Female Hormones and Exercise – Why Do I Have to Train Twice As Hard As Him?
Female Hormones and Exercise
Why Do Women Have to Train Twice As Hard As Men?
Female hormones and exercise used to be complete guesswork to me…
I was always stumped, thinking: My biceps are almost invisible and I’ve been training really hard. Then I look at my boyfriend and see that his arms are huge. Why do I have to train twice as hard as him to get good results?
It makes me slightly jealous that guys gain muscle mass so quickly, whereas us girls have to train like beasts to look like beauties.
Let’s face it, we’re biologically different.
Female hormonal levels are completely different.
Although it’s harder for girls to get the same results as guys, I learned that we still have an ace up our sleeves thanks to our female hormones when it comes to working out…
We’ll discuss it later in the article, and you’ll learn how to reap all the benefits that your hormones can provide to train smart by learning how to adjust your workout to your menstrual cycle and get awesome gains!
Testosterone Levels: Males vs Females
First, we need to take a closer look at hormonal differences in males and females. The first obvious difference is in testosterone level. We all know that testosterone is ‘the male hormone‘.
It’s responsible for the development of male reproductive organs.
When a boy hits puberty, his shoulders broaden, his voice deepens and his face becomes more masculine.
Testosterone is also in charge of sex drive. This hormone is crucial to overall male health. When men get older, testosterone levels drop which is just a normal symptom of aging. However, when its level is too low it can cause a variety of problems, such as low sex drive, erectile dysfunction and infertility.
When it comes to changes in physique, low testosterone level leads to increased body fat, reduced strength and issues with bone density which is why we recommend a good quality natural testosterone booster supplement for guys with declining testosterone levels.
Although testosterone is a primarily male hormone, females also have it, and it’s really important for us, too! It’s crucial to maintain the optimal level of testosterone because women are much more sensitive to it.
Lack of testosterone may lead to fertility problems, higher risk of osteoporosis and low libido. On the other hand, high testosterone level can lead to balding, acne and deepening of the voice.
Female Hormones and Exercise: The Important Role of Estrogen and Progesterone
These hormones regulate the female reproductive system and they are responsible for the development of female secondary sex characteristics.
They influence the female body in such a profound way that I could write an entire article just about these two hormones. However, now I’ll just outline some of the basic and most important roles of these hormones.
- Regulates libido
- Affects cognitive functions and mood
- Responsible for breast development
- Keeps vaginal tissue lubricated
- Stimulates bone growth
- Sustains pregnancy
- Helps burn fat
- Increases secretions in Fallopian tubes to nourish the fertilized egg cell
The optimal balance of these two hormones is incredibly important because they regulate many vital bodily functions. When there is an imbalance, many problems may occur.
Low estrogen level leads to missed periods, mood swings, low libido, depression, dry skin and hot flashes. Low progesterone level causes similar problems.
On the other hand, high estrogen level leads to bloating, headaches, weight gain, hair loss, fatigue and memory problems. High progesterone causes ovarian cysts, tiredness and tender breasts.
Now you can see when it comes to female hormones and exercise that it’s crucial to have the optimal levels of estrogen and progesterone. If you experience some of the symptoms described above, maybe you should pay a visit to your gynecologist to determine whether you have some hormonal imbalance. Luckily, this can be treated using hormonal replacement therapy.
What Happens In Your Body During Your Menstrual Cycle?
Sometimes when I hit the gym I feel so strong. I can do my workout easily and everything is just so smooth.
Sometimes I feel sluggish, sleepy and weak.
Of course, there could be numerous reasons for that: lack of sleep, eating the wrong food, etc.
Only recently I’ve started to connect it to my cycle.
You’re probably very well familiar with our worst enemy, PMS. It makes us bloated, our breasts hurt, we are SO exhausted and weak. But why?
Our bodies are remarkable. The way our hormones work together is astonishing. Let’s take a look at what happens during a complete menstrual cycle. Our bodies really go through many highs and lows in terms of hormones…
We can divide the Menstrual Cycle into two phases:
1. Follicular phase
This phase lasts from day 0 (that’s the first day of your period) to day 14 (this is the middle of your cycle – the ovulation*).
During the follicular phase, your estrogen levels increase and your progesterone levels are normal.
When you ovulate your estrogen level peaks and progesterone begins to increase.
