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Syncing your diet and lifestyle with your cycle is easier than you think

The menstrual cycle is commonly perceived as a burden rather than the true gift that it represents (reproduction). Women will have 450 menstrual cycles throughout their lifetime. Taking the time to understand a process that occurs so frequently within the female body may change the perception while using its unique phases to one’s advantage.

The menstrual cycle is a made up of 4 phases controlled by female hormones. These phases cause both physical and emotional changes within the body. Below the 4 phases are broken down as well as what bodily changes you can expect and how to work with the phases, not against them.

The Menstrual phase

The menstrual phase starts on the first day of bleeding, also known as your period. During the menstrual phase, the uterine lining sheds due to a drop in the hormone progesterone. A healthy period lasts anywhere from 3-7 days.

Your energy is at its lowest during this phase and it is common to have symptoms of fatigue. It is important to take care of yourself throughout this phase. Self-care can be done in multiple ways. When it comes to exercise opt for low impact and low-intensity movements such as walking, yoga and pilates. As for foods, stick to warm wholesome foods that feed the soul such as cooked meals. Specific Nutrients to consider during this phase include:

  • Omega 3s (help reduce inflammation)
  • Magnesium (help reduce symptoms of cramps)
  • Iron (help restore depleted levels due to blood loss)

The Follicular phase

The follicular phase also starts on day one of the menstrual cycle. This phase commonly lasts till day 13 however can range from day 10 to 17. Follicular refers to the follicles in the ovaries. During this phase, the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) is released by the pituitary gland. Its main role is in the name of the hormone, stimulating the follicles in the ovaries to allow them to mature. Within the follicles are the eggs. Once stimulated, these follicles begin the process of growth. It takes 13 days for the follicle to reach full maturity.

Oestrogen and testosterone levels also begin to rise during this phase. This often presents as increased energy, mood and brain function for many women. This is the phase where women tend to feel most confident, ready to take on whatever challenges or risk come their way thanks to the increased oestrogen levels. While the increase in testosterone improves libido.

This is the time to be productive, make big decisions, put your ideas into play and make the most of this self-love and assurance. In terms of exercise, anything moderate to high intensity will complement your body throughout this phase. Think interval training, running, cycling, resistance training or 6 am outdoor boot camp. Something that gets your heart rate up while breaking a sweat is a good start. Making sure you are consuming an adequate amount of protein is essential during this phase to support any muscle repair required due to an increase in strenuous exercise.

The Ovulation phase

All the changes and process in the follicular phase were preparing your body for this phase. Think of the ovulation phase as game day. Lasting only one day, this phase has a lot of responsibility. Ovulation commonly occurs on day 14, however, can occur any day from day 10-17. During this time, an egg is released from its follicle with a life span of 12-24 hours. The release of the egg is due to a spike in oestrogen, reaching its peak, which in turn triggers luteinizing hormone (LH). LH is responsible for promoting ovulation. This process can take from 24-48 hours, therefore, a woman is most fertile in the lead-up and on the day of ovulation.

Both oestrogen and testosterone reach their peak levels, further enhancing the effects experienced during the follicular phase. Women tend to feel their best most physically and mentally throughout this short but sweet phase. Much like during the follicular phase, make the most of this super-woman feeling in all aspects of life.

The Luteal phase

This is where things start to take a turn. This phase starts the day after ovulation and lasts for the rest of the cycle till the first day of bleeding. Once the egg is released during ovulation, it makes its way to the fallopian tube for 24 hours. Oestrogen’s role is now over and therefore its levels start to decline.

This is where the hormone progesterone starts to take over. Progesterone’s role is to maintain the uterus lining in order to protect the fertilized eggs after implantation.  Due to this, the first half of this phase progesterone levels are high. Progesterone is a calming hormone and women tend to slow down during this phase. This is where the term ‘nesting’ comes into play. Use this time to clean out your house or get on top off your to-do list.

If implantation does not occur, the egg disintegrates and progesterone levels drop resulting in the lining of the uterus wall shedding aka your period. The second half of this phase is dreaded by most woman as it can present with a wide range of unpleasant symptoms that fall under the term pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS).  Although not normal, symptoms such as headaches, cramps, bloating, constipation, anxiety, depression, mood swings and cravings are commonly experienced. Everyone will experience something different in the week leading up to your period, so take the time to listen to what your body is trying to tell you.

Moderate to low-intensity exercise is best suited here and will prepare you for your period. Try to opt for whole foods instead of processed foods high in refined sugar and salt as they aggravate PMS symptoms. If you must give in to those sweet cravings, why not try our sugar-free nutty chocolate bark. Fibre is also extremely important to help stabilise energy levels, reduce cravings and to keep bowel habits regular.

In need of more fibre? Try this fibre filled cookies.

Hopefully, after reading this, you are coming to terms about how the female body communicates throughout the cycle to keep things running smoothly. It’s safe to say there is a lot going on which may explain why women feel a certain way at particular phases of the cycle. The menstrual cycle is unique to each woman and should be embraced.

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