It wasn’t too long ago that discussion of menstrual cycles, especially as it relates to female athletes, was non-existent or at least taboo. But that’s all changing—and in this opening episode of the Fast Talk Femmes podcast, we’re chatting with dietitian and author Jennifer Sygo about all aspects of sports nutrition with a particular focus on menstruation, low energy availability, and performance.
When it comes to sports nutrition, Sygo knows her stuff. She’s in her fifth season as the performance dietitian for the NBA’s Toronto Raptors. Over the course of her 18-year career, she has provided nutritional support to Olympic and professional athletes in more than 20 sports, and she’s served as team dietitian for Athletics Canada, Swimming Canada, Gymnastics Canada, and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Most recently, her research interests have led to her undertaking a PhD in sports science at Nottingham Trent University in the U.K. where she is studying the impact of low energy availability on sport performance under the guidance of Professor Kirsty Elliott-Sale.
This episode is an engaging and informative one—we hope you enjoy listening and learning!
Our next episode will drop on January 24 when we’ll be chatting with Dr. Dana Lis, researcher and sports dietitian.
Subscribe for episodes on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Soundcloud, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcasts!
Dede Barry 00:05
Welcome to Fast Talk Femmes, hosted by Julie Young and Dede Berry. Our guest for today’s episode is Jennifer Sygo. Jen is a dietician, sports nutritionist, author, and speaker specializing in Nutrition Prevention and Performance. Jen’s in her fifth season as a performance dietitian for the 2019 NBA champion Toronto Raptors. She’s a graduate of McMaster University with a degree in biochemistry, and Jennifer was awarded a Master of Science in Human Biology and Nutritional Sciences from the University of Guelph, where she specialized in nutrition, exercise and metabolism.
Dede Barry 00:40
Over her 18 year career, Jen has provided nutritional support through Olympic and professional athletes and over 20 sports and has served as team dietician for athletics Canada, swimming Canada, gymnastics Canada, and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Most recently, Jen’s research interests led her to undertake a PhD in Sport Science at Nottingham Trent University, where she is studying the impact of low energy availability on sport performance under the guidance of professor Christy Elliot Sal. Outside of her work, Jennifer is an avid sports enthusiast and a proud mother of two active boys. Although Jen has a wide range of expertise, our discussion today will focus on menstruation and performance, low energy availability, and nutrition as it pertains to female endurance athletes.
Hey, I’m EK Lidbury, Content Strategist at Fast Talk Laboratories. We’re so excited that you’re here to listen to our very first episode of the Fast Talk Femmes podcast, a new podcast series that’s all about the female endurance athlete. Here at Fast Talk Labs, we pride ourselves on being the pioneers of information and education in the endurance sports world, for both athletes and coaches. So if you like what you hear today, check out more at fasttalklabs.com.
Dede Barry 02:00
Jen, welcome to Fast Talk Femmes, and thank you for joining us today.
Jennifer Sygo 02:04
Thanks so much for having me, I really appreciate the opportunity to be here. I wear a lot of hats as I think you got an awareness of in my intro. So you know, on the one hand, I work in the NBA with these sort of, as I call them, these giant 20 year old man children. We just got back from a training camp providing them with support. But you know, aside from that, I work in track and field specifically with Canada’s national team. And, and and I work in gymnastics where I’m, you know, helping our national women’s team be at their best. And then you know, these days, I’m really working on my PhD as well. So delving into research on, as you mentioned, you know, the impact of low energy availability on performance. But you know, really where I’m, what I’m interested in is that intersection point between what sort of things we can manipulate in terms of nutrition, body weight, how we approach the training process, especially with female athletes, and then how we can be assured that there’s going to be a positive impact on performance. So you know, if someone says, Oh, get a little leaner, so that you get faster. Is that true? Is that always true? Or could you be somehow hampering your performance? You know, be on the pill, don’t be on the pill that’s going to impact your performance? Is that true? Or is that not true? So some of those teasing out some of those finer details, to allow athletes at all levels to be able to perform at their best. That’s sort of what I’m quite hard to turn on these days.
Julie Young 03:26
I really appreciate that. I think having that perspective, and just all that knowledge. And that just perspective to be really integrated in your practice is so important, because I think oftentimes, when we’re new to something, we can kind of go all in on one aspect of an issue at the expense of other parts of performance. And I think it’s so important to maintain that perspective and that integration. You know, Jen, well, we can all agree it’s about time that female athletes are receiving the specific research attention they deserve, it does seem that two camps have formed. On the one hand, we have the camp that’s that states, there is currently not enough quality evidence to provide conclusive guidance to the female athletes, that they should train differently based on female physiology or let training be dictated by their menstrual cycle. And the other camp seems to suggest it is possible to provide more definitive guidance based on the menstrual cycle, for example, days one through 13, you should be doing speed and power days 15 through 21 more sustained steady state efforts, and the remainder of the cycle dedicated to more rest recovery, balance skill type work. What are your thoughts on this?
Jennifer Sygo 04:44
Well, I think maybe what we should do is take a step back and look at where those two camps might have come from in the first place. And why we have those, let’s say differing opinions a lot and make the case there is some, I guess, common threads that both camps could agree on, you know where this sort of stemmed problem is the idea that as we experience a menstrual cycle, and in this case, I’m talking about one that’s not influenced by either an oral contraceptive like taking the birth control pill, or a hormone producing IUD. So those are the intrauterine devices that a person would typically have inserted in the uterus for about five years or so at a time, maybe seven years at a time, that released a small amount of a hormone most commonly a form of progesterone and, you know, really tiny sort of microscopic amounts over that period of time. And, and therefore can have an impact on not just contraception, but also on menstrual function. Many people with that lose hormone secreting IUDs, for example, have lighter periods or no period at all. So in this case, you know, we have to acknowledge that if a person doesn’t have either of those things going on, and is able to use and I’m going to use an air quotes term here normal produce a normal menstrual cycle. And I air quotes that for a reason, too, is that they’re going to experience a series of different hormonal states over the course of their cycle. And a typical cycle might be 28 days, but of course, they can vary considerably as, as any woman who’s listening to this, who has had a period is aware that they might be shorter, they might be longer, sometimes we miss them entirely. But essentially, we are experiencing over that cycle, a spike in estrogen that occurs around the mid cycle peak, and then a sort of a little bit of a dip, and then followed by a rise in both estrogen and progesterone, the two key sex hormones in the latter phase, we call that the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. So the period up till day 14 ish when we ovulate, it’s called the follicular phase. The second half is called the luteal phase. And then we have basically the bleed phase, which is technically the start of the menstrual cycle. And that is the very early follicular phase. Each of these phases has a different hormonal profile, as I already indicated. So during that sort of very early follicular phase, you’re essentially flatlined, your hormones that can be very, very low, almost undetectable for a couple of days, then you get that rise in estrogen, as I mentioned, right to the mid cycle peak, and then that little drop, and then both of them rise towards the latter half of the cycle. So the argument goes, that when we experienced those hormonal fluxes are changes, that the body is operating differently. And if I can give you an example, there’s good research to say that at that midcycle peak that that estrogen spike leads to an increase in laxity, which basically means that some of our tendons and ligaments might be a bit more flexible. And so what that can lead to sometimes is an increased risk in injury. So there is some data out there to say that women are more likely to experience for example, an ACL tear, right around the mid cycle peak than at any other time in their menstrual cycle. So if you look at it from that lens, you say, Okay, we do exist with different hormonal states. Therefore, does it make sense to say that training prescriptions might need to be somehow customized or periodized, that sort of a semi ironic term, brutal pun throughout the menstrual cycle, to adjust to accommodate to or even take advantage of or capitalize on these different phases? That’s sort of the paradigm. That’s the theory. Does that actually pan out in what the literature says? And where we stand with this right now, I would say is, we’re in the muddy middle, we don’t have vast amounts of research that has really clearly told us one way or the other. And what I mean by that is, and we can talk a bit more about this in detail, but just very briefly, we’ve had a couple of good papers come out in the last few years that have looked at the impact of different training or or some type of exercise bout at different phases of the menstrual cycle. And the papers that I’m referring to are led by my PhD advisor, co authored by her, her name’s Dr. Kirsty Elliot sales. She’s a professor at Manchester Metropolitan University where I’m now studying. And she and her team have looked at huge numbers of research papers and said, Okay, what do we see, within that menstrual cycle? Do we see a difference in performance from that early follicular phase to that mid cycle peak? And then again, in that latter luteal phase? And the answer fairly simply was, if there is an effect, it’s very, very, very small, and probably dissolves when we look at anything that could be really measurable in the long run. So there’s little tiny differences, maybe maybe between our endurance and our strength in that very early follicular phase, right in those first few days of our period. Many women don’t feel amazing write that in there. And some research says that we might not be at our best in terms of endurance at that exact moment or strength, but the rest of the cycle, there’s really no detectable difference and the effects they literally deemed to be trivial. They’re incredibly small and they’re not certain. So if we look at the research from that lens, so far, it says it’s too early to really say you should be doing this or doing that within the different phases of the cycle. Now, we can break this down a little bit more but you know, I want Take a breath here, obviously, you may have some follow up questions. And I don’t want to hog the whole time off one question, but I think that at least set the stage for our conversation that there’s the biological things going on. But then there’s the actual measured research outcomes. And right now, they’re not totally lining up, which is why we have these two different camps.
