Health, hormones and performance
The following blog post covers the potential hormonal influences on female exercise performance, with a particular focus on the menstrual cycle and hormonal fluctuations. Such fluctuations impact the physiological systems, cardiovascular function, muscle strength, and metabolism. Additionally, we will discuss the potential implications of hormonal contraception and its effects on exercise.
The menstrual cycle consists of three distinct phases: the follicular phase, ovulation, and the luteal phase.
Oestrogen plays a significant role in cardiovascular function. It promotes vasodilation, improves endothelial function, and enhances cardiac output, which could potentially improve exercise capacity and aerobic performance (2). In addition, hormonal fluctuations throughout the menstrual cycle can influence muscle strength and power. Research suggests that oestrogen may have an anabolic effect on muscle tissue, potentially enhancing muscle performance. However, the influence of hormonal fluctuations on muscle function is complex and requires further investigation (4). Both oestrogen and progesterone can impact metabolism and energy utilization during exercise. Oestrogen may affect substrate utilization, potentially enhancing fat oxidation and sparing muscle glycogen. Progesterone, on the other hand, may contribute to increased carbohydrate utilization (2).
What does this potentially mean for exercising throughout your menstrual cycle? Oestrogen has potentially positive effects on performance, causing an increase in blood flow, oxygen delivery, and fat metabolization, and it is at its highest between days 6 – 11, during the follicular phase. Progesterone has more of a calming effect which could benefit recovery between days 16 – 28, during the luteal phase.
- Elliott-Sale KJ, et al. Hormonal contraceptive use and bone health in elite athletes: a narrative review and practical recommendations. Sports Med. 2021;51(10):2109-2126.
- Oosthuyse T, Bosch AN. The effect of the menstrual cycle on exercise metabolism: implications for exercise performance in eumenorrhoeic women. Sports Med. 2010;40(3):207-227.
- Pivarnik JM, et al. Effects of menstrual cycle phase on athletic performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1992;24(6):S125-S131.
- Wikström-Frisén L, et al. Effects of the menstrual cycle on muscle strength and power performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2017;31(9):2528-2537.
- Zarek SM, et al. Hormonal contraceptive use in athletes: implications for performance. Sports Med. 2014;44(7):S161-S172.