Considering the physiological needs of women boxing
Nearly everyone agrees that boxing is one of the most physically demanding sports a person can endure. It is not just ruthless rounds of sparring, bag work, pads, or the skill work, but also the dedication outside the gym - the gruelling circuits, strength and conditioning sessions as well as hours of running. Then add in calories deficits, abstinence to sugar and carbs, and the increased water intake and you find yourself participating in one of the most rewarding yet demanding sports there is. But no one promised you it would be easy – regardless of gender!
That said, it is fair to say as women our physiology creates far greater challenges when trying to manage our weight, mood and energy levels in comparison to men. With mother nature gifting us the ability to bring new life into the world our bodies must tolerate a cocktail of hormones as we handle peaks and troughs in oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone to name a few (I know I’d much rather a G&T).
Our menstrual cycles can create a substantial flux in our hormones that unsurprisingly, affects us both emotionally and physically. So, for all women boxing and female fighters, we wanted to hear how you handle this time? And do you speak with your coach? (check out the first post here). Having received your thoughts and feedback we wanted to go into more depth to explore how we better understand our cycles and the impact it has on boxing training’s training.
So grab your peanut butter and apples or whatever healthy taste of glory you have and strap in ‘cause we have food for thought.
First things first, let’s start with the basics – our physiology. As ladies, we are defined by our luscious curves and our ability to express emotions beyond a limited few primitive grunts. All of which are the direct result of our biological makeup which causes greater changes in our hormones and results in a higher water and body fat retention.
Follicular Phase (day 1-11):
As we begin menstruation, starting on the first day of your period, our body starts to break down our uterus’ lining. Despite having our period, the first two weeks of menstruation have been shown to provide the greatest gains, despite the pain, in training. According to a study by Umeå University, in Sweden, during this time training has a greater impact on muscular strength, power and muscle mass. The study also found no noticeable difference in muscular gains even if participants were on hormone-based birth control. This is in part due to loss of blood and red blood cells which are vital in carrying oxygen around our body as well as the hormones circulating our body. If you have heavy periods you might even suffer from anaemia (also known as iron deficiency) which can leave you short of breath and feel lethargic. Making sure your diet includes food rich in iron, such as spinach, red meats, and quinoa, which can help boost red blood cells. Sometimes it can be worthwhile to discuss taking iron supplements with a doctor or qualified health professional if your healthy diet is still leaving you feeling fatigued or tired.
Ovulation (day 12 – 16)
If you are particularly sore or sensitive during this time then avoid sparring, high-contact technical work and take everything in your stride. Furthermore, you should consider that if you are maintaining a very low body fat percentage, or are putting your body under regular vigorous exercise, your body may alter its hormones in response which can lead to missed periods (also known as amenorrhoea) or irregular periods (oligomenorrhoea). Again, the importance of a healthy, nutritious diet is crucial to providing your body with enough energy to replace all that you used during exercise.
Luteal Phase (day 17 -28)
The luteal phase is when our bodies estrogen levels drop down and the body prepares for implantations. Alongside this the level of progesterone begins to increase which often results in the start symptoms of PMS. Accompanying the luteal phase is often an increase in appetite. By simply increasing your diet by 100 to 300 calories, and including more raw fruit and veg, you can help to satisfy these cravings and avoid high sugary and fat fixes (I know … chocolate is my weakness too!). Alongside the hunger pangs, we often experience breakouts, oily hair and skin, and are left feeling extremely tired. A study by the National Institute of Health found that higher levels of stress early on in a menstrual cycle resulted in more pronounced symptoms before and during menstruation. To help reduce PMS symptoms try and remove or minimise as many stresses currently affecting you. This could be making sure you do not put yourself under too much pressure to cut weight or to avoid competing during a busy period at work or during exam times.
As the luteal phase ends, in the event of no pregnancy, the levels of progesterone and estrogenic start to decrease. This can often last between 2 to 8 days and results in a long list of symptoms that we all know too well including pains, cramps, tenderness, mood swings and greater water retention as we arrive at the start of our cycle again.
Important factors women boxing should consider:
So apart from receiving a useful throwback to a school science lesson, what can we carry forward and take on board for our boxing training? Our research found that:
It can take women 33% longer in time to burn the equivalent number of calories as a man. Be sure to consider this when training alongside men and when estimating how long you will need to cut weight.
Your weight will be different depending on the phase of your cycle. It is better to track your progress in comparison to the same phase of your cycle the previous month instead of week by week.
Super low body fat percentages (six-pack and super lean legs) comes at risk of impacting our menstrual cycles
Speak up – it’s time to bring your boxing coach into the 21st century and be open, as much as you can be, to help them better tailor their training method to your body’s needs.
If you are starting a weight cut or diet you should do so on the first day of your period as progesterone is at its lowest meaningless fluctuations in insulin and glucose.
Know your body – everyone’s menstrual cycle is unique, so keeping track of your cycle, mood and energy levels can help you prepare and manage your training and diet. There are loads of useful apps now available too! On the plus side at times with high levels of Estrogen levels come higher pain thresholds.
Now that we are better informed, with a greater appreciation of our bodies, and can be wiser in our approach to boxing training and fight preparation. Unorthodoxx hopes that we are all ready to champion our sessions, training and bouts.
Go get em ladies - We’ve got this!
Further reading and sources of references:
Dr Stacy Sims, Environmental Exercise Physiologist and Nutrition Scientist and author of ROAR
Dr Emma Ross, Co-Head of Physiology at the English Institute of Sport (EIS).
About Unorthodoxx and our women's boxing gloves
Unorthodoxx is the UK’s first Women’s Boxing brand that has been created purely for women and has exclusively designed women’s boxing gloves and women’s boxing clothing. Our products and equipment are designed to offer the ultimate fit, protection and durability for female boxers and combat sport fighters. From novice beginners to elite competition Unorthodoxx fight gear offers the best women’s boxing gloves, clothing and equipment.