Julie Young 10:19
Is there any current evidence that suggests the menstrual cycle inhibits performance? And I think this is I think you kind of answered that. But just to kind of position it a different way.
Jennifer Sygo 10:30
Yeah. And so again, this is where it gets, you can parse this out a little bit. But based on these systematic review, and meta analyses that were published in 2020, and the journal sports medicine, it at least suggests that if there is any difference from one phase of the menstrual cycle to the other in terms of performance outcomes for strength or endurance, they’re incredibly small and small enough to be trivial. So not enough that you can say, you know, persons going to have a real significant competitive advantage between these two phases. Now, where it gets a little more complicated, though, is that what we don’t have yet are a number of well controlled studies that actually created some type of training difference between these two groups, and then observed the impact over time. So what I mean by that is, we need more studies that say, Okay, what if you and I both trained, you know, through a series of different cycles, and we looked at over the span of a year, if one group did, as you said, more sports specific training relative to this stage of their cycle at this part of their cycle, and then maybe more sport specific training that’s different at another phase of their cycle, and we measured ourselves after a year, would we then in that prospective sort of viewpoint of things, would we then see a performance change? Those sorts of studies still need to be done? Because the studies that we have so far tend to be looking at single bouts of activity. So in other words, if I put you on the line, and I said, I want you to race a 10k today, and I’m gonna have you do that in different phases of your menstrual cycle, and you’re gonna give your best, those studies say that there’s virtually no difference in your performance outcome, regardless of the stage of your menstrual cycle, or if there’s an effect is very, very small. But what we don’t yet have, like I said, is enough training studies that say, Okay, on a single day, it probably doesn’t matter. But what if I had you train this way? For two straight years? Would we be able to see a difference? Would those tiny trivial differences start to add up and compound over time in some type of, you know, exponential fat fashion, or some type of growth based fashion? I would say at this point, it’s too soon to tell. And what that is, again, that’s the sort of hypothesis that’s thrown out there with the let’s train, according to our menstrual cycle phase group is they’re saying, based on what we know about the way the body works, if we do this long enough, we’ll see a benefit. But nobody has proven that to this point.
Julie Young 12:50
I would imagine it’s also tricky, because hormone levels vary significantly among individuals.
Jennifer Sygo 12:57
Yeah, I want to jump in right there. Because in the interest of not talking for too long, and the first question what was in the back of my mind, and I can hear, you know, Kirsty speaking, she has heard her do a number of presentations on this topic. And the thing that she points out almost always in one of her first slides in any talk is, what exactly is a normal female or normal female cycle? Like, let’s take a pause there right off the bat, because you have women who are maybe girls who maybe premenstrual that haven’t reached the stage of having their first period yet, we might have women who are not on oral contraceptives, might have women who are on oral contraceptives, we might have women who are using those IUDs that I mentioned, or other hormonal methods of birth control, we may have women who are aiming to react for different reasons, which means they don’t have a period. And then we have women who are Peri menopausal and postmenopausal. And if we’re not including all of those women in this discussion, then we’re really narrowing this to a very small group of women. In fact, in some studies, the majority of women participating in sport are using some type of hormone producing contraceptive. So in those cases, the hormonal profile is completely different. They’re basically flatlined throughout the menstrual cycle. So when we say you should, you know, train towards your menstrual cycle, well, that assumes that that person is having a regular period, their body produces hormones normally, and they’re not using any of these, as we call them exogenous or external hormones that I just mentioned. And that’s actually not a huge percentage of the female population. It’s certainly some, but to sort of imply that, you know, all women need to do this, I think is a really diminishes all of the different types of women that are out there all the different types of hormonal profiles that are out there. I
Dede Barry 14:37
would imagine also that it would be difficult to parse out the effect of hormone suppression and more extreme sports a sport like cycling, for example, where you’re doing stage racing, a lot of women and I mean, I realized there’s also nutritional components to that you have to consider but it would, it would be really hard to parse out all of the variables with your sample X on a study as well,
Jennifer Sygo 15:01
well, and also to control them all. And then depending on the length of the study, to be able to have something that’s incredibly well designed that allows you to really just isolate the impact of the hormone, you’re absolutely right. That’s why it’s easier to do a study that says, Let’s line up 40 women, and how it should actually be quite a huge study to begin with, but even 20 women, and let’s have them run 10k All out or cycle, you know, 30k all out or do some type of interval type of workout where we try to get them very tired. And then we do a sprint at the end. There’s lots of different study designs out there. But there’s a word out there that we often use, which the term is called ecological validity. And that is to say, you put somebody in a research environment is that the same as what would be an actual race or competitive environment. So if I put someone you know, in a in a lab, and I say, Run as fast as you can, until you’re exhausted? Well, there’s no running race, that run is run till you’re exhausted. Like that’s, that doesn’t exist, you may become exhausted because you weren’t prepared for the race. But there is no event that is run to you drop, although some ultra endurance athletes might argue otherwise. But But basically, that’s not that’s not a sport that we award medals for. So to try and design a study that says, Let’s mimic real competition is breathtakingly difficult. It’s been done, the Australian Institute of Sport every so often has managed to pull off these every year or so actually, these incredibly beautiful studies using race walkers, and looking at different types of diets, like keto diets, and higher carb diets and periodized carb diets. And they can demonstrate the impact on performance after three weeks of an incredibly controlled training camp where they control all the dye, they measure all the hormones, all the performance outcomes, and they even get race money from World athletics and rankings to make it worth their while to race as hard as they genuinely can. So it’s been done that you get a perfect, you know, as well designed as possible training study, and then racing study, but it’s incredibly difficult. So as you said, if you’re trying to layer that in and say what effect is the hormone status of that female have on this, and really get a clear outcome. Most of the studies in the meta analyses that have been done have been deemed to be low quality for as a result of that, because they’re not really reflecting true training or true racing situations are kind of lambaste with a bunch of university students. And that creates a lot of noise.
