Your Menstrual Cycle
The average woman has a period every 28 days. But not a single person I know is ‘average’ anymore.
Women are having periods from every 2 weeks to not at all because of hormonal contraception or amenorrhea from stress and over-dieting.
The way the menstrual cycle works generally is:
Day 1-6 – Your period. Bleeding and menstrual cramps happen in this phase as the body releases the uterus lining that has formed for the remainder of your cycle. The pain you feel is your body cramping to help you shed that lining.
Day 1- 14 – Your Follicular phase. This phase starts when you’re menstruating and it doesn’t stop until you ovulate. The growing follicle causes a rise in oestrogen in the body preparing to release an egg at ovulation.
Day 14 – 16 – is Ovulation. This is the release of the egg into the fallopian tube and funnelled down towards the uterus. If it doesn’t meet with sperm in 24 hours it will die.
Day 16 – 28 is the Luteal Phase (this can be vastly different depending on the person) At the same time as the egg is released the follicle that housed the egg stays on the ovary and transforms into something called a corpus luteum. This starts releasing progesterone with small amounts of oestrogen. The progesterone is building up the uterus lining ready to house an ‘egg’. But when pregnancy doesn’t occur the corpus luteum falls away as does the uterus lining and we menstruate again. We get PMS symptoms in this window where the corpus luteum dies as the hormonal drop is so great.
So how can we eat and train to support our menstrual cycle?
This is when oestrogen is at its lowest along with progesterone. This low level of hormone plus the fact you’re bleeding and in pain doesn’t put you in a great mental space! I always recommend resting on the first full day of your period from any strenuous exercise but making sure you try to stay active with a gentle walk. You are likely not going to feel like eating healthy food and looking for comfort in the form of chocolate or some other sweet food. This might be the time to get creative in the kitchen working with high satiety foods such as protein pancakes and high fibre filling meals.
As this phase begins whilst menstruating I am referring to around day 3 when the pain has usually subsided and the bleeding is lighter. As testosterone rises in this phase you’re likely to feel stronger in the gym and more focused. As oestrogen rises so does the sensitivity to insulin and your tolerance to both carbohydrates and pain. This phase of your cycle can be fantastic in the gym for both strength and performance.
We get moody when Oestrogen drops which happens just before ovulation. It has a big impact on serotonin – this why we can have such cravings for serotonin rich foods and foods that make us feel good! In this phase we will also likely to begin to feel quite tired and some women may feel cramps and pain as the ovary releases the egg. This is the time to ensure we have a high satiety diet including good fats. I always recommend dark chocolate to buffer those cravings.
In this phase both Oestrogen and progesterone rise. This huge surge in Progesterone can cause a massive increase in appetite and cause some skin issues. This is the PMS stage where we can feel down, anxious and tired. As in this phase insulin sensitivity is often lower try to stick to a lower carbohydrate diet and more cardio focused work; as strength and carbohydrate utilisation are likely going to be lower. You will also likely be holding water – relax it’s just a few days.
My top tip is: TRACK YOUR CYCLE. This can help you understand when you feel like shit and or why your skin is breaking out or your sweating like a machine. Knowing what your body is doing can play a huge part in learning how to help yourself with things like cravings and energy. A lot of cycles are not 28 days. Knowing this can help you plan and be prepared!