare your first high hormone (Luteal) phase with the second and third high hormone (Luteal) phase and not a high hormone (Luteal) phase with a low hormone (Follicular) phase from step 1. You will then see how much these high and low hormone phases actually affects you differently!


3. Plan your coming month as much as you can based on your biological values and data that you have collected and compared from step 1 & 2. Be honest and adapt your recovery, nutrition needs as well as training possibilities according to your period’s phases that you discovered in step 2. Again, it's your life and hormones - start by adding positive adaptations instead of removing things that does not work optimal but still works for you.


4. Continue thriving and tracking your "basic" health data in this positive cycle in your own cycle, where longer periods of tracking will give you more and more individual insights. You will become better at feeling and understanding your own body and minds signals. The purpose is to better control what you actually can control, such as your sleeping, eating and training habits that will build your foundational wellbeing needed in order to thrive emotionally, cognitive and strength wise forever and ever.


What can you add and how?

Bio-tool number three - Create your optimal Recovery, Movement & Nutrition toolbox


Tools for increased recovery:

Sleep is the best recovery but not only. Recovery is the lack of stress, this goes for both your body and mind since our nervous system does not differ between physical and psychological stress or threats. See our blogs about stress and increased wellbeing by breathing exercises.


During the high-hormone phase try to get more hours of rest and sleep since your sleep quality, i.e. restorative sleep with REM and Deep sleep, will likely decrease. This means that you might have to go to bed earlier, or wake up a little bit later in order to get enough of that well needed restorative sleep.


During the low-hormone phase your body is quite forgiving when it comes to maintaining restorative sleep, where even getting fewer hours of sleep will likely still mean that you're getting enough REM and Deep sleep. If there's a late night or party it's preferable to plan for these in your low-hormone phase. Once again, if possible since life rarely sticks to your plan!


The fundamentals of good sleep is habits, no matter what phase you're in. These habits can be describes as your sleep protocol(s), i.e. your own routines or set of rules done each day to ensure a good nights sleep.


We will give examples of some habits and help to include in your very own protocol.





The Habits:

Most important routine: go to bed and wake up at around the same time every day even on weekends.


Watch the sunrise and sunset, even when it's cloudy. Not just because it's nice and beautiful but in order to increase early-day cortisol release, i.e. the ideal time for elevated cortisol. Apart from being more awake, this prepares your body for sleep later that night. Watching the sun after waking up as well as seeing it set (if possible) will set and strengthen your circadian rhythm overall.


It's not just the sun's light that will make you more awake. Looking at bright (indoor) overhead light before bedtime will affect your circadian rhythm negatively.


Blue light blockers can help against the colourful light from screens, but turning off your computer, phone and other digital devices an hour before sleeping is the best - both for your eyes and also mental state. So dim your lights and choose the moonlight and candlelights instead of screens.


If you need a nap keep it to 30-60 minutes in the early afternoon. Otherwise it might disturb your restorative more needed night sleep.


If you have a hard time falling asleep, wake up in the middle of the night or if you wake up drained from a bad nights sleep - do a non-sleep deep rest (NSDR) or a yoga nidra session for 5-10 minutes. These are helpful methods for deep relaxation.


Wait 60-90 minutes with your coffee after waking up, and try taking your last cup no later than 8-10hrs before going to sleep. The reason to wait is that caffeine is an adenosine receptor blocker, where adenosine is what makes you tired and drowsy. In the morning you still have some adenosine left, where if you drink caffein instantly you will block the receptor too early having that left over adenosine making you drowsy in the afternoon. So by waiting a bit your adenosine levels will drop even more, blocking those receptors when your adenosine levels are empty and thereby preventing that afternoon drowsiness.


Magnesium is a non-hormonal supplements that's very helpful for good sleep, and also prevents menstrual cramps. Try taking Magnesium Bisglycinate an hour before sleep.


Tea or supplements with L-theanine, camomile and ashwagandha will help you to relax and also fall into deep sleep faster.


GABA is a substance found naturally in the body that has a calming effect on the nervous system, which makes it an extra good supplement during your high-hormone phase. Your body produce a lot of GABA itself, but with lack of sleep, stress and/or a poor diet, the nervous system can end up in an imbalance that causes the level of GABA to drop.


Melatonin is also naturally produced in your body and regulates sleep, but it's a hormone and therefore should not be taken on a regular basis. It has shown to suppress the onset of puberty, as well as the female production of progesterone and therefore affecting the menstrual cycle. Melatonin does make you drowsy, but in does not help you to fall into deep sleep which means that you can wake up in the middle of the night wide awake since it does not keep you in the restorative sleep.



Tools for increased movement capacity:

Yes, you should continue moving and training throughout your whole period and life!


As we mentioned in the beginning you're born with the best of periodisations naturally - variating from high intensity periods of strength and cardio - to de-load with technique focus and (nervous system) recovery.