Julie Young 17:19
So Jen, stepping back, and this concept of training toward your menstrual cycle. One thing that occurs to me is Do you think if we do train, in this model, that we risk ignoring critical training principles, such as adequate load of a specific intensity? And ultimately missing out on valuable training adaptations? Or do you think if we were to go down this path, that that model of training dictated by the menstrual cycle could be reconciled with training principles?
Jennifer Sygo 17:52
Okay, well, this then brings up I think, another just I’ll take sort of a sidestep and then lean into that question is that where I said that there is some common ground between these two camps is that the sense increasingly, is we need to treat each female differently, or individually, we need to recognize individual differences in how the menstrual cycle affects each athlete. And that’s, of course, each menstruating athlete, you know, going acknowledging that we have menopausal and pre menopausal athletes that I’m sure that are listening to this, and we want to give them the space to be part of this conversation as well. So we want to acknowledge that some women are going to be absolutely debilitated in the first few days of their period, there’s a term out there called dysmenorrhea, which is to say that you have, you know, really, really difficult menstrual periods, or men or Asia, which means incredibly heavy menstrual periods. So no one here, I want to be clear as saying, your period has no effect on training or performance. What you experience is what you experience. And if you notice on a regular basis, that you know what I feel and tracking your period and paying attention, I think is a worthwhile endeavor for females and to say, I do notice that I feel like wickedly strong, you know, right around my mid cycle peak, that’s a really awesome phase for me. And once I get to week three, and I’m starting to head into that sort of pmse phase that I just started feel bloated and heavy. And I just don’t like how that feels. I think having that discussion with a coach or a training group and saying, you know, what, what are we going to do to adapt to that I think is absolutely fair, and is a realistic way to adapt training. And even those who say the research doesn’t say that you should adapt the training for performance outcomes based on menstrual cycle phase, they will still say very clearly, it is absolutely okay to make individual adjustments to training based on the experience of that individual. You know, so if we take that then say, do we ignore it? No, we don’t. We don’t have to ignore it. Let’s talk about it. I think that’s great. And let’s adjust training appropriately, but equally, we have to be prepared for the fact that You and I were emailing about this, Julie a little bit in advance that your quote unquote, Olympics, whatever that might be for you might happen on day three of your menstrual cycle or day 27 of your menstrual cycle, and they may not be your best days. So how are we going to make sure that you’re prepared and feel your best, and maybe not put ourselves in a mental space to say, Oh, this is the wrong day of my cycle. So you know, I’m going to kind of suck today like, well, that that might not be the mindset that we want to create in a person. While still, like I said, acknowledging that on the long term, it’s okay to start giving ourselves that space to adjust our training as we see fit. But, but we want to also be ready to compete when it’s time to compete. And we may not always have our best days, not just for menstrual cycle reasons. But whether it can be bad might have a bit of a sniffle, lots of things can go on to sleep poorly the night before. And we want to be adaptable in those situations and be able to give our best.
Dede Barry 20:51
I’m glad you’re addressed by John because I think as a as an athlete, and having coached many athletes confidence is obviously it just has such a huge effect on performance, positively or negatively. And it is really important for athletes to be adaptable to many different factors that that might come their way on race day.
Jennifer Sygo 21:13
Then if I can jump in and throw one more thought in there is you’re absolutely right. And, you know, it’s interesting, because they’re that same research group that I’ve mentioned, published a similar paper on the impact of oral contraceptives on exercise performance. And they did demonstrate that there is possibly a very small negative impact of taking the pill, oral contraceptive pills on performance, at least like I said more in single bout types of activities. And when you read that, it’d be really easy to say, oh, shoot, well, then I better not put myself or any athlete I work with on the pill if it somehow suppresses performance outcomes. But we have to look when you talk about confidence at the whole athlete and the whole picture of training and competing. And I’ve had athletes who have just crippling cramps and first few days of their periods, which cost them a couple training days every month. And you know, heaven forbid, they have to compete at their major event of the year or their a races or whatever, while they’re in that really debilitating stage. And I can think of Olympians I’ve worked with where they’re like, I think my cycle is going to hit right around the time of the games, like I’m going to be a mess. Those might be cases where we say you know what the pill is a huge advantage for you, you know, and if there is perhaps some like infinitesimally small negative impact on on some type of performance or training, adaptation, the benefit of knowing that you can go into your race feeling good, and that you’re not going to be having a severe amount of cramps, or, you know, dealing with with severe bleed that day, that’s really important. So we can’t miss the forest for the trees, right? Like, we have to know that we’re able to take the best, you know, measured approach, sit down with ourselves, our coaches, our medical team, if we have one, and as a group say, You know what, I think this gives you the best odds of success. If we put this as our whole picture together. This is where you’re gonna feel best. And and that’s gonna be different for me than it is for the person standing beside me on the start line. And that’s, that’s when we’re doing things well, when we listen to the individual their needs.
Dede Barry 23:10
I completely agree with that. Jen, we haven’t spoken yet about low energy availability and how that might affect the hormone profile of women and their performance. Can you touch on that?
