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Podcast 150: Science of Training & Sleeping Based on Your Menstrual Cycle

By Will Ahmed

Podcast 150: Science of Training & Sleeping Based on Your Menstrual Cycle

On this week’s podcast we talk about how hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle produce highly individual physiological responses that affect training and sleep needs.

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In case you missed it, last week we launched a new feature in the WHOOP app - Menstrual Cycle Insights- which provides personalized sleep and strain recommendations to those who menstruate based on where they are in their monthly cycle. That feature and this conversation are based on groundbreaking research conducted by WHOOP and leading female physiology expert Dr. Stacy Sims, who returns to the podcast for an in-depth discussion on this topic with WHOOP VP of Performance Kristen Holmes and VP of Data Science and Research Emily Capodilupo. Stay healthy and stay in the green!  

Training Based on Menstrual Cycle Podcast Quotes & Highlights

2:13 - Women’s Performance Collective. Dr. Stacy Sims is a member of the new WHOOP Women’s Performance Collective. 3:23 - A Gap in Coaching. In a recent WHOOP survey, only 9% of respondents said they’ve had a trainer, coach, or doctor tell them that they should be sleeping, fueling, or training differently during different phases of their menstrual cycle. Only 23% of respondents said they knew how estrogen or progestin changed during their cycle. “There’s a lack of basic health education,” Stacy says. “Women have been pigeonholed into male data and male stats. No one really talks about how these hormones affect every system of our body.” 6:30 - Importance of Menstrual Cycle Insights. “There’s a lot of evidence coming out that shows that there are menstrual cycle phase differences,” Stacy says, “We need to pay attention to it.” 8:08 - Tracking Cycles with WHOOP. “We have thousands of women who are tracking their menstrual cycles every month on WHOOP,” Emily says. “We [thought], ‘We have this goldmine that we're sitting on that's really valuable to answer questions [about the menstrual cycle].’ We took almost 400,000 days of data across 14,000 menstrual cycles from almost 5,000 people who menstruate on the WHOOP platform.” The research team then examined whether the participants were using hormonal birth control or any other type of birth control to explore how the menstrual cycle affected the body. 10:49 - Training on the Pill. “What we saw in the data was the first five to six days of the active pill, women were really resilient to stress,” Stacy says. “Day 6 to around Day 13 or 14, it was a little bit worse. And then we see in the third week of active pills through the first 2-ish days of the withdrawal bleed or the sugar pill, not so great. ...And then on the last 5 days of the sugar pill, women were really robustly akin to being resilient to stress. So it was bookending those pill weeks with the ability to do heavy training and recover from it, which is opposite of what we saw with the naturally cycling [women]. There's more of a downward curve for women who are naturally cycling.” 12:08 - Cycle and Training. “If we’re looking at training methodologies and what we should be doing to maximize training and adaptation, we need to take into account if you’re naturally cycling. Are you on a combined oral contraceptive pill? Are you on a progestin only type birth control? Because that will be able to tailor when you can push hard and when you should back down.” 15:23 - Understanding the Luteal Phase. Stacy explains exactly what happens to your body during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, and why WHOOP recommends lower strain during this time. “We’re not saying that you shouldn’t or couldn’t train hard during that time period. Everyone’s menstrual cycle is their own lived experience. If you feel really fantastic and you want to train hard by all means, go for it, but also know you have to be very, very cognizant and very particular in how you are fueling and how you are recovering in order to gain adaptations.” 20:25 - Periodization. Stacy discusses how training periodization can help increase your fitness level, especially in the context of the menstrual cycle. 24:19 - Premenstrual Syndrome. Stacy explains how omega 3 fatty acids, magnesium, and zync can help with PMS symptoms. 29:29 - Ibuprofen. “If you take a high dose of ibuprofen, 3000 milligrams a day, split over 2 doses for the 7 days before your period is supposed to start, it reduces inflammation to the point where your period will come early and be a light bleed. Over the course of 3-4 cycles, you actually reset the way that your cycle responds and shorten the luteal phase. So when you look at ibuprofen and how it can affect the cycle, it has a very detrimental effect on the cycle if you start taking high doses after ovulation.” 32:09 - Periods and Overall Health. “When you lose your period, that means there's a misstep in endocrine health. And so you're not really that healthy and you're more predisposed to a whole cascade of injuries and illnesses. … You should have your period because then you know you're healthy. You can do some really fantastic high intensity work during your period. Don't be afraid of it.” 36:55 - Debunking Myths. Stacy takes a few questions from WHOOP members, and debunks the myth that you should not do yoga and inversions on your period. She also says it is not true that injury risk rises and falls depending on what phase of the menstrual cycle you are in. 40:30 - Understanding Your Body and Cycle. “A lot of women don’t even know what phase they’re in,” Stacy says. “We usually say track for about 3 months to start seeing some patterns. The more you know about yourself, the better.” Connect with Stacy: Instagram Twitter