Lets start with the basics! Our cycle is broken down into 3or 4 major phases depending on how you look at it. The Menstrual phase, follicular phase, ovulation and the luteal phase. The menstrual phase begins that day of menstruation until you stop. This can be anywhere from 3–7 days long. Its not abnormal for your cycle to vary 2–3 days each month, anything more than that can be a signal of imbalances. Stress is one of the biggest culprits that can throw off your cycle from month to month.
During your cycle, our hormones are actually at their very lowest. You may feel more tired and less like yourself during this time. Im here to give you permission to rest during this time if thats what your body needs! Your BMR tends to actually be lower when you are menstruating, so you may be less hungry. Eating nutritious, well balanced meals to support your hormones is so important to this phase.
The follicular phase is the front half of your cycle which begins after menstruation up until ovulation ( day 14, but varies). After we cycle, Estrogen begins to rise in order to prepare the uterus for ovulation. As Estrogen rises so does FSH in order to help us mature the egg that is later released. It’s important to note that both estrogen and progesterone need to be in balance. When we have too much Estrogen, it can lead to heavy cycles, breast tenderness, mood swings and even headaches. If this is you, try supporting Estrogen detoxification by increasing your intake of cruciferous vegetables, 2 tbsp of flaxseed a day, and Green tea.
During the follicular phase, energy may start to rise as hormones do, so if you love a more intense workout like HITT, crossfit or longer cardio sessions….this is your time to shine!
During the follicular phase the body does really well with more cooling foods like raw salads, iced drinks, and herbs like parsley, mint and cilantro.
At around day 9–10 testosterone begins to rise. You are probably wondering, why as a female do I need testosterone? Well for several reasons, it is actually VERY important. First, the female body is super smart and it is created to make other humans. Testosterone helps increase our libido( aka gets us in the mood), which is why it increases several days prior to ovulation . Our body senses the impending release of an egg and naturally increases our testosterone so that you will naturally seek out your partner in hopes of fertilizing this egg. Ever wonder why you may be in the mood halfway through your cycle?? Thats due to the increase in testosterone. Testosterone also helps us maintain healthy bones and has been shown to protect our brain from diseases like Alzheimers
To learn more about the first two phases of your cycle listen to this Podcast where I discuss in detail the foods and exercise that will support menstruation and the follicular phase!
So now our body is ready to fertilize, as estrogen reaches its peak we release something called LH which then triggers the release of an egg or Ovulation. This can happen on different days for every women, usually days 12–14.
Its important to note that an egg can live for up to 24 hours. However, sperm can live for up to 5 days. That means that the “Fertile window’ is technically 5 days prior to your cycle and 2 days after. The “Fertile Window” is technically the time in which you could potentially become pregnant. If you are looking to learn more about ovulation, check out this podcast.
So carrying on, the egg is pushed out of the follicle into the fallopian tube in a rather violent manner. If you ever notice you may have right lower quadrant pain or lower pelvic heaviness during this time. This is your body ovulating. Most women that are in tune with their cycle will know exactly what it feels like, on top of this cervical discharge changes (to an egg white consistency)and is also a great indication that you are on track and ovulating.
After ovulation , days 14–28 we enter the Luteal phase or the second half of our cycle. During this time progesterone begins to rise in order to prepare your body for pregnancy, making progesterone a key factor in maintaining pregnancy.
Progesterone is the calming of the hormones so it reduces anxiety and irritability by modulating GABA receptors( the calming neurotransmitter)
If you are feeling anxious, aggravated at the littlest things, and cant sleep a week or two before your cycle starts, then you may be low in progesterone. During this half of your cycle unlike the first you may actually be hungrier because your caloric demands are actually higher. This means you may actually need to eat MORE during the luteal phase, warm and spicy foods are well tolerated during this phase.
During this phase cortisol is higher than other phases, so its important to adapt your workouts. This may be a time thats better for more calming and strength baed workouts like walks, yoga, pilates and slow and consistent weight lifting.
On top of progesterone’s already important job it also protects our breasts against proliferative cells and balances estrogen to counter symptoms of estrogen dominance. If an egg is not fertilized, then both progesterone and estrogen drop off and our menstrual cycle starts all over again.
Understanding your cycle gives you an opportunity to set your body up for success each and every month. As women, our hormones fluctuate throughout the entire month rather than just a 24 hour cycle as mens do. This is called our Infradian Rhythm or the female hormone cycle. When you understand whats happening in your body, you can alter your diet and exercise to better adapt to whats going on in your body.
For more resources check out our podcast series “Own your cycle”