Jennifer Sygo 23:21
Well, yeah, I’m glad you asked. Because it was the current me as I was speaking here is that, you know, everything that I’ve been saying, I did tend to use the term a man Minarik a few minutes ago, but most of what I’ve been saying so far has been with the understanding that the hormonal profile has been within a woman’s quote unquote, normal range, or at least when they’re healthy and well, and, you know, all of the hormones are being produced in the way that that we would expect the body to be able to produce them. But there’s sort of a separate arm, this I think, is worth paying some attention to. And that’s what happens when hormones are suppressed. And they’re suppressed not because of taking the pill, or even say a biological condition where, say, for example, something called polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS where there’s some changes in some of those hormone levels in the body because of cysts that may exist on the ovaries. Let’s put those sorts of conditions aside right now, or those sort of hormonal states, and talk about what happens if you’re not producing the right bodily normal hormones. The word we use, again is endogenous. We talk about hormones that happen inside of us versus exogenous, which are hormones we take if our endogenous hormones aren’t being produced normally, that we do know has a significant impact on exercise performance, health and training adaptations. And that gets into this whole concept of this condition called reds or relative energy deficiency in sport and basically, for those who are, are new or want to be refreshed on this topic. Essentially, energy availability is defined as the amount of calories your body has to perform all of its basic physiological functions. after accounting for the calories burned training or racing are sport. And so if a person has good energy availability, it means that they’ve got enough calories from food to support whatever training they’re doing that day. And their body can take care of all of its internal business in the ways that it needs to it can grow, it can develop, it can regenerate, heart can be brain can think, kidneys can do their things, toenails can grow, all the good stuff happens. And within that normal hormones are able to be produced. When an athlete is in a state of low energy availability, it means that they no longer have enough energy available for all of those great physiological processes I just mentioned, because so much of their calories are going to training and there’s not enough calories eaten to do all that other stuff. And the analogy or little story, I often tell athletes to help them understand what happens when a person is in a low energy availability state. And as an aside, women seem to be more profoundly affected by the state that men but both can be affected by having the state of Lea as we call it, or low energy availability, which if it persists over time leads to this medical condition called reds. And reds is basically where your health and or your performance have been affected by chronic, ongoing low energy availability. The way that I try and help people understand this is that if you imagine that you have a house, and depending where you’re living, when you’re listening to this podcast, you may be in a very expensive part of the world or one where real estate is pretty affordable. So you may laugh at my numbers that I’m using, and that’s okay, I’m cool with that. But let’s just say for argument’s sake, that your your home costs $2,500 a month to be able to keep it up for a month, and that needs to cover all your expenses. And you said, okay, for $2,500 a month, I can pay my rent or my mortgage, I can pay my bills, I can put food in my fridge, I can do all the upkeep, I can keep the lawn looking nice. You know, if something breaks, I can fix it, I can save some money even to do things even better in the long run. And you know, refurbish or redecorate awesome houses happy. If I take that $2,500 a month and I say, this month, I’m only giving you $1,500. What what’s going to happen to your house? Well, in the first month, you might go, oh, well, you know, I gotta cut some corners, you know, I’m gonna have to turn the heat up or down, or the air conditioning up or down or, you know, I’m not, I’m certainly not going to do any upgrades, I’m not going to make the house look any better this month, I’m not going to paint anything or do any gardening, you know, I’m going to have to try and basically just let the house get by on the bare minimum and see if I can coast. Well, you might get by for a month. But if I asked you to do that for six months or a year, what starts happening, and you can imagine that house is going to start to look pretty crummy and pretty broken down. So after a long period of time in that state, not only is the house gonna look pretty rough. But if something breaks, you’re certainly not going to have the money or the resources to fix it. And you’re definitely not going to be investing money to make the house better, you’re not going to go and put a new addition on or anything like that, there’s no savings for that you’re not going to go and redo the bathroom. That’s basically a metaphor and analogy for what happens in your body and a low energy availability state that goes on for a month, six months a year, you start to change and no longer to be able to be the athlete that you want it to be, the performance is affected. And the vehicle with which that is impaired is because of the hormonal changes. So when we’re in a low energy availability state, our body doesn’t produce those sex hormones, and particularly estrogen in the way that it would normally. And then we see this downstream impact on training adaptations on health, immune system function. In particular, were getting sick more often. Stress fractures, bony stress injuries and other injuries, not to mention mood, you know, not to mention iron status, got health, it goes on and on and on, all the systems in the body are affected. So on the one hand, what we’re saying at the beginning of this discussion that the research says that hormones within the menstrual cycle don’t necessarily impact performance, I can tell you, if you’re not menstruating, and you did before, and there’s no other medical reason for it. Other than you’ve cut back your diet, you’ve increased your training load, and you haven’t adjusted to keep the two matching and your period stops. That is a massive warning sign. And that will impact performance. Not only maybe because of how your body actually could tolerate training, but also because you might be too injured or sick, or not have the desire to be out there. And the same attitude towards training because you’re just so darn fatigued. And we see this with female athletes, all male athletes as well, I don’t want to ignore them in this. But I want to make sure that that conversation has been had here that in that respect, hormones and performance very much go
Dede Barry 29:44
hand in hand. And what are some of the strategies that you recommend for female athletes to mitigate the loss favorable effects of the menstrual cycle via nutritional strategies, for example.
Jennifer Sygo 29:56
So let’s start with that if you end up with a person who’s not menstruating or their periods have been, like, become less frequent or something’s gone wrong based on that reds principle. Without question, the first strategy is to make sure you’re eating enough. So this is not somebody who’s having bad cramps. This is somebody who’s period of stopping or becoming less frequent. We would work with them to make sure that they’re meeting their calorie needs so that their body has the fuel to be able to perform at their best so that the bones can be healthy, the entire body system can be healthy. If though someone says no, no, I’m having regular periods. In fact, Jen, I’m having too much period. Like it’s just really severe. And it’s really problematic. Like I said, sometimes we want to not like there’s some nutrition things we can talk about. But I want to be very clear, sometimes we really do want to bring in an expert. And I mean by that, like an OBGYN, who can have a discussion with you about whether you would be a better candidate for something like an IUD one of those hormonal secreting IUDs that I mentioned, or an oral contraceptive pill or whatever the case may be. So let’s not try to be heroes here and fight a battle that’s just causing us tremendous distress. But it within that bandwidth of my period is annoying, but I can manage it, and I’m having normal periods, then we can kind of play around with some things. And you know, yes, there’s some supplements out there with not a lot of good evidence behind them. But we can play around with things like evening primrose oil, you know, whether these are helpful or not, the research is, I would say, pretty, pretty low quality. We can look at things like magnesium, for example, sometimes some women argue that, you know, some of the cravings they experienced during their menstrual cycle is a magnesium deficiency, that that heavy chocolate craving women experience that if they took more magnesium, that might diminish, be careful, too much magnesium, it’s got a laxative effect. And you know, you might really get a wild ride the next morning when you go up for your long training session. So we want to ease into that. But one other interesting nutrition strategy, I think it’s important to be aware of is that the research says that when you get to that latter phase of that luteal phase, the second half of the cycle between days 14 and 28, hunger goes up, appetite goes up. And a lot of women notice they’re like, oh, man, I just can’t eat enough, like I’m starving all the time in this this particular week. And there’s at least been a couple papers out there that say that if you’re looking at trying to manage your weight and not go into reds, allowing yourself some wiggle room in that third week, to be able to eat a little bit more, that’s when the cravings tend to be highest, to actually build that into your plan and not be mad at yourself, because you had a craving and you ate some chocolate or whatever it is actually say, You know what, this is the week where that happens. And that’s cool. And then the other times when I’m feeling a bit different, I’m going to adjust my eating, and be cool with that. So I hope that helps. I mean, that’s definitely covering three very different situations. And I hope that if you have any follow up questions, I’m all ears because I know that was definitely a lot of information there. But hopefully that covers lots of different listeners here and gives them a little bit of something to think about.
Dede Barry 32:52
That definitely helps. We’ve talked a lot of scientific jargon. And at this point, I want to ask you a more general question. Sure. Should women trained differently than men? Or is that too big of a question for you to address?
