It is that time of the month again and your cravings and emotions are through the roof. You begin to feel frustrated with your training and fluctuation of energy levels as well as your food intake. Sigh! However by understanding the phases of the menstrual cycle and syncing up with it, you can work with your body to have a better understanding of your symptoms, optimize your training and energy needs.
There are 3 major phases of the menstrual cycle: follicular phase (pre-egg release), ovulatory phase (egg-release), and the luteal phase (post-egg release). Each phase has its unique physiology and process which explains why females experience the symptoms that they do. Here we will go into depth for each phase of the menstrual cycle, training guidelines to prevent injury, and tips to work with your body and optimize nutrition.
Menstrual Phase: The menstrual phase initiates with bleeding and occurs days 1-5. Estrogen and progesterone hormones are low. The lining of the uterus, called the endometrium is shed and may produce symptoms such as cramping, nausea, and discomfort. (3)
Menstrual Phase Exercise Tip: Rest is crucial during this time. This does not mean to stop training, but to cut back a little bit. Go for a walk in nature, meditate, or attend a yoga class. It is best not to push yourself at a high intensity.
Menstrual Phase Nutrition: Drink soothing tea, like chamomile or peppermint, to combat cramps and reduce PMS symptoms. Avoid or limit fatty foods, alcohol, caffeine, and salty foods as they may worsen how you feel. Include plenty of water, fruit, leafy greens, lean meats, nuts, dark chocolate and whole grains such as quinoa. (1)
Follicular Phase: Days 6-14. Estrogen and progesterone begin to increase. (2)
Follicular Phase Exercise Tip: Keep exercises to hiking, light runs, or more flow-based yoga that works up a sweat.
Follicular Phase Nutrition: Try to incorporate foods that will metabolize estrogen. Focus on sprouted and fermented foods like broccoli sprouts, kimchi, and sauerkraut in addition to a variety of whole foods.
Ovulatory Phase: Days 15-17. Estrogen peaks. Testosterone and progesterone rise.
Ovulatory Phase Exercise TIp: Your testosterone and estrogen are peaking, maximizing your potential. Try exercises such as high-intensity interval workouts, a spin class, or pushing your strength in the weight room.
Ovulatory Phase Nutrition: With your estrogen at an all-time high, you should eat foods that support your liver. If you are training hard, you may experience training induced inflammation. Focus on anti-inflammatory foods like whole fruits, vegetables, nuts and omega rich fatty protein such as salmon. They pack incredible health benefits, including anti-aging properties and protection from environmental toxins, which are known to have an impact on your hormones.
Luteal Phase: Days 18-28. Estrogen and progesterone levels are high and gradually drop. If the egg is not fertilized, hormone levels decrease and the menstrual cycle starts again with bleeding on day 1.
Luteal Phase Exercise Tip: During this time, progesterone is on the rise as testosterone and estrogen deplete. This is an ideal time to continue to focus on your strength training, Pilates, and more intense versions of yoga.
Luteal Phase Nutrition: Eating a diet rich in rich in whole foods such as fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, whole grains, full-fat dairy and plant-based protein has been shown to
Estrogen and progesterone both surge and then wane during this period. It is more important to emphasize the “foods to avoid” list rather than the foods to include list. Decreasing or eliminating intake of caffeine, sugar, salt, and alcohol particularly during the luteal phase has been thought to help minimize bloating, fluid retention, irritability, anxiety, and insomnia. (1)
Nutrition and training play a vital role in our menstrual health. Nutrients to emphasize in the diet include iron, B vitamins, magnesium, calcium and vitamin D.(1) We can work with our bodies versus against them to optimize health, reduce PMS symptoms, and prevent injury.