Everything You Need To Know About The Luteal Phase
Last, but certainly not least, in the ovarian cycle is the luteal phase. Read on to learn about how you can feel your best through this hormone-crazy phase.
By now, I may sound like a broken record, but if you’re new to this series, you may not be familiar with the infradian rhythm – and you should be! In my humble opinion, every woman should be taught about this critical bodily clock at a young age. To put it simply, the infradian rhythm lies at the core of nearly every female bodily function. It regulates everything from your mood and sleep patterns to appetite and energy levels.
Unlike men, who function entirely on a 24-hour cycle, a woman’s hormone patterns follow a 28-day cycle, rising and falling over the course of several weeks. This is extremely important because, if you’re a woman, then you typically won’t be able to eat, sleep, work, and exercise the same way every single day of that 28-day cycle. Some days you may find yourself with more energy and focus. On others, you may be craving sugar, only to find the craving vanish as quickly as it arose. All of these biological fluctuations are due to your infradian rhythm. There are tons of books, blogs, and podcasts from women’s health and hormone specialists that dive deeper into this topic. You can also check out the previous three articles in this series on the menstrual, follicular, and ovulatory phases for more information.
The Luteal Phase
Evie’s cycle-tracking app, 28, uses the word “balance” to describe the fourth and final phase of the ovarian cycle. The luteal phase lasts about 10-14 days, occurring immediately after ovulation until the first day of menstruation. This phase has some of the most drastic changes in hormones because the body is trying to determine if a pregnancy is on the horizon following ovulation. The luteal phase can be thought of as a balancing time, because the brain and uterus are working together to trigger the correct hormones for the appropriate processes – either implantation of a fertilized egg or menstruation.
In the beginning of the luteal phase, both estrogen and progesterone are high, as the body is preparing for implantation. (Important distinction: While the transition between the follicular and ovulatory phases is the ideal time to fertilize the egg, the actual implantation of a fertilized egg – when pregnancy starts – will happen in the luteal phase. This means that for the vast majority of your cycle, your body is preparing for something that may or may not even happen.)
According to women’s health specialist Dr. Jolene Brighten, estrogen will spike before ovulation, come down slightly, and then plateau as the body enters the luteal phase. On the other hand, progesterone finds its peak during the luteal phase, rising during the early portion of this phase and peaking around 5-7 days after ovulation as the body prepares for pregnancy. The purpose of this progesterone spike is twofold: to thicken the cervical mucus so that bacteria cannot harm the egg, and to strengthen the uterine lining so that the egg has a place to implant and grow. If the egg is not fertilized, it will disintegrate, and the body will quickly adjust to accommodate menstruation, causing hormone levels, particularly progesterone, to fall. After several days of experiencing declining progesterone levels, the uterine lining will begin to shed in response.
During the latter portion of the luteal phase, many women experience PMS (premenstrual syndrome) as their body prepares for a period. This can be attributed to the declining levels of progesterone and estrogen that occur during this phase. It’s common for women to experience symptoms like bloating, cramping, headaches, acne, anxiety, changes in appetite, mood swings, difficulty sleeping, poor body temperature regulation, and more. Be kind to your body during the luteal phase by eating intentionally and exercising with care.
Food and Fitness in the Luteal Phase
During the end of the luteal phase, the body enters a type of withdrawal from sexual hormones, causing a whole host of unfriendly symptoms known as PMS. As a result, it’s important to nourish your body with the proper nutrients and vitamins to account for your lacking energy.
Forbes Health recommends foods high in healthy fats, like nuts, fish, and avocados, as well as “slow-digesting carbohydrates” like sweet potatoes and beans to provide energy. Healthy fats will help combat acne and promote skin health, and foods rich in magnesium (like spinach or chocolate) will fight off the fatigue that you may experience as a result of declining progesterone. Try your very best not to give into sugar cravings during this phase; unhealthy foods like this will only exacerbate your symptoms.
Be kind to your body during the luteal phase by eating intentionally and exercising with care.
As far as fitness in the luteal phase, the lower the intensity, the better. This is not the time of the month to set a PR or run a half marathon – leave that to the ovulatory phase. 28 recommends low-impact cardio like walking, yoga, pilates, or swimming. Since the body has a harder time cooling down in the luteal phase, Dr. Brighten recommends staying hydrated and wearing loose-fitting workout apparel to keep yourself cool. In addition to eating and exercising, apply the mantra of being gentle with yourself across every aspect of your life. You could experience brain fog or become more emotional during this phase, so prioritize practices of self-care to support your mind and body.
The Importance of Your Infradian Rhythm
Understanding the ways in which your hormones work together over the course of your cycle is essential to grasping why you feel, look, and think differently throughout the month. And while knowing when you’re entering each phase of the cycle is important for those trying to conceive, it’s truly useful knowledge for every woman. If that’s still not convincing you to try this practice, maybe testimonials from women who've been cycle-tracking with 28:
“Why aren’t they teaching this in school?! Basing my lifestyle off my cycle has quite literally changed my life. It has made understanding my body much easier and, honestly, kind of fun.” — kallisonm
“As a woman who has been on birth control for years and just stopped taking it over a year and a half ago, I have noticed significant changes in my physical and mental health. Knowing where you are in your cycle is so empowering. I have noticed a significant change in my overall health after [cycle tracking] for a little over the month.” — Katarina Barela
“I don't feel crazy anymore; I realized it’s literally just my body and mind reacting to hormonal changes throughout my cycle.” — schai240
“[Cycle tracking] helps me feel so much better. I understand my body’s needs and wants much more.” — Emily Robberts
Living in accordance with your infradian rhythm does not require any huge lifestyle changes; rather, this practice is made up of small suggestions on how to eat, exercise, or work differently throughout the month to tap into your best self. In fact, you’ve already begun the first, and arguably the hardest, step: educating yourself on the importance of the infradian rhythm! Learning about your body and the processes it endures throughout its 28-day cycle is not only helpful, but it's necessary to unlock your fullest potential as a woman. Let’s stop making our lives harder than they need to be and instead work with our bodies instead of against them.
For more information on this topic, visit my previous articles in this series on the menstrual, follicular, and ovulatory phases, visit Dr. Brighten’s blog, or download Evie’s 28 app.
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