The menstrual cycle is a naturally occurring cycle that occurs every 28 days. It involves four main phases that create the body’s ovulation process. Each phase varies by hormonal levels, so understanding each phase can be extremely helpful to take care of your body accordingly.
Hormone fluctuations play a role in the body’s stress response, gut microbiome, brain function, immune system and metabolism. Nicole Negron, a women’s health specialist and functional nutritionist, says, “Once women understand these hormonal shifts, they can avoid becoming causalities to their hormones and begin to maximize their hormonal power.”
Cyclical living helps you become more in tune with the phases of your period. Also known as cycle syncing, matching your life with your cycle’s needs may be the ultimate superpower.
According to Naam, also known as @thecyclicalcoach on Instagram, these phases can also be described as different internal seasons.
Menstrual Phase: Inner Winter
The menstrual phase can last 3-7 days. This is when the uterus sheds its lining and hormones; estrogen, progesterone and testosterone are at their lowest levels. Physically your body is the most tired and you can easily feel exhausted. It’s beneficial to do low-intensity workouts, such as yoga or walking. Don’t strain yourself with an intense workout, this is when your body needs rest and relaxation.
Due to uterine contractions, the body’s digestive system can be sensitive. This is usually why it is common that period poops are much worse. Eating foods rich in iron and magnesium, like red meat, beans, leafy vegetables and whole grains can be helpful as they are more easily digested. Avoid fatty foods, alcohol, and too much sodium.
At this phase, the body is most vulnerable and emotionally sensitive. So, there is nothing wrong with staying in and having some alone time with a good rom-com and a pint of your favorite ice cream.
Follicular Phase: Inner Spring
The follicular phase follows the menstrual and occurs usually at the 7–10 day mark of the cycle. At this time, all three hormones are on the rise, so the body’s energy and productivity levels increase. The body absorbs oxygen better, which can help improve exercise; in fact, tolerance for pain and endurance increase as well. You may have low stamina, so light cardio such as biking or running might be the way to go.
This is the time to incorporate foods that metabolize estrogen. Try sprouted and fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut and broccoli sprouts.
The body’s serotonin and dopamine levels are also increasing, so you might feel more carefree, confident and light-hearted. This means it could be a great time to dive into a creative project.
Ovulatory Phase: Inner Summer
The ovulatory phase is when an egg is released from the ovaries. It usually occurs on days 15-17. This is when the body’s the most fertile, and when many people try to get pregnant. The body is physically at its strongest at this point. Many even find an increased sex drive due to testosterone peaks. Others may see you as irresistible due to the release of sex pheromones.
This phase is a great time to do high-intensity exercises, like HIIT or weightlifting. Since estrogen levels are peaking, you should be eating foods that support the liver; antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables are great snacks. In addition, your gut can better handle raw foods, alcohol and sugary treats during this time.
You may find yourself more sociable and have higher communication skills. Because it is prime baby-making time you may feel more pleasure in sex and experience better orgasms.
Luteal Phase: Inner Autumn
And finally, the luteal phase, post-ovulation and pre-menstrual. If the egg isn’t fertilized then the body prepares for another menstrual cycle. This is the longest phase and usually starts on day 18 and lasts until the next menstruation. It is common for PMS to appear during the second half of the phase when hormones drop again.
Since the body is preparing for another cycle, energy can be low. Doing light-to-moderate exercise is recommended. Opt for strength training, Pilates or just a simple walk.
The dominant hormone progesterone speeds up the body’s metabolism, therefore, naturally burning more energy. In addition to burning more, there is an increased need for nutrition. Not eating enough or having unbalanced meals can make you more prone to mood swings, brain fog and tiredness.
Due to the stress hormone cortisol being naturally higher, some may be more sensitive to stress. With lower energy levels the immune system is working at a slower rate, so people may be more prone to sickness as well. Moreover, it’s important to eat foods that produce serotonin, like buckwheat, quinoa and leafy greens. Avoid red meat, dairy and alcohol as much as possible.
Where to start?
It can be hard to suddenly change lifelong habits. Everyone’s body is different, and each phase can last different lengths. If you find yourself stressed, try tracking the phases and see if certain changes can benefit you. You deserve the right to know what is going on in your body and how it affects you.
Remember that the first day of the cycle is also the first day of your menstruation!
If you’ve tried this, tweet us @valleymag and let us know if you notice any differences.