Jennifer Sygo 33:06
No, I can, to a certain extent, maybe, okay, as far as get on the fence, but I’m gonna lean on one of my dear friends and colleagues, his name’s Trent’s telling Werf, and he’s an expert, exercise physiologist with a great deal of nutrition knowledge, who works up in Canada, a sort of Victoria PC, and now he’s he’s gone from being a true physiologist to a coach. So he’s really seen, you know, all ends of this. And he just published sort of a paper that was called and I want to make sure I get the title right, patients during puberty, and it was talking about and this is speaking more to runners, but endurance female athletes in their teens, and how we need to re assess this viewpoint of like, Let’s push young females, whether to bodies or transitioning from that sort of like male physique into it like a fully grown female. There’s often this really difficult sort of psychological situation women go through with like, Whoa, I got boobs and a button. And this lead to a lot of women starting to restrict they get into some real big nutrition trouble, I see a ton of that my practice trends argument he makes in this paper is we might actually want at least in running, I recognize your listeners are a lot of them are cyclists. And that is a little different, at least in a in a weight bearing sport, like running where stress fracture risk is so high that we might want to actually train women based on minutes rather than miles in those critical years. So in other words, if we’re planning a 70 minute workout for a guy, that it should also be a 70 minute workout for a girl whereas her speed, if you’re covering the same distance might actually be 80 or 85 or 90 minutes, that that extra load is only putting her at increased risk of reds, of stress fractures have too much demand on the body at that particular The critical time, and that’s 70 minutes in and of itself is enough. So again, a little different in the cycling world. But I think that what it is saying is that we need to really pay attention and understand that women are different than men. And that even if it isn’t for fit, there are physical differences, no question. But even if it is, the social, societal attitudes, the social media use, that has women thinking and feeling certain ways about their bodies, that has to be acknowledged, and we want to make sure we create training spaces that allow women to feel uplifted, positive, you know that their body is something that’s an ally to them, not something that they’re fighting against. So maybe that’s not the answer we’re looking for in terms of like, how much, you know, volume they should be doing, or how but but I think at least, should we approach training for women differently than men? I absolutely feel we should. Yes.
Hey, listeners, we hope you’re enjoying this premiere episode of fast talk fan. Make sure to tune back in for our next episode on January 24, when Julie and Diddy chat with Dr. Dana lease from summit Sports Nutrition. In this episode, you’ll learn how to align your nutritional needs your training and performance, so that you can achieve the goals you’ve set for 2023. See you then.
Julie Young 36:21
Jen, I love that paper, by selling worth, I work with a lot of you 23 athletes. And just as you said, it’s so tricky, you know, they come into a sport, maybe as an 1112 year old and are just crushing it, and then go through these changes. And it’s I think it’s psychologically challenging as well as physically challenging. And I think just, you know, having that perspective, helping those athletes, you know, have that perspective that they’ll grow into those changes is also really important. And just having those people surround those athletes, I was also going to say, just kind of stepping back, I really appreciate your approach and the individuality of this decision making and basing it on the context and the goals of the athlete, just as you said, you don’t just you always have to weigh the different factors in that decision making and, and also just really appreciate this opportunity to empower the athletes with those tools and that knowledge to be really proactive. So if they are going into a competition at a certain time of that menstrual cycle that may not be like, quote, favorable that they really know how to deal with that. And they can go in with confidence in command, you and
Jennifer Sygo 37:33
I are very much on the same page of that, that, you know, there’s a great podcast and funny another podcast, I should plug someone else’s podcast on a different one. But I listened to this one a few years ago about a concept called embracing the chaos. And I talked to athletes about this a lot. And it references a piano sort of a recital or a performance, I should say concert by a jazz pianist named Keith Jarrett, that took place in Germany in the 70s. And when Keith arrived at the venue that, you know, he was expecting this beautiful piano that was going to sound terrific. And the concert was, you know, right around the corner next day, I think it was, and he arrived and found that the piano had Sticky Keys. And you know, most of the black keys weren’t even working. And you could very easily walked out and said, Well, this is not acceptable. The situation is I’m too big of a, of an artist to be able to play on this piano that second rate. And I as I recall, it’s been a while since I listened to podcast, but he sort of looked at the the young woman who done the organizing of the event and her heart was breaking seeing this. She didn’t realize and and he looked at her and he said, oh geez, you know, I have to go through this that the tickets have already been sold. I’ve got to show up for her and for all of the fans and the guests. And so he went and he sat down. And he played and he played basically a spontaneous performance. And it ended up becoming I believe, the biggest selling jazz album of all time. In the 1970s. It’s the Cologne concert, if I if I recall correctly, like Kol and if you’re ever looking it up and Keith Jarrett is je R R E TT memory serves Forgive me if I’ve gotten this a little bit off. But the spirit of it, I think is the critical thing is that, as athletes that I work with, get ready for their major world championships in their Olympics. We talk about this, we say what’s the critical thing he had right there. He had expertise, he had years of preparation. And so he was able to make that spontaneous bout of what ended up being genius, even though the situation was not suitable for genius or for some type of, you know, incredible moment of perfection, Transcendence. So I often talk to the athletes about that. And I would say that a lot of supplies for them when they walk into their Olympics, the World Championships, their national championships, whatever it might be. I couldn’t go up in front of 1000s of people on a bad piano and make up jazz recording that would be one of the best of all times. I can assure you of that. That would not happen. I took a few piano lessons. That’s it. I don’t have that expertise. I have have put in the years and years of, of expert training. But when you have, when you have done all of that work, and you’ve had the good coaching, and you’ve taken care of your nutrition, and you’ve done your best throughout the entire process to listen to your body and take care of your body, you’re ready. And walking in on that day of the competition. If it turns out, it’s day one of your period, or it’s raining, embrace that chaos, know that you have put yourself in that position to be able to handle whatever comes at you. So I think Julie, we’re speaking the same language in that regard is that if we, you know, create this image for women that they’re less than on a certain day of their cycle, we’re not giving them that space to walk in and have a transcendent moment, whether for themselves or in front of fans, depending on whatever level of sport you’re at. And I want them to be empowered to have that no matter whether it’s day one or day 14 Or day 28 of their cycle.
Julie Young 40:50
I love that story. You too, so good. I’ve recently read a presentation by Kelly McNulty. And for our listeners, Kelly is a PhD researcher and leading expert on female physiology. And she says I’ll read this statement, so I get it correct. There should be consideration to monitor potential indirect effects of changes in sex hormones, rather than solely focusing on the hormones themselves. This can be achieved through real time consistent monitoring of psychological readiness alongside symptom mapping. Can you help us unpack the statement and provide real life examples of how to implement this strategy?