2. Luteal phase
This phase lasts from day 15 (the day after the ovulation) to day 28 (the last day of your cycle).
During the luteal phase progesterone increases and estrogen declines.
* This is a general guideline, the average length of a menstrual cycle is 28 day. However, many women have a cycle that lasts anywhere from 22-35 days. This means that a woman whose cycle lasts 35 days will probably ovulate on the 17th day.
Estrogen and Progesterone Are Your Friends
Follicular Phase – Train Hard! (Day 0 – 14)
You should push yourself during the first phase of your cycle. That’s when you have more endurance, more strength and you’re less sensitive to pain.
In the first part of your cycle body uses glycogen as a fuel. This is great news because it means that you’d really benefit from eating a high-carb diet during this stage.
The follicular phase is a great time for intense, heavy workouts. Besides, in this stage, your insulin sensitivity improves which means that your body can handle a bit more carbs.
Ovulation – Chase PRs! (Day 14)
Your strength level and testosterone is at its highest.
So during the ovulation, you should chase your Personal Records and really go for it!
This study showed that there is an 11% increase in quadriceps and handgrip strength. However, you should pay particular attention to your form during the ovulation, because your estrogen levels are very high which makes you more prone to injury.
Luteal Phase – Lower Intensity! (Day 15 – 28)
The second phase of your menstrual cycle is the time when you should lower the intensity of your workouts and exercise.
As your period approaches you’ll retain water which will make you bloated.
Your energy levels will drop and you’ll become exhausted much quicker during your training.
During the luteal phase, your body switches to burning fat as a primary energy source. Your insulin resistance is higher than in the follicular phase which means that you should pay additional attention to what you eat.
Instead of going heavy, try doing a moderate intensity strength training instead. You can also incorporate some low-intensity cardio, such as swimming or rowing.
Why You Need to Sleep Tight and Eat Smart
I just think it’s necessary to stress the importance of a good night’s sleep when it comes to female hormones and exercise.
If you train hard and eat properly, but you don’t get enough sleep, you’re just wasting your time.
You destroy your muscles in the gym, then you have to feed them with healthy and nutritious food and during the night your body repairs the microscopic tears in your muscles.
Your muscles grow WHEN YOU SLEEP, especially during the first phase of Deep Sleep. During this phase, your body releases the highest levels of growth hormone.
If you don’t get enough hours of sleep, you won’t enter the Deep Sleep phase which means that your muscle growth will be slower.
If your workouts are heavy, you should aim for at least 7 hours of sleep, ideally 8-9.
It’s interesting to see how even short-term sleep deprivation affects negatively your strength.
This study shows that after only 3 days of sleep deprivation, there was a significant decrease in strength when performing bench press, leg press and deadlift.
Since your body uses proteins to build and repair your muscles, the best thing is to eat proteins in the evening to optimize your muscle growth. If you’re not plant-based, it’s also a good idea to drink a glass of milk before bedtime (our grandmas were really smart!) because the casein protein in milk will drip feed amino acids into your system overnight allowing for steady repair throughout your sleep. That way you’ll provide enough protein to build your muscles, and you won’t get into a catabolic state (in this state your muscles break down) during your sleep.
Female Hormones and Exercise Conclusion
Although women have less testosterone, we can rely on estrogen and progesterone as our allies in muscle growth.
Train according to your cycle as outlined above, you need to play along with your hormones and use them in the best possible way so that you can get your female hormones and exercise to co-operate.
Also, don’t forget to get plenty of rest during the night.
If you stick to these tips, you’ll be able to optimize your workouts to get the best results.
Girls, train hard, sleep tight and don’t be afraid to lift heavy weights!
Believe in yourself, your body is a perfect machine capable of handling a heavy load.
If our article on female hormones and exercise and working out has helped you, please share this with your girlfriends to help empower as many women as possible to understand their bodies!
Leave a comment and share your thoughts, we’ve love to hear what you have to say…
Jovana is a sports journalist and an avid gym goer. She has three years of experience in the fitness and health niche. Although she is primarily a philologist, she is a true nerdy gym freak and enjoys learning about fitness and nutrition, with a particular interest in biomechanics. Jovana speaks five languages (so far, her ultimate goal is to speak at least seven): Serbian, English, Italian, Norwegian and Swedish. When she’s not pumping iron or engaging in gym debates about supplements, she likes to read science fiction and horror novels. Her favorite writer is Edgar Allan Poe.