Your natural hormonal periodisation in short:


Day 1-7 isch (menses) : dropping hormonal levels mean that you're primed for high-to-moderate intensity training sessions, go for 50-75% of max.

Day 8-14 isch (around ovulation): increase your training intensity gradually where you're likely the most superwoman during ovulation, go for high-intensity 75-100% of max.

Day 15-23 isch (progesterone rising): decrease your intensity but keep the amount of training sessions, go for 50-90% of max.

Day 24-28 isch (pms): time for recovery and de-load sessions, focus on breathing exercises to tune your vagus nerve as well as technique training.



Keeping a weekly structure in terms of how many training sessions you do and adapting the intensity of them depending on where in your period you are enables a natural and strong flow - both performance and recovery wise.


Resistance/Strength training and HIIT (high intensity intervals) are vital for women all throughout life, including menopause.


These sessions are recommended every week:

- Three sessions of resistance/strength training (50-100% of max)

- Two HIIT sessions (30 s full work + full rest x 5-6 times)

- Three Zone 2 cardio sessions á 30-90 min for aerobic training (60-70% of max pulse)

Where you adapt your intensity to your wellbeing, see below for a generic "hormone periodisation".


These sessions can be combined by doing two or even three things in one longer, such as starting with HIIT (10 min) and rest before doing some cardio or strength for 30-60 min. The purpose is to get a variation of training that keeps your cardiovascular- pulmonary and metabolic health stable and strong throughout life.

If your period is or becomes irregular try to reduce the volume and increase the strength- and HIIT sessions, since these sessions are not depleting compared to cardiovascular training.

It is harder to work out during the high hormone phase, partly because that cortisol that's created during stress/working out breaks down progesterone.


Strength training always causes micro inflammations as well as an increase of growth hormone. This means that your muscle ache after training might feel a bit worse than normal during the high-hormone phase. At the same time, you're improving your pro-inflammatory responses in general since you get better adapted to deal with inflammations and menstrual cramps during the coming cycles.

The same goes for HIIT, where the intervals creates anti-inflammatory responses that inhibits cramps.

If not something radical happens, such as an illness, our metabolism stays pretty much the same throughout life. However, our oestrogen and testosterone declines, which means that the older we get the more muscles we loose. Since muscles are our main storage for glycogen we get more glucose in the bloodstream when they decline. This means that maintaining strength and HIIT training can help you prevent metabolic diseases such as diabetes.


Women need less rest and more sets compared to men.** This means that women are less fatiguable and need to increase dosage to get the muscle response that we want.

For strength do 6-8 reps x 6-8 sets with 2-3 min of rest, instead of doing the generic 5 reps x 5 sets with 3-4 min of rest that's usually recommended for strength.


Use your natural periodisation as a benchmark to how much you should/can lift, i.e. go for 90-100% of max close to ovulation and 50-75% of max during menses.


Few reps (1-8) with high load (80-100% of max) gives you lean and strong muscles, and many reps (8-15) with lower load (50-80% of max) means hypertrophy and muscle growth.


During the menopause it's actually better to do more Zone 4-5 training (80-100% of max) than Zone 1-3 (50-80% of max) since it gives a more positive and constructive stress response. Doing longer less intense sessions (40 min or more below 80%) creates more cortisol and does not burn excessive fat since it's a more negative stress response for the female body. This means that it's better to do high intensity workout shorter than 40 min such as body pump, circuit strength training and bicycle intervals, rather than doing low intense workouts for more than 40 min such as spinning, jogging and aerobic.


So even if working out means stressing your body, you're helping yourself in the longterm to build and maintain lean body mass. Muscle mass is vital for both men and women, where women don't get bulky from strength training!


Tools for increased nutritional balance:

During the low-hormone phase your body is more forgiving, strong and anabolic, which means that you can eat less good and still get away with it. But, it's good to eat as clean as possible, such as whole-foods, in order to benefit from this during your high-hormone phase.


During the high-hormone phase it's the direct opposite where your body is already stressed, pro-inflammatory and catabolic craving more high value protein and carbohydrates. This is tricky, since progesterone is craving glucose in order to build that endometrial lining. Try sticking to whole-food carbohydrates and also staying away from any diets restricting this - such as LCHF, Keto and Fasting.




To maintain a sufficient nutritional intake of 2-3 g protein and 2-4 g of carbohydrates per kg body weight (YES that's right!)***


Example: 60 kg bodyweight equals 120-180 g protein/day and 120-240 g carbs/day.


Also, divide the intake into 3-4 meals i.e. 25-33% intake per meal in order to enable a good balance. Otherwise the excessive intake can turn into glucose which affects your blood sugar levels too much. i.e. "food coma" or "sugar crash".



During the high-hormone phase increase this intake with around 10-15% due to the catabolic progesterone that's literally eating up your lean body mass.