Jennifer Sygo 41:29
Yeah, I haven’t heard her say those words myself. So I’m going to have to be obviously speculating on what she meant. But I do want to point out that Kelly is the lead author on the meta analysis that I was referring to earlier, the one in sports medicine from 2020. That looks at the effects of menstrual cycle phase on exercise performance, she collaborated with my PhD advisor Kirsty Elliot sail on that paper, so I have no doubt she has a great deal of great things to say on this topic. Okay, let’s, let’s unpack this a bit. So the first thing we want to realize is that the amount of hormone that while I’ve talked through, you know, this last 40, or 50 minutes that we’ve been chatting about, you know, at this stage of the cycle, you tend to see a rise in estrogen. And then here we see a rise in both estrogen and progesterone. And at this stage, it’s low. The difference in those numbers, those values between two women can be vast. So I’ll give you an example. We measure, we do measure hormone levels, and a lot of the female athletes I work with, and you might see one woman at their midcycle peak with estrogen levels that are somewhere in the few hundreds and other women who are well over 1000. And so you’re looking at sometimes even like tenfold differences. So that’s why I think it’s really important that we not go around, you can’t go around and say all you’re supposed to have this much estrogen at this phase of the cycle. It’s not how our bodies work. They’re very different, literally in the amount of hormone we each produce. So it’s not fair to say we want that number, this is our target. Let’s Let’s Let’s aim for this. Not at all. I think what she’s saying is acknowledging that you are going to have one level of hormone or one type of cycle, someone beside me is going to have a different one, that in that spirit of individualization and sort of personalization is to say, Okay, what do I experience in a typical cycle? How long is it? Is it typically 28 days? Is it 35 shorter? Is it always different, how’s heavy isn’t When did my last six or 12 periods come up my tracking that I think that’s absolutely smart. We do body composition assessments on our athletes, and I want to know what phase of their cycling because we know that women will, for example, tend to have a slightly higher body weight right before they have their period right before the bleed phase of their period, their body weight tends to be a bit higher, and then it tends to be a little lower. After those first five to seven days, that’s usually the lowest weight of your cycle. If you’re in a sport, where you’re, you know, engaging in weight management, like you have to compete at a certain weight, for example, it can save certain types of rowing, or combat sports, you’re gonna want to know that. So you’ll want to track that over a period of time. If you have differences in mood, bowel function in how your energy is, I think it’s a great idea to have a sense of that. If you do notice, over time that there are actual training differences that we talked about before, maybe you notice you feel stronger, or maybe there’s actually evidence, maybe you’re, you’re looking at your watts per kg, and you notice that they’re a little better, you know, and that right around maybe that midcycle peak or a little bit after that, then let’s pay great attention to that. It doesn’t mean based on what we said before. We’re not doing this to get this in your head that says Well, now’s a good to be a bad day, but rather say okay, now I understand myself. And that’s when we can you know, going back to these two camps, I think both would agree that that’s time and energy well spent to sit down with your coach and your team then and say, Okay, I’m gonna capitalize on this on these days and I’m and adjust on these days. And that’s me being the best version of me. So I think that’s what Kelly’s getting at is, is really good, you know, data management and monitoring, if this is your thing is time well spent for a female athlete getting to know their cycle and getting to know their body, which I think for many women, they just kind of ignore it. And, you know, it’s just like those couple of jokes that you make, and off you go. But if we can really start to dial it in at the highest levels, then we can potentially glean some really useful information, that potentially could be an advantage to us over time,
Dede Barry 45:30
are there particular apps that you recommend for athletes and coaches to use for monitoring the symptoms,
Jennifer Sygo 45:38
you honestly don’t even have to like, there’s these, you know, pen and paper works absolutely fine. You know, I’ve got a lot of athletes that just like, you know, put a little note in their phone, like on their calendar or using their notes on their phone, they journal it, like in their training log, they’ll throw it in there, you know, people are using whatever they might use training peaks or whatever, sometimes they’ll make little notes in there. So there are these like sophisticated ones out there that say, you know, you can track your periods and so on. Why I’m sort of a bit cautious about those is because because some of them are starting to give a bit of training advice, based on where your cyclist and I’d be cautious about interpreting that, like, if it’s if it’s feeding back information, then I probably would view that through a lens of caution. I wouldn’t say don’t use it. But I would say just, you know, listen to your coach first, before you listen to an app, and it’s absolutely okay to use a low tech version of tracking, that’s fine. You know, I
Julie Young 46:30
think no matter if we’re talking about nutrition, or training, you know, it always goes back to just taking time investing to learn what works best for you individually. And I think so often, we just want the quick fix, and we want to be told in absolutes, but it’s always best to take that time and just figure out those strategies that work best for you in terms of like I said, nutrition training, and in this case, you know, understanding yourself and your menstrual cycle and how you respond to it.
Jennifer Sygo 46:58
And I’m thrilled to be living in this time right now, you know that that concept I used before that term called reds was first coined in 2014. Before that, I know as practitioners, we were all kind of aware of this thing that happened to athletes, but we didn’t have a name for it. It did, I want to be fair, it was born out of the term female athlete triad. But that sense of this sort of whole body impact, like I was like, man, all these strange things seem to happen. They seem to have low iron and gut issues, and blah, blah, blah. And I swear I’ve seen it in men before. And, you know, so to think of where we’ve come in less than a decade, and how limited the research was, has or has been on female athletes. And now there’s so much attention in this field. And I meet so many great young researchers, both male and female, who are studying this area now, with with a lot of passion. So I think in a few years, if we have the same conversation, we’re going to see that there’s just a wealth, more information out there that we can talk about. So you know, I’ll have me back then. And we can we can talk about what’s new in this area.
Julie Young 47:55
Yeah, it’s pretty neat to see the momentum that is building behind this, this movement and conversation really need greed. One last question for you. I’m a big fan of Dr. James Morton. And for our listeners, he’s a PhD specializing in exercise metabolism and nutrition and former performance nutritionist for Team Sky. And he presents compelling evidence that fasted training or training on low carbohydrates is effective and triggering PGC one alpha, which is a protein that is a key regulator of mitochondrial biogenesis. However, some experts suggest that females should not do fasted or carb restricted training. But in this case, do you think they’re missing out on the stimulating effects of PGC? One alpha, and its influence on endurance training adaptations? And then, Jen, before you answer that, could you explain to our listeners the significance of PGC, one alpha on training performance?
Jennifer Sygo 48:54
Well, first thing I want to say that we’re both we’re both fans, I’ve had the opportunity to be a co author on a paper about female athletes and sort of substrate metabolism, which means like carbohydrate and protein metabolism, along with Dan Moore and James Morton, we published a paper I think it was a year or two ago anyway. And I think I contributed about three sentences to that. Because the two of them their level of genius, Dan Moore’s a researcher at of u of t. They’re both just so profoundly skilled in this area, knowledgeable. So it was it was a joy to be able to work with them. And I’ve gotten to know James over the years on and off at conferences and so on, basically, so mitochondrial biogenesis love that term. What we’re essentially saying is if you’re an endurance athlete, you have mitochondrial love mitochondria, they’re the factories if you want to call it that they’re the engine systems in our muscle. They are the thing that allows us to produce ATP so that our muscles go so we go forward. In theory, if we have more mitochondria, that means we have more factories to be able to produce the product we want, which is that ATP, that adenosine triphosphate, that’s what stimulates the muscle contraction, the movement forward, the drive to be able to participate in whatever sport that we want to participate in cycling, running, swimming, whatever. So if we are trying to create some type of adaptation that goes beyond just like, you know, go out and train hard train smart, there is this argument out there, that if we can manipulate through diet, the stimulus, which in this case is PGC, one Alpha, for this mitochondrial biogenesis, the turning on of building new mitochondria, that we can potentially improve performance, because we’re, it’s almost like we’re giving ourselves a trading benefit without training. We’re stimulating the production of mitochondria while we’re resting. And so that sounds really exciting, right. And I remember the first papers coming out of this, and I was like, Whoa, so we’re going to talk to athletes about not eating before training, on purpose, which goes against everything as a dietitian we’ve ever tried to do. And then we’re going to see if it makes them better. I remember, I think the first paper I really stuck with me was one on a triathlon training. And it suggested some performance benefits to doing fasted training based on this concept. And this led to these these concepts called train low, which is that you do training periods in a low energy availability state. Now, that’s different than the low energy availability we were talking about before, where it’s not on an ongoing basis, it just means you wake up one morning and you don’t eat breakfast, and you go do a, you know, two hour bike ride, slow, easy pace, and you’re in that case, hopefully stimulating some new mitochondria. So that’s been sort of like the early days discussion where it stands right now, in my opinion, and people might have different opinions on me. And that’s fine. My interpretation, we’re not at a point that we can clearly say, for whom this benefits, or if it benefits all athletes, it certainly I’ve yet to see anything convincing to say that it benefits athletes and say stop and go sports like a soccer player or basketball player, I’ve seen nothing convincing to say that it’s enhancing their endurance. If it enhances endurance in anybody in a measurable way, in competition, you remember ecological validity. We talked about that a while ago, in a way that actually leads to getting the finish line faster, it would probably be in the most endurance, longest endurance sports, rather than say, you know, a short 400 meter sprint or something like that. So you know, a stage cycling event, maybe this would provide. And that’s what James is great at working with cycling teams, it might, here’s the risk. Remember that whole thing I talked about with the House and the reds and all that stuff? Well, when we take, I told you females are more sensitive to the impacts of low energy availability. And when you’re doing not just fasted training, but training with poor carbohydrate availability, which means you’re intentionally or unintentionally didn’t eat any carbs or not enough, before you trained because you’re restricting or you’re trying to do fasted training either or your sensitivity to starting to show signs of reds or low energy availability, your body will become more impacted by anything that has you in that reds like state. In other words, you’re more susceptible to becoming a reds case study if you’re training on a regular basis in a fasted or low carbohydrate availability state. So if we know females are more sensitive to the impact of low energy availability, and we know that they feel pressure to control weight and under eat, is it wise, and we’re not sure if it positively impacts their endurance performance? Is that a good logical training method for that female when it might be putting them more at risk for the signs and symptoms of reds? For me, it’s not worth it. I prefer my athletes to train with fuel in their belly. It’s just not worth it. Having said that, if somebody again I work a lot with runners, if they say I’m gonna go out and do a 30 minute shakeout run in a fasted state, be my guess that’s okay when they’re running twice a day. But if they say, am I going to intentionally do two hour rides, or 90 minute workouts, it’s certainly anything at a high intensity where you want to try and actually be at your best, the research shows pretty unequivocally you will perform better if you’re fueled. So for me fueling trumps all. And that slight, slight, infinitesimally small benefit you might get from a fasted training. I don’t know leave that to the very very edge of the sport, the people who are trying to break the world records, and have a team of sports scientists behind them who can monitor hormones and everything else. But I think for the day to day athletes, I’ve spent more time cleaning up issues with females who convinced themselves that they need to train fasted and push themselves not just in the reds, but disordered eating and eating disorders. For me, not worth it.
Julie Young 54:45
That makes sense, Jen, and I very much appreciate your experience in the realities of putting these strategies into practice and the importance of considering context and relevancy. In thinking about our conversation today. The one thing that really stands out to me is the importance of the individualized approach. So with that in mind, what about this scenario, you have an endurance athlete who historically has had healthy relationship with food, and appropriate energy availability. And this athlete works with someone like yourself who’s well educated to help guide them in strategically implementing Lokar plus protein intake or fasting around appropriate training sessions. For the endurance athlete, mitochondrial density is a key component of improved performance. And that more mitochondria the athlete has, the more capacity they have to oxidize fuels aerobic ly, with less need to process lactate buildup, which ultimately results in a shift to the right of the lactate curve. So do you think in this scenario, low carb plus protein intake or fasted training would be advisable? does benefit outweigh potential risk?
Jennifer Sygo 55:55
No, that’s a fair way to put it is to say, you know, if we have all our ducks in a row, so to speak, is this still a worthwhile pursuit to try and enhance endurance performance, and I would say, based on the scenario you presented there, which is to say that a healthy athlete, a well athlete, and I’ll add actually a true endurance athlete, you know, and what I mean by that is that, for some athletes, the need to optimize aerobic capacity isn’t there because of the sport that they engage in, you know, if we’re talking about what I would consider to be true endurance athletes who are doing aerobic ly driven sports. So let’s say a long distance cyclist, let’s say someone who’s doing well, certainly like tour cycling, that’s probably the best example of where low carbohydrate availability training has been put into place. And then other runners and triathletes who are open water, swimming, marathon, and so on, and then certainly our ultra folks as well, we want to acknowledge to when we get into those sort of extra long events that are going you know, hours in longer. And we have an athlete where they’re sort of psychological state and their feeling state has been good, and they’re prepared for this. And in some ways, they’re almost mature enough to I want to highlight that I wouldn’t recommend not fueling properly for an athlete who’s in the junior levels. But if you have the right athlete, the right stage of their career, then yes, this could be a performance advantage that you’ve heard, I’ve just listed like six or seven caveats. So but if you have that if you if you feel you are one of those athletes, and then all is well, then you know, what it really does come down to is there’s sort of two options, you can either do fasted workouts, and that might be fasted with caffeine, let’s say, so cup of coffee, and then you go out for a ride. Or you might do in the case of if you’re fasting overnight, you might say do a workout in the evening, have a high protein, low carb dinner, wake up the next morning and either do a little bit of protein before your workout, or you might do again, just sort of faster, faster plus caffeine, and then you do an endurance based activity. So something fairly long, in those situations, yeah, we might get a shift over time to an increase in in mitochondrial density, we might get that uptick in being able to hit enhance aerobic capacity. So if that’s the case, then you can plug that in, I do want to highlight that shouldn’t be every workout, we would strategically pick that, then it would be one or two workouts a week, generally speaking, they tend to be we tend to precede the longer workouts, as opposed to something that say a higher intensity, where we would want to have that glucose on board to be able to push the intensity. So you know, when I’ve done this, I have to have, you know, I sort of said it’s often not super useful for all athletes. But I’ve definitely had my share of athletes that we’ve done some train low strategies, then like I said, we map out the training block, and we look at different days a week and we say, here’s a good opportunity, here’s a good opportunity, here’s a good opportunity. realize these are slow effects, they take time. So you’d want to look at a multi month training cycle to plug these in and get any kind of benefits 12 or 16 week training cycles, and we’d pick them all out and adopt our train loss strategy. So yeah, it absolutely can work in the right scenario. Fair point.
Julie Young 59:08
And do you think I mean, I would guess there’s a better time of year than another time of year to do this?
Jennifer Sygo 59:14
Yeah, I would say so. And funny, you say that I’m just doing a lot of intakes with athletes I work with right now. And we’re doing this exact periodization where we look at the season in blocks and say, Okay, well right now is the time when we’d want this and right now is there later on this time we want that. So generally, we would want to do this at times where we’re doing a lot of our let’s call it long, slow, steady work, our quote unquote, aerobic work, so lower zone work. So you know, depending on the zones that you’re operating in, we wouldn’t want to proceed this through a lot of zone five work, for example. So if we are imagining for a lot of athletes, that might be something we do in our base season, you could still do it at other times a year. But I think the thing I would highlight is you have to ask yourself, what do I want to get out of this workout? And if the answer is I have to push the intensity High. And if you’re doing that a lot, and you know recovery is going to be very difficult, then this is not the best time to do it, you want to implement it at times when the intensity of those workouts is going to be a bit lower, and we’re going to be able to have ample time to recover afterwards. So, you know, there’s going to be different times of year for different athletes. For a lot of them, it’s sort of in that base and transition phase, and then that they would use it their train load strategy. And then once they get into their heavy speed work, or shorter work or power work, we would use it a little less often, again, you could still use it, but probably a little less frequently.
Julie Young 1:00:33
I would imagine as an Dietitian and Nutritionist it’s tricky managing and juggling your training adaptations, your recovery, and also looking after the health of the immune system.
Jennifer Sygo 1:00:47
Hmm, oh, you’re Yeah, you’re thinking of all the angles, you’re thinking about. And then maybe you’re adding travel, which of course, immune system overlays with that, because when we across time zones, were at risk of greater risk of getting sick. So layering all of this in and trying to say, Okay, where’s our great times to do some type of trading adaptation, where’s our times where we want to be gentler on ourselves, and make sure that we’re really well nourished, we’re really well rested, that we’re not overthinking the system’s supplements, when do they layer into that? Like I said, when do we make sure that we’re really just focusing on the finer details of competition, travel or other little details around our life. And by the way, a lot of people listening here will also have things like jobs, and other parts of their lives that also have to be considered, they might have kids, they might be trying to layer all of this into real life. So I think that’s speaks to the idea of individualization customization, and experimentation is that, you know, I love looking at these things through three and four year cycles and being able to say, Okay, we’re going to play around this year with this. This is a bit of a higher risk intervention. Do you feel ready to try that awesome work? Can we plug it in? Hey, you know, here’s where we can go safe and stable or safe and stable with one small adjustment that won’t, we think cause any real issues, and we build an every year we get a little bit better. I think of this as being exciting. I think of this as being fun. It’s part of the dynamics of helping an athlete to be their best. So it’s challenging, but not in a burdensome way. I see it as a way that my job, I think, is one of the best jobs you could have. I think it’s it’s a it’s an interplay between science, a little bit of alchemy, and then sort of the art of food itself. So I’m fortunate to be able to have this kind of fun with athletes.
Julie Young 1:02:30
Thanks so much for that Jen. And I just really appreciate what you say about it is an evolution and you know, you spoke about the younger athlete and this really isn’t a thing for the younger athlete. You know, it’s something you do you keep adding those layers and that sophistication and slowly but really appreciate your clarification super helpful.
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Dede Barry 1:03:49
Jen, we’ve covered a lot of ground today. Thank you for that. What we want to do now is have you provide just a few key takeaways that you feel like could really help them in their journey as endurance athletes. Yeah. And
Jennifer Sygo 1:04:01
I recognize that we have gone into the weeds a little bit here. I mean, I think my assumption is that, you know, you’ve got people who are here who are keen and want to, you know, if we’re talking about pgcbl, then then I know that we’ve got an audience that’s dialed in and wants to get into the weeds. So thank you those who’ve been listening and indulging me as we’ve we’ve gone on that road a little bit, getting it back to the surface area that is the one where actual real world happens. Real living happens. And I always say, you know, we eat food, not nutrients, right. So we’re real humans. We’re not mouse studies, we’re not cells. So getting back to that level, what do we take away for the for females listening? So first thing is, periods matter, in the sense that having a healthy period, let’s call it a normal period is an important indicator of health for female athletes. So pay attention if your period as I mentioned before, has stopped or changed in a way that for some reason you don’t think it should have because it used to be come normally and regularly and it’s not because you think of say menopause or pregnancy or something else happened. investigated, talk to medical professional about that, talk to your GP. If you do have a sports science team that you can lean on or a knowledgeable coach that you can have talked about this maybe before and done some education, then maybe have that conversation and see if you can figure out what’s going on, because it’s maybe telling you something. So periods matter, do periods impact performance? The answer is, at least in one off events. If they do, it’s so small that at this point, the research says for all practical purposes, let’s call it a know that it’s trivial enough that it could probably be overcome by other things like good nutrition, good rest, belief in yourself, and so on. So let’s not overthink the stage of your cycle, and performance, at least on the day of a critical event, or race, top event of your year, as I mentioned. So let’s not overly concern ourselves with that, at least based on current research, having said that, if there is some evidence that the pill perhaps negatively impacts performance, that’s something we do want to keep paying attention to. But the overall benefit of finding a method of contraception that works for you, or of managing hormones, and symptoms that works for you is really important. So if you feel better on the pill, even if it maybe isn’t the best best thing based on the evidence for performance out there, then the pill is the right option for you. And if you feel better with an IUD, because it controls all those cramps, then let’s explore that IUD. Okay, so I think those are some really important takeaways. Beyond that, we want to empower women to be advocates for and to be comfortable talking about their bodies and understanding their bodies and recognizing that you have your own unique state that you’re in. And again, I want to know, there’s probably lots of women listening here who are in a menopausal state or are not having periods for different reasons. But for those who are having some data on your periods is wise, having an understanding of how your period impacts you is wise, even if the research says that on the whole, we need may not be able to program for you just yet. But you can program for you. And that’s where there’s good consensus that individual approaches to managing menstrual function and health are time well spent. But at the end of the day, we want women to feel like they are the ones who are in the driver’s seat. And this, to me today is about the idea that we want to pay attention to this, but we don’t want periods to be the thing that makes us sort of self determines whether we think we’re going to have success or not. We need more research. So more to come. But at the end of the day, I hope that this is at least giving you a sense of where we are in the evidence that research the evolving area of understanding female physiology today. It’s a fascinating area. Like I said, Let’s talk more in a couple of years. Hopefully my own PhD research will contribute to this area a little bit. But I think at this point, that’s that’s where we stand. And I look forward to talk more about this someday down the road.
Dede Barry 1:08:00
Thank you, Jen, you covered that brilliantly. Appreciate it. Thank you. If you were to give an aspiring female endurance athlete, one piece of advice, what would it be?
Jennifer Sygo 1:08:10
Fuel yourself? Well, without question, have that understanding that your career can be long, it’s not a race to the finish line, when you’re 17. We have so many women are in Canada, our top female endurance runners are 40. Like across the board. 40 is like the new 27. In running these days. For female athletes. It’s phenomenal how much success women are having at a relatively older age now. So if you’re 17 years old, or 21 years old, or you’re just getting into endurance now, look at it from the long run, you know, there’s again, terrible puns and literal and figurative use of terms here, but it’s not a short term race to the finish line. The long distance runner wins in the end. So treat your body with a lot of love and a lot of respect. And let’s allow it to mature and evolve and become the great athlete you can become down the road.
Julie Young 1:09:02
Jen, thank you so much. I love that final message was so good. And interestingly, we chat with Dr. Krauss. I don’t know if you know Emily Krauss, she’s at Stanford, she’s amazing. She literally had the same takeaway message or the same final message. So really appreciate that perspective
Jennifer Sygo 1:09:20
of that. I’ll take that as a compliment then because she’s an expert in this field. So if we’re, we’re coming to the same point together at the same time, and I know they’ve done some really great work in trying to empower In fact, I use some I believe at Stanford that she’s at some of their their great educational tools I use in my practice, so I’ll take that as a compliment if we’ve arrived at the same place.
Julie Young 1:09:39
Very good. Thanks, Jen. Awesome.
Dede Barry 1:09:41
Thank you so much. Thanks for your time. Thank you. That was another episode of Fast Talk Femme. Subscribe to Fast Talk Femme, wherever you prefer to find your favorite podcasts. Be sure to leave us a rating and a review. The thoughts and opinions expressed on Fast Talk Femme are those of the individual as well. We’d love to hear your feedback. Get in touch via social. You can find Fast Talk Labs on Twitter and Instagram @fasttalklabs, where you’ll also find all of our episodes. You can also check them out on the web at fast talk labs.com or Jennifer Sygo and Julie Young. I’m Dede Barry. Thanks for listening!