The menstrual cycle is an important part of every woman’s life, and basing your diet and exercise routine around your cycle has numerous health benefits.
It’s a lot easier to do than it sounds! It’s essentially basing your diet and fitness routine around which phase of your menstrual cycle you’re in, working in conjunction with the rise and fall of your hormones. Before we get into the benefits of living according to your cycle, it’s important to know the four phases of your au naturel menstrual cycle and the best foods to eat and workouts to do during each phase.
What Are the Four Phases of the Menstrual Cycle?
The first three to seven days of your menstrual cycle are when you’re on your period, which signifies the start of a new cycle. This marks the beginning of a new follicle being formed in the ovary and the uterine lining shedding. Hormones like estrogen and progesterone are low. Many women experience cramping, bloating, headaches, heavy flow, and nausea, but these symptoms can be treated naturally.
Regarding your diet, it’s essential to stay hydrated to reduce bloating and heavy flow. Though you’re probably craving junk food, it’s best to stick to foods rich in iron (poultry, red meat, spinach, dark chocolate), vitamin C (citrus fruits, strawberries, broccoli, red and green peppers), vitamin A (dairy products, eggs, fish, beef liver), magnesium (whole grains, nuts, dark leafy greens), and calcium (dairy products, almonds, leafy greens, salmon) to reduce some of your worst period symptoms and replenish the nutrients lost.
Since your period is your body’s time to rest, it’s best to avoid high-intensity workouts (you probably feel extra tired and unmotivated anyway). Go on a walk or try some yoga for a relaxing workout instead. You can still stick to your routine if you like to run every day, but make sure to listen to your body, so you don’t over-exert yourself.
Your follicular phase begins when your period ends as the follicle continues to grow in your ovary until the egg cell inside is released (ovulation). Estrogen and progesterone levels rise. With your energy levels increasing, it’s important to nourish your body to keep your energy levels up and use this time to fit in more intense workouts involving cardio and weights.
Make sure to nourish your body with foods rich in vitamin E (sweet potatoes, leafy greens, almonds, mangoes, avocados), iodine (dairy products, chicken, fish, seaweed), and iron. Take advantage of your post-period energy boost and try workouts including strength training and high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
Ovulation is the main event of your cycle, which all the other phases are designed to support.
This phase is the shortest, only lasting for a few days, but it’s the main event that all the other phases support. Also known as your fertile window, the ovulatory phase is when your ovaries release the egg, making this the only time you can get pregnant (the egg will die in less than 24 hours if not fertilized by sperm). Your estrogen levels peak, and testosterone and progesterone rise, increasing your confidence, energy levels, and sex drive.
You will likely also notice a change in your cervical mucus as your body prepares to get pregnant – your cervical mucus will resemble egg whites: clear, stretchy, and abundant. The cervical mucus nourishes the sperm and helps them swim toward the egg. (Note: Sperm can live for up to five days in cervical mucus, so keep that in mind leading up to ovulation.)
Add foods high in vitamin B6 (fish, poultry, leafy greens, oranges), vitamin B12 (seafood, chicken, beef, dairy products), and folic acid (eggs, whole grains, fresh fruits, nuts) to your diet to help even out your hormone levels. When it comes to workouts, take advantage of your high energy levels and try a high-intensity cardio workout or socialize with a group dance or spin class.
This phase occurs after ovulation and initially prepares your body for pregnancy: The egg follicle transforms into a temporary organ called the corpus luteum that makes progesterone. Progesterone tells the lining of the uterus to prepare for the implantation of a fertilized egg, and if you were to get pregnant, it’s the hormone that sustains your pregnancy. Both estrogen and progesterone levels are high until your body senses that no egg has implanted (i.e., you’re not pregnant), usually about a week after ovulation. Then the corpus luteum breaks down and is absorbed back into the body and progesterone declines, signaling that your period is coming. This is when the dreaded PMS symptoms come in, often leading to mood swings and low energy levels. Luckily, these symptoms can be treated naturally.
You should eat similarly as you do during your period during the luteal phase (many PMS symptoms overlap with your period), but it’s important to add foods rich in vitamin E to help balance your hormones. Since the sweet and salty cravings start at this phase, be sure to snack on dark chocolate, fruit, and almonds to help curb the cravings. When it comes to exercise, you should take it easy with yoga and low-intensity cardio workouts.
Paying Attention to Your Cycle Can Help Your Mental Health
While tracking your cycle can improve your mental health, living in rhythm with your cycle takes it to a much deeper, more comprehensive level. Your body, your moods, and your cravings don’t have to be a mystery or a surprise to you. Knowing exactly where you are in your cycle and what’s going on with your hormones helps you prepare for hormone-related mood swings. It keeps you in control of your emotions and in the know about your hormones – it helps you better understand yourself. Since your mental health and menstrual cycles are linked, living in rhythm with your cycle will inevitably improve your mental health.
Living According to Your Cycle Can Help You Conceive
Tracking your cycle can help you conceive in two ways. Firstly, it shows you when you’re fertile and ovulating. Your cycle might not look like the perfect 28 days, and that’s okay! You can still have a healthy cycle and not ovulate on day 14. Observing your signs of fertility (cervical mucus, basal body temperature, rising libido) can you help pinpoint when you’re fertile.
Secondly, supporting your cycle in each phase with the appropriate nutrition and exercise will help support healthy hormones – and healthy hormones are essential for getting pregnant and staying pregnant. If you follow the diet and exercise routines that go along with each phase of your cycle, you’ll be healthier overall, making the process of conception and pregnancy an easier journey.
Exercising According to Your Cycle Can Help You Get in Shape
One of the most interesting aspects of living in rhythm with your cycle is choosing your workouts and meals based on which phase you’re in. Eating healthy and exercising are good for you in general, but this attunes those to your body and its specific needs today. This means you’ll have more energy, better balanced hormones, better workout outcomes, and even a higher libido! When you tailor your workouts to your cycle – taking your hormonal and energy levels into consideration – you’ll optimize your workouts without punishing your body, ultimately leading to more success in your health journey.
If you’re already tracking your cycle (which you should be), transitioning into living according to your cycle is surprisingly easy. The health benefits that come along with it will improve every aspect of your life, and you’ll be sure to thank us later.
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