Chocolate (cacao) is also a good choice during the high-hormone phase since it's contains magnesium that build progesterone, and also is packed with flavonoids that helps to lower blood pressure and improves blood flow to the brain and heart.


Should women fast?

Fasting has become popular very quickly where lots of people feel "lighter and cleaner" using time or calorie restricted diets.

I dare to say that Wellbeing and Fasting should not be stated in the same sentence.

The fact is that there's no proper research done on healthy persons fasting, even less on women specifically. The risks are many - not just physiological but also psychologically. Lots of research do show the direct correlation between non healthy eating habits and a non healthy physical and psychological state, such as depression, anxiety, addictive behaviours and eating disorders. The same goes for a healthy physical and psychological state that directly correlates with a healthy nutritional intake and habits.

The line between the latest diet trend with fasting is dangerously close to girls, boys, women and men, starving themselves in search for a quick fix that creates more longterm un-health as well as physical and psychological disorders.

Fasting and starving is basically the same thing but with different time aspects, where fasting is done temporarily and starving during longer periods. The results are similar - where the limited nutrition intake is initiating changes in your metabolism related to glycogen (carbohydrates) , lipids (fat) and amino acids (protein).


Removing certain nutrition is indeed good for your health, such as pro-inflammatory and processed food (red meat, white carbohydrates, snacks, candy and fast food). But, by removing the fundamental nutritional building components (carbohydrates, fat & protein found in whole foods) during longer periods of time you will break down your body and brain. There's no such thing as fat burn without muscle burn, i.e. you will loose fat as well as muscles if you are getting too few calories.


With this stated, Women can fast but there's not a lot of research showing or supporting the longterm benefits where our cycle needs to be baseline.


Oestrogen can be said to cope with fasting better while progesterone hates it. A generic schedule can be the following, where once again a consistent high whole food protein and carbohydrate intake is necessary for your basic wellbeing:


Day 1-10 (early low-hormone phase) - Fasting longer periods ok (18 hrs and more)

Day 11-15 (late low-hormone phase, ovulation) - Fasting shorter periods ok (18 hrs or less)

Day 16-19 (early high-hormone phase) - Fasting shorter periods (15 hrs or less) if you need to loose un-healthy weight

Day 20-28 (late high-hormone phase, pms) - No fasting recommended


We lose muscle strength about 2-3 times quicker than we lose muscle mass, and we lose power (strength x speed) 2-3 times faster than we lose strength.

This means that if you start to loose energy/power it's a first warning that you are malnourished. If you start to loose muscle strength it's a second strong warning that you have been malnourished for a longer period. If you start to loose muscle mass it means that you have been malnourished for such a long time that your body is catabolising on your lean body mass where your body likely is depleted of necessary nutrition, vitamins and minerals. That is not healthy and does not create a fundamental physical, cognitive or emotional wellbeing.



Summary:

This blog contains no new facts. It's a basic summary of every living organisms basic needs - Recovery, Nutrition and Movement. What's new is that it's written from a female wellbeing and performance perspective, with the focus on natural Health and female de facto Biology.


The "Bio-tools" that's stated derive from basic biological facts that have been summarised into a female health toolbox for everyday life based on the latest science.


The three bio-tools are:

1) Women will benefit from planning and working in monthly and not weekly or daily cycles since our cycle affect us so differently depending on what period within the period we're in.


2) Women will benefit from tracking their health data to better understand how our unique hormonal cycles affect us, where each low- and high hormone phase can be compared short term to better understand and take control of our long-term wellbeing.


3) Women will benefit from adding a variation of Recovery, Movement & Nutrition health tools deriving from and adapted to the female biology.


Health and wellbeing is a longterm process that is based on your individual biology and unique possibilities in your life. There is not one solution that fits all, specially not one that derives from male data sets and research claiming to work on women without considering our basic biology.


The time has come for Female Health activism - Health-ivism.

This is not obsessing over fitness and heath over everything else, it's about re-taking control of our unique biology and wellbeing deriving from sleeping, eating and training like a woman - not a small man.


It's about understanding and taking better care of not just our bodies and minds but the unique cyclic hormones shaping us. We are going not back but forward to our basics fundaments in order to thrive every day, month and year all throughout life - through puberty, fertility and menopause that are only parts of the magic in womanhood.


* The Oura ring is based on male data sets which means that it does not consider your hormonal cycles, i.e. it does not "understand" or give correct summaries depending on what phase you're in. Whoop does this, and is right now the only health tracker doing this.

** This is due to that women have a longer rest period between heartbeats, called the QRS interval (the time required for a stimulus to spread through the ventricles).

*** According to Dr. Stacy Sims the daily protein intake for any woman is around 2-3 g depending on activity where the recommended 1 g is based on male data sets.


Sources:

Stacy Sims:


Pubmed:


Other:





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