Now that we know why we may wake up feeling different every day and why these changes happen in our moods, abilities, and thought patterns, let's break down the phases of our cycle for a happier, healthier you.
Every stage of our cycle will create a different dynamic and learning how to navigate these stages can take time. Here is a reminder of the four distinct parts of our cycle which the Unlock Your Cycle course pulls apart in detail:
Follicular phase (7-10 days)
Ovulatory phase (3-5 days)
Luteal phase (10-14 days)
Menstrual phase (3-7 days)
Remember that in the Unlock Your Cycle Blog Series, we figured out that "the first two phases, the follicular and ovulatory phases bring with it a high energy, an excitement for new projects and a feeling of being more outward. The second half of your cycle, during the luteal and bleeding (menstrual) phases, is when your energy is lower, and you will find yourself more likely to want to rest, nurture yourself, finish off projects and reflect inwards."
Knowing and working with our energy levels throughout our cycle sets us up to work well with our bodies and not against them. So, let's figure out how to eat, exercise, and play in line with our cycle.
Cycle Syncing and Nutrition
Studies have shown that our nutrient needs alter depending on each stage of our menstrual cycle. The easiest way to spot and understand this is that our iron levels may be lower during the menstruation phases than throughout the rest of the month. Because of this, it's recommended to eat iron-rich foods at this time. We tend to fall into a pattern with our eating habits, but our bodies fluctuate with different proportions of oestrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, meaning we have different nutritional needs throughout the month.
At this stage of our cycle, we are looking for foods that will metabolise oestrogen as our body prepares to release an egg during the next phase. Fermented foods like broccoli sprouts, sauerkraut and kimchi are recommended. The follicular phase also encourages us to prioritise fibre and foods high in zinc, such as eggs and whole grains. You may also find yourself craving fresh foods such as salads with mountains of raw vegetables.
Eat This: Beef, fish, poultry, lamb, eggs, and dairy products. Include chia seeds, quinoa, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts. Choose fruits such as banana, kiwi, apple, apricot, blueberries, and strong root vegetables and greens such as sugar snaps, kale, green beans, peas, carrots, sprouts, and sweet potato.
Drink This: 2 litres of water a day
During the ovulatory phase, our oestrogen is at an all-time high. This week we should look at eating anti-inflammatory foods such as vegetables, almonds, and whole fruits as they are full of health benefits and protect us from environmental toxins known to affect our hormones. Choose high-quality foods that will help maintain a healthy gut microbiome which helps with balancing our hormones in the right way. Fibre-rich foods such as couscous, berries, and quinoa are very helpful at this stage.
Eat This: Beef, fish, eggs, and shellfish. Include vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, potato, bell pepper, eggplant, squash, cucumber, and radish. Fresh fruit such as watermelon, grapes, plums, pears, berries, and micro-greens as well as nuts.
Drink This: 2 litres of water a day
Both oestrogen and progesterone are surging during the luteal phase and, towards the end, will significantly wane. The intensity of this week asks for nutrients that will support your energy and produce serotonin, such as leafy greens, buckwheat, and magnesium-rich foods such as spinach and dark chocolate to fight fatigue.
Eat This: Beef, tuna, salmon, poultry, and shellfish. Include kale, cabbage, avocado, carrots and sweet potato. Try banana, almonds, sunflower seeds, chickpeas, pasts, and whole grains, and remember the dark chocolate!
Drink This: 2 litres of water a day and avoid caffeine.
During the menstrual phase, oestrogen is at its lowest point, and our bodies will look to replenish the blood-loss with iron-rich and nutrient-rich foods such as nuts, lentils, meats, and omega-3s that come from eggs and walnuts. Vitamin B12 is also important, so include fortified cereals and alternative milks in your diet. In this way, we can combat the fatigue that often comes at this stage of our cycle. Soothing teas such as chamomile can help with cramps, and we should look at avoiding caffeine, salty foods, and alcohol and limit any fatty foods.
Eat This: Beef, fish, poultry, strawberries, citrus fruits, spinach, broccoli, mushrooms, chard, kale, beetroot, bell peppers, lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, cherries, mango, papaya, and pineapple.
Drink This: 2 litres of water a day
Cycle Syncing and Exercise
Pushing beyond the exhaustion, pain, and complications of our cycle is something we have all grown up with, but the shift in syncing our lives to our cycle (and not the other way around) is a powerful tool for every woman. As our hormones fluctuate, so do our physical needs. Listen to your body and switch up your exercise regime depending on your cycle.
We can certainly work up a sweat during the follicular phase despite our hormones still being low. We may have lower stamina at this stage which makes hiking, gentle yoga, and light runs the exercise of choice at this time.
Testosterone and oestrogen are now peaking, which means we can max out our exercise regime and hit greater targets as our potential and drive increase. It's now that High-Intensity Training is most beneficial or an intense spin class.
As progesterone is rising during the luteal phase, we see testosterone and oestrogen depleting, so choose strength training during this phase. Intense yoga and pilates can be very beneficial now.
During the menstrual phase, light exercise may be best but listen to your body and see what it needs. For many of us, rest is key during this stage. It's a time to slow down and pamper yourself. That does not mean that exercise is not on the cards. Gentle exercises such as yoga and mindful walks will benefit you greatly.
Cycle Syncing and Lifestyle
The more we track our cycle, the more in tune we get with the varying stages of what we can achieve in any given week. It's one of the ways to combat stress as we navigate our way through our days. Fighting against ourselves will only make life harder, so let's sync our every day to our cycle.
During this phase, our energy and creativity are bouncing around, begging to be let loose. This is the stage to tackle projects that are constantly being put off. It's the perfect time to pick up speed with socialising, and we will happily enjoy being active and out and about.
Take the opportunity to schedule those playdates, plan the parties, and catch up with friends because this is the time you are at your most daring, most excitable, connected and intrigued by all around you. In fact, it's a great time to kick start a new hobby or try something new.
The Ovulatory Phase is when you are most keenly aware. Conversations will be much easier, your connection to others stronger, and your attention to detail concise.
During this phase, it's important to listen to your body and mind and avoid stepping outside of your capabilities. Know what you are able to do, and don't force yourself beyond your boundaries. It is not the time to schedule appointments, arrange playdates or host a party. This is the time to focus on yourself and begin slowing down before the next phase.
The menstrual phase is a period of self-reflection, going inward, and happily enjoying your own company in quiet comfort. It can be very difficult to slow down and care for yourself, but it is important to put yourself first during this time and place boundaries that allow you to lean into this phase. It is a time to reflect, set goals, be conscious of everything around you, and a perfect opportunity to understand yourself and your needs better.
Unlock Your Cycle Blog Series