The menstrual cycle consists of 3 distinctive phases -
Understanding these phases allows us to better understand our bodies, and why us women can feel very different on day 14 versus day 26 of our cycle..
The Follicular Phase
The follicular phase is the build-up towards ovulation and takes approximately 2 weeks. The follicles on the ovaries have being maturing for 100 days from their dormant state all the way up to ovulation. The pituitary gland found at the base of the brain produces Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) which kickstarts the follicles to make estrogen. This particular estrogen boosts serotonin and dopamine production which increases energy, mood and libido.
Your fitness levels will be noticeably different and you may find you are performing better in the gym or playing sports at this time due to rising estrogen and testosterone. You might also find your appetite is smaller at this time due to the effects of estrogen. Estrogen also causes the release of fertile mucus. This fertile mucus appears like raw egg white and is noticeably very slippy. It’s purpose is to help the sperm survive and reach an egg.
Overall during this phase you will feel most confident, sexy, energetic, motivated and it’s a great time to make decisions, increase resistant training and take on new challenges. Eat more protein and healthy fat meals and chose complex carbohydrates.
One of the follicles will be stimulated by Lutenizing Hormones (LH) and rupture to release its egg. This occurs half way through the month and can vary for everyone but its typically on day 14-16. During this time estrogen and testosterone are at their peak and this leads to high energy levels and high sex drive.
The egg which is releases will survive for up to 24 hours. You can get pregnant on the day that you ovulate and also up to ~4 days before ovulation, as sperm can survive this long. This phase is important regardless if you are looking to get pregnant or not! Ovulation stimulates the production of progesterone which is a kin to nature’s valium..
Ovulation for most brings high energy, mood and sex drive!
The Luteal Phase
After ovulation, that ruptured sack that released the egg now reforms itself into a gland called the corpus luteum. This gland grows rapidly and secretes progesterone. Progesterone is an anti-anxiety hormone, that calms the nervous system, promoting relaxation and quality sleep.
Energy levels dip and your appetite may increase particularly for carbohydrate foods. Ever notice you’re hungrier before your period? Your metabolism revs up a little during this phase as progesterone boosts thyroid hormone, which causes the spike in temperature just before your period arrives and also burns more calories that you are consuming.
The week before your period, estrogen and progesterone are high and this can bring with it typical PMS symptoms such as breast tenderness, headaches, fluid retention, irritability and fatigue. Progesterone counterbalances the effects of estrogen, and should help soothe some of the PMS symptom’s seen just before your period. To enhance progesterone - Exercise, sleep and stress are very important. Avoiding inflammatory foods and alcohol is beneficial for maximising progesterone also. Magnesium can be really useful for PMS at it enhances GABA, the calming and relaxing neurotransmitter, helps make progesterone, supports the nervous system and reduces inflammation.
Listen to your body during this phase, it’s not in your head that you feel more tired and low in energy. Go easy on yourself and do lower intensity workouts and get to bed earlier.
This phase can bring with it high emotions, anxiety and fatigue. Prioritising good nutrition, sleep and stress management can help promote the beneficial effects of progesterone and counterbalance the effects of estrogen. Complex carbs and magnesium rich foods like leafy greens, dark chocolate and nuts can help support the body during this high hormone phase by producing serotonin and reduce fatigue.