On average, a person’s menstrual cycle lasts around 28 days but can range from 20 to 35 days. It is common to focus on the bleeding portion of your menstrual cycle, but one must not overlook the other parts of the cycle. The four different phases of the menstrual cycle are:
- The Menstrual Phase
- The Follicular Phase
- The Ovulation Phase
- The Luteal Phase
Knowing what part of the menstrual cycle you are at is a pillar of women’s health because each phase comes with its challenges and characteristics. Cycle syncing refers to the act of adjusting your lifestyle – diet and exercise routines – to better fit the part of your menstrual cycle that you are experiencing.
The Different Phases of Your Menstrual Cycle and What They Tend to Entail
The Menstrual Phase
The menstrual phase is the first phase of the cycle and is the period of time in which you will bleed. This phase begins when the egg that was released from the previous cycle remains unfertilized, and because of this, your hormones begin to fluctuate. During this phase of the cycle, you might experience painful and uncomfortable symptoms such as:
- Sensitive breasts
- Fluctuation of emotions
- Lower stomach or back pain
The Follicular Phase
The next phase, called the follicular phase, actually begins when your period begins. This phase begins when your body sends and receives a signal to start releasing follicle-stimulating hormones. The produced and then released follicles contain the premature eggs that will later be used in the cycle. Usually, only one egg matures to the point needed to be used. When the egg matures, it gives your body a boost of estrogen needed to thicken the lining of your uterus.
The Ovulation Phase
The end of the follicular phase is characterized by the beginning of your ovulation phase. The rise in estrogen during the follicular phase pushes your body to release the luteinizing hormone. This is what characterizes the beginning of the ovulation phase. Ovulation refers to when your body releases the mature egg through your fallopian tube into your uterus, where it will potentially be fertilized by sperm. This phase is when your body is most likely to become pregnant and tends to be accompanied by symptoms such as thicker discharge. The ovulation phase lasts a short period and usually happens during the middle of your cycle.
The Luteal Phase
When the follicle releases the egg in the ovulation phase, it transforms into the corpus luteum and causes hormone fluctuation by releasing progesterone and estrogen. The hormone change helps protect your uterus lining, making it an excellent host to become pregnant. If the egg does not become fertilized, the corpus luteum will eventually leave and decrease your estrogen and progesterone levels. This loss of hormones is what triggers your period. The luteal phase can be characterized by similar symptoms to that of your period, including, but not limited to:
- Decrease in sex drive
- Stomach cramps
It is important to remember that everyone’s cycle will look different and be unique in how it affects your brain and body, so remember to be kind to yourself regardless of what part of your cycle you are in. Now that we understand the general cycle's different aspects, let us dive into how you can change your eating and exercise habits to best support each part.
The Relationship Between Your Cycle and How You Move Your Body
Have you ever felt completely drained after a workout that usually leaves you feeling rejuvenated? Different workouts may impact your body differently depending on what portion of your cycle you are in at that given moment. In the world of exercise and wellness, there is this preconceived notion that if you are not working hard 100 percent of the time, you are failing your exercise routine. However, this blanket statement does not consider the normal fluctuations the human body can experience – especially during the menstrual cycle.
The follicular phase tends to be the least hormone-induced portion of the cycle, making it an excellent time to get those hard-hitting workouts out of the way. Due to the low levels of uncomfortable symptoms during the follicular phase, this will likely be when your body feels the least negatively affected by strenuous workouts.
However, as the body heads into the ovulation phase, its internal temperature increases, making specific workouts more challenging than before. For example, if you are used to doing hot yoga classes, note how your body reacts to those classes when your cycle is making your internal temperature higher. The increase in progesterone during this time also impacts your resting heart rate, which is vital to note when it comes to exercising. Progesterone can also make it more challenging for your body to repair and promote muscle repair properly.
Due to these effects, it is recommended to prioritize low-impact workouts during your menstrual and luteal phases and higher-impact workouts for your follicular and ovulation phases.
Nutrients That Can Improve Your Period Health
Generally, a well-balanced diet filled with gut health ingredients and all the essential nutrients is the most important way to support your body during all menstrual cycle phases. However, there are some key ingredients you will want to consider adding to your meals during the different phases to target each phase’s specific needs and achieve healthy living!
The Menstruation Phase
Iron is one of the most essential nutrients, and it faces significant loss during your menstruation phase due to the loss of blood you experience. To level out the loss of iron during this time, one should include some of the following iron-rich foods in their diet:
- Dark chocolate
- Dark Leafy Veggies
The Follicular Phase
During this phase, your body will crave carbohydrates more than protein or fats. While you should still maintain sufficient nutrients, note this change and increase your carbohydrate intake to support your energy levels. Complex carbohydrates such as whole grains are a fantastic choice!
The Ovulation Phase
Fatty acids and antioxidant-rich foods will be your best friend during ovulation. Chia seeds, walnuts, and blackberries are the stepping stones to any breakfast or lunch bowl and will offer these benefits. It is essential to hit all your nutrient bases during this time.
The Luteal Phase
An increase in proteins and fats should be considered during the luteal phase, as during this time, your body will need all the support it can get as it prepares to enter the menstruation phase. It is common to experience cravings during this phase, so to avoid binging on unhealthy options, try and navigate these cravings by implementing healthy options to satisfy them. For example, if you are craving something sweet, try to reach for the dark chocolate-covered bananas instead of the pint of ice cream in your freezer.
We hope you feel more prepared to enter the world of cycle-syncing and supporting your body during your menstrual cycle!