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Eating & Exercising For Your Cycle

Written by: Audrey Clement, R.D. and Sarah Johnson, MSPAS PA-C


Menses


What’s happening? Day 1-5; This is actually the start of the follicular phase; progesterone & estrogen decrease; This decrease in hormones causes the lining of the uterus to shed through the vagina if egg implantation (pregnancy) does not occur.


Prominent symptoms: Bleeding, abdominal cramps, low back pain, bloating, diarrhea, dry skin, fatigue.


Exercise modifications: Energy levels and physical discomfort may limit your ability to perform your desired activities. Low intensity exercise tends to be best in this phase but, as your period lightens, you may find that your energy levels increase. Light exercise may alleviate menstrual cramps and improve your mood. Consider light resistance training with light weights/low repetitions, walking, light cycling, yoga, or pilates in this phase.


Nutrition Focus: Increase your intake of iron-rich foods due to blood loss. Iron-rich foods include lean beef, chicken, beans, lentils, tofu, nuts, seeds, fortified whole grains, dark leafy greens, beets, dark chocolate and dried fruit.


Sample day of eating:

Breakfast: Kale smoothie

Dessert: Dark chocolate and dried fruit

Beverages: Beetroot juice


Follicular Phase


What’s happening? Day 6-14, follicular-stimulating hormone is released from the pituitary gland which activates ovaries to start producing follicles which contain an egg. Follicles are fluid filled sacs that assist with egg maturation. A dominant follicle forms which produces estrogen. This rise in estrogen causes the lining of your uterus, or your endometrium, to proliferate and thicken (proliferative phase). Estrogen continues to rise at a steady rate. When estrogen rises, this signals the pituitary gland to stop producing FSH. The decrease in FSH causes other follicles to wither away and reabsorb. In the meantime, the egg inside the dominant follicle reaches full maturity and is ready to be released.


Prominent symptoms: Most women feel their best during this phase! Energy levels increase and libido is on the rise. Skin becomes oiler due to rise in progesterone which can contribute to a “glowing” complexion for some and acne for others. Interestingly enough women’s pain threshold increases during this phase.


Exercise modifications: Strength and stamina are highest during this phase due to an increase in estrogen and testosterone (yes, women have testosterone too). The elevated levels of testosterone are ideal for strength training! Depending on the type of exercise you prefer, I would recommend longer runs, cycling, or HIIT for endurance athletes and heavier resistance training or bodyweight training for power/hypertrophy athletes.


Nutrition Focus: Increase your intake of complex carbohydrates during this time. Women tend to see an increase in carbohydrate oxidation during this phase. Lean into those cravings for all the carbs, your body needs them! As the intensity of your exercise increases, be mindful of hydration status.


Sample day of eating:

Snack: Pineapple + cottage cheese

Dinner: Chicken breast + sweet potato fries + side salad

Beverages: Coconut water and electrolyte drinks


Ovulation


What’s happening? Around day 14; The steady rise in estrogen lets the pituitary gland know that the egg is ready for ovulation. Ovulation occurs when luteinizing hormone (LH) from your pituitary gland increases which signals the dominant follicle to release the mature egg. The egg will be released between 10 and 12 hours after the surge in LH. Estrogen levels start to decrease and progesterone levels start to rise towards the end of this phase.


Prominent symptoms: Just like Charles Darwin ordered, confidence levels rise and libido is optimized! Our brains, along with our bodies, are signaling us to fertilize our egg.


Exercise modifications: Similar to the follicular phase, energy levels will be highest during this phase. Women tend to be able to withstand more exertion here so I recommend high intensity cardio in this phase. HIIT training on the treadmill, stair climber, or even with light weights/high repetitions would be best. Anything that gets your heart pumping and body sweating!


Nutrition Focus: Lean towards carbohydrates with a lower glycemic index such as lentils, beans, potatoes, berries, etc. Increase your intake of healthy fats from nuts and seeds, fatty fish, avocado, olive oil, etc. Increase your intake of antioxidants from foods with bright color hues such as green tea, avocado, berries, red cabbage, citrus fruit, etc. Include foods rich in vitamin D such as fatty fish, eggs, fortified dairy and fortified grains. Lastly incorporate folic acid from dark leafy greens, legumes, nuts and seeds, eggs, beets, and citrus fruit.


Sample day of eating:

Snack: Hard boiled eggs + orange

Dinner: Salmon paired with a colorful salad

Beverages: Matcha, ginger tea, beetroot juice, pressed green juice


Luteal Phase


What’s happening? Day 15-28; Mature egg that is released during ovulation travels down the fallopian tube to the uterus to be fertilized. The materials leftover from the follicle that released the egg in ovulation form the corpus luteum. The corpus luteum is responsible for making progesterone. This rise in progesterone prepares your uterus for pregnancy. The endometrial lining thickens for implantation, blood flow to increase to provide oxygen & nutrients to a developing fetus and cervical mucus thickens to prevent bacteria from infecting the uterus.


Prominent symptoms: This is where Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) occurs. Breast tenderness, mood swings, irritability, fatigue, and food cravings occur in this phase. These symptoms typically subside by menstruation.


Exercise modifications: Energy levels tend to plument during this phase. As a result of this, I would recommend a lower intensity form of exercise, such as incline walking, light cycling, and resistance training with light weight/low repetitions. If you are interested in yoga, pilates, or lagree this would be perfect for this phase.


Nutrition Focus: Increase your intake of protein and fat. Increase intake of foods rich in calcium such as dairy, canned tuna/salmon/sardines, dark leafy vegetables, edamame, tofu, and white beans. Increase intake of foods rich in iron such as lean beef, chicken, beans, lentils, tofu, nuts, seeds, fortified whole grains, dark leafy greens, beets, dark chocolate and dried fruit. Lastly increase intake of magnesium rich foods such as nuts and seeds, dark leafy greens, whole grains, legumes, salmon, and avocado.


Sample day of eating:

Beverages: bone broth, cow’s milk


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