Updated: Mar 5
Can you believe it took me TWENTY SIX years of my life to learn about the four phases of my cycle? Actually, you might be in that exact same boat!
Most women know that there is a time during the month that they ovulate and a time during the month that they have their period.
Did you know there are four distinct phases that your body goes through every month? AND that there are different foods, exercises, and ways to help your body during each phase?
Let’s jump in! It will all make so much more sense after you read about it!
photo from helloclue.com
1st Phase: Menstrual Phase
We’re starting with the menstrual phase because the day your period starts marks DAY 1 of your cycle! I don’t know about you, but I always thought that your period was at the end of the cycle, but now I see why it’s day 1.
How long does it last: Your menstrual phase will typically last 3-7 days. If you are concerned about the length of your period (too short, too long) or anything about your period in general, please ask your doctor!
What happens to your hormones: Your hormones decline to their absolute lowest levels during this phase. These hormones include FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone), LH (Luteinizing Hormone), Estrogen, and Progesterone. To read more about these hormones and their function throughout your cycle, read this blog.
Exercises during this phase: Since your hormones are at their lowest concentrations, your energy will also be at its lowest at the beginning of your period. That’s perfectly OK! Your body is going through a very important cycle right now. Later in the phase you may have more energy, enough to go for a walk, do some yin or restorative yoga, light stretching, or mat Pilates.
Foods to eat: You might find yourself craving comfort foods, especially warm foods like soups and stews during your period. You want to focus on eating foods that add nutrients and keep your blood sugar steady. This is a great time to eat seafood such as crab, lobster, oysters, and scallops to help add iron into your diet since you will be losing iron during your period. Additionally, you will benefit from incorporating low glycemic index veggies and fruits such as beets, kale, mushrooms, blackberries, blueberries, and watermelon.
2nd Phase: Follicular Phase
This phase typically lasts for 7-10 days. You might read somewhere that we have TWO phases of our cycle, Follicular and Luteal. In this case, the Menstrual phase is part of the Follicular phase.
What is happening in your body: Your hormones are slowly starting to rise during this phase. Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) does just that - stimulates and helps the eggs mature in the ovary, and prepare for release. Estrogen and Luteinizing Hormone reach peak concentrations during this phase.
Exercises during this phase: With increasing hormone and increasing energy, you might be itching to try something new and fun for exercise. Try a fun dance cardio class, barre/yoga class, or something completely new to you!
Foods to eat: You’re feeling light and energized, and crave foods that encourage that feeling! Think lots of veggies, lean proteins, smoothies, salads, fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi. Also add in some oats (oatmeal is a great choice for breakfast if you don’t want a smoothie!) broccoli, zucchini, avocados, citrus fruits, and eggs!
3rd Phase: Ovulation
Ovulation typically (but not always) happens midway through the cycle. Think: 2 weeks-ish since the first day of your period. However! This totally depends on MANY factors. Are you on hormonal contraceptive? You are not really ovulating! Do you have a hormone imbalance? Many things can change the when/how of ovulation. Some ways to track your ovulation are: tracking your cycle using an app like Flo or MyFLO, checking your basal body temperature, and paying attention to your vaginal discharge throughout the month. More on this later! For now, know that this phase typically lasts 3-5 days (also known as your fertile window).
What is happening in your body: An egg is released from the ovary into the fallopian tube due to the spike in FSH and then LH. Right before ovulation, estrogen increases to thicken the lining of the uterus, and so does testosterone increasing sexual desire, and right after ovulation they both drop again.
Exercises during this phase: Typically, you will have high energy during this phase, so think about trying exercises like power vinyasa flow yoga, hot yoga, cycling class, bootcamp, or HIIT. Increased hormone levels in the ovulatory phase may not only increase your energy and desire to exercise, but also supports the functioning of your social centers in the brain! This is a great time to exercise with friends or join a group class.
Foods to eat during this phase: The foods you chose during this phase can help you to eliminate excess hormones (especially estrogen). Try to eat lots of raw veggies and fruit. If you can’t handle raw veggies as well (digestively) you can also roast or steam them. Add to your shopping list: asparagus, red bell peppers, brussels sprouts, okra, spinach, tomatoes, cantaloupe, raspberries, and strawberries. This is also a great time to incorporate seafood again like salmon, shrimp and tuna.
3rd Phase: Luteal Phase
Your hormones (estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone) reached their highest levels before ovulation, and then begin to fall to their lowest levels during the Luteal phase. This phase typically lasts for 10-14 days, after ovulation until your period begins.
PMS is a common part of this phase. But it is not necessary! It is due to too much estrogen in relation to progesterone.
Exercise during this phase: You still have ample energy during the first part of this phase so you can continue with the exercises you were doing during ovulation, or you may prefer strength training or power yoga. During the later portion of the follicular phase, closer to your period, you will have less energy and prefer lighter activities like walking, stretching, Pilates, or slow flow yoga.
Foods to eat: It’s likely you’ll crave sugar and carbs during this phase, so fill up on foods rich in B vitamins such as salmon, dark leafy greens, eggs, citrus fruits, and avocados. Roasted and baked root veggies are also key here to flush out excess estrogen. Some foods to consider: cauliflower, collards, ginger, onions, squash, sweet potatoes, apples, pears and peaches! You might also crave spearmint or peppermint tea!
These FOUR phases make up the entire menstrual cycle, which typically lasts between 24 and 35 days. You might commonly hear 28 day cycle as an average. If you have concerns about your cycle length, consult with your doctor.
I hope this post helped you understand exactly what it means when you hear cycle phases, and how to help your body during each phase. I suggest you start tracking your cycle and see what you learn about your body!