While it may seem more like a curse than a blessing, our menstrual cycle plays a pivotal role as a monitor of our overall health. It's sort of like a finger on the pulse of our well-being. If something is out of whack, our body will tell us. Knowing when to utilize all our superpowers during our HIIT classes and when to take it easy will help optimize our health and fitness goals.
If something is out of whack, our body will tell us.
We have four phases of our cycle: menstruation, the follicular phase, ovulation, and the luteal phase. All of these phases are unique in that they require different approaches to how we treat our bodies. Since each phase of our cycle is so different, we need to be in tune with our bodies instead of running on the treadmill adamant to reach our goals regardless because doing that can hurt us rather than help us.
The Menstrual Cycle
The infamous part of our cycle, our period, is Day 1 of our cycle and the fiercest force of nature that requires us to rest, whether we like it or not. Our hormones are at the lowest, and our cravings are at the highest. This is a time to scale down and to reset our minds and bodies, and to practice extra self-care in the form of eating the proper foods and taking it easy on the cardio.
Our hormones are at the lowest, and our cravings are at the highest.
Our body typically needs extra replenishing with a mix of healthy fats, lean proteins, and low GI complex carbohydrates such as whole grains and root veggies. Iron-rich foods are essential since many women experience low iron levels during the menstrual phase. You can supplement with an iron tablet or include iron-rich foods such as pumpkin seeds, spinach, and grass-fed eggs and beef. Exercise is best left to a leisurely walk, as too much strenuous activity further depletes our energy and resources.
If the menstrual cycle is winter, the follicular phase is springtime. During this phase, HIIT cycles and exercise can be introduced as our body starts to emerge from hibernation, and our estrogen levels increase. This is a time for planning and building more social connections as your energy levels are higher.
This is a time for planning and building more social connections as your energy levels are higher.
Since this is a time when our estrogen levels are higher, cruciferous vegetables become your best friend. Vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower are rich in the phytonutrient DIM (diindolylmethane), which help to build healthy follicles. You can incorporate more intense fitness regimes during this phase, but still, take it easy—your body has not reached maximum strength-training peak.
This is the phase where our energy levels are at their peak, and we can put into action the plans we made during the follicular phase. Now is the time to hit those workouts hard (for up to a week) and to utilize that energy for premium fat burning.
Now is the time to hit those workouts hard and to utilize that energy for premium fat burning.
Vitamin B is the main nutrient our body craves during ovulation because it encourages the release of a healthy egg and successful implantation if you're trying to achieve pregnancy. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are key players in maintaining a healthy egg as they help to encourage blood flow to the uterus and open the follicle to release the egg in a timely fashion. Foods high in Vitamin B and EFAs include whole grains, eggs, fatty fish, leafy greens, and legumes.
Just as fall prepares us for winter, the luteal phase prepares us for menstruation. As we start slowing down and getting ready for the shedding of our uterus lining, this phase is a time to store up energy and to plan for the coming hibernation of menstruation. Our estrogen and progesterone levels begin to decline, and hormonal fluctuations can cause us to feel lower energy and fatigue. During this time, proper exercise and nutrition are key to maintaining health.
During this time, proper exercise and nutrition is key to maintaining health.
Lighter weights and fewer reps, as well as pilates, can replace the more strenuous regime during the ovulation phase. A diet rich in beta-carotene and bromelain encourages cellular growth, which is essential in supporting progesterone production (suboptimal progesterone is one cause of PMS). Just as fall is perfect for cozying up by the fire, the luteal phase is perfect for staying warm by introducing warm vegetable soups, cooked leafy greens, carrots, and sweet potatoes.
Who would have thought our body had such unique needs during our cycle? Knowledge is power, and while you may be tempted to hit the gym no matter what, listen to your body's needs during every season of your cycle! Get free exercise and nutrition tips for each phase of your cycle on 28, Evie's feminine fitness platform.