It is probably not news to you that your hormone cycle affects how you feel. Research has found that fertility hormones can influence metabolism, temperature regulation, perceived exertion when exercising, and even how your body stays hydrated.
The challenge of understanding our cycles
Often when we think about hormone cycles we put all of our focus on the menstrual phase, or the period. The truth is, there are 4 phases of the hormone cycle and each phase impacts our body differently.
When we can properly identify each phase, we can optimize our lifestyle to make sure our body has exactly what it needs at every phase.
The trouble is, usually we monitor these phases based on estimations of how long each lasts. However, the duration of each phase varies person-to-person.
The four phases of the menstrual cycle
Unlocking information about your menstrual cycle can help you identify patterns and better prepare your body for what it needs at different points in the month.
The menstrual phase is also considered the "early follicular phase" and some may just describe it as "the period." This is when bleeding typically occurs. Fertility hormones are at their lowest levels during this phase and you may experience symptoms like cramping, bloating, tiredness, and mood changes.
One misconception about the menstrual phase is that it is harder to exercise when you are on your period. Research has found that while athletes perceive their performance is impaired most during this phase, their performance outcomes are generally not negatively affected.
One caveat the research found was that if your symptoms contribute to troubles with sleep, nutrition, and hydration, athletic performance may be indirectly affected.
Here are some tips for feeling your best during the menstrual phase:
- Prioritize sleