The menstrual cycle is a 28+ day cycle, there is something happening EVERY WEEK OF YOUR LIFE.
As a female, you are born with all your eggs you will ever produce. When you reach puberty, your hormones go through a shift and begin to work monthly to fertilize and release one egg. When you no longer have any eggs left, your body goes through another huge hormone shift called menopause. Essential, every month your body prepares itself to become pregnant, when that doesn’t happen it sheds the uterine lining and starts all over.
Your menstrual cycle usually starts at the beginning of a bleed, because this is when you go back to ground zero.
All your hormone levels drop and your body sheds the thicken uterine lining, through bleeding. This phase can last anywhere from 3 to 7 days and the 2 main hormones, estrogen and progesterone, are at their lowest. This is actually the simplest phase of the cycle.
As we go into the follicular phase, things begin to get a little bit more complicated. FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) is released and does exactly what it sounds like it does, stimulates a follicle, hence “follicular”, which helps grow the follicle and one of your immature eggs. Once this happens estrogen is released, which actually inhibits FSH, to prevent more than 1 follicle from maturing additional eggs, and begins to prepare your uterus for “pregnancy”. This phase lasts about a week, but is the one we wish we could feel every week because as your estrogen increases so does your energy. You experience a boost in energy and mood. Your body becomes more insulin sensitive, meaning it can utilize carbohydrates more easily.
This is a good time to fuel your body with more carbohydrates and increase your exercise intensity.
Moving into your ovulation phase, which is the shortest of all the phases. Your egg matures and is typically released halfway through your cycle. There is about a 4 day window when you are the MOST fertile and your body KNOWS IT. This is when your estrogen is highest and you are really feeling yourself! You will have the most energy, the best mood, feel the most social, and the highest sex drive.
The next phase is the luteal phase, the longest of the cycle, and the one you typically dread.
This is when estrogen begins to decrease and the corpus luteum releases progesterone, hence “luteal”. Progesterone probably plays the biggest role in regulating the female hormone cycle and pregnancy. It sends all the right messages to different areas of the body to prepare it for a potential pregnancy. With all these signals crossing, your body can begin to feel many things and your PMS (premenstrual syndrome) symptoms will become much more evident. Symptoms can vary mentally, emotionally, physically, and in intensity. Some of these symptoms can include:
- Breast tenderness or swelling
- Abdominal bloating or discomfort
- Cramps or pelvic pain
- Headaches or migraines
- Fatigue or low energy levels
- Changes in appetite or food cravings
- Joint or muscle pain
- Acne breakouts
- Mood swings and irritability
- Anxiety or tension
- Depression or feelings of sadness
- Increased emotional sensitivity
- Difficulty concentrating or focusing
- Insomnia or disrupted sleep patterns
- Changes in libido or sexual desire
- Social withdrawal or isolation
- Restlessness or agitation
It’s important to know that it is normal and justified to feel any, all, or none of these things. The luteal phase can last as long as two weeks. Along with PMS symptoms, your energy is much lower, and your body becomes more insulin resistant.
During this time, it is best to utilize fats for fuel and decrease the intensity of your training. When the body realizes an egg has not been fertilized, progesterone will drop, which stimulates the shedding of the uterine lining. Bleeding begins, both estrogen and progesterone and low, and we are back to the beginning of the cycle.
It can sometimes feel like your period controls your life. Understanding how your hormones are working every week and not just hell week can help you plan ahead and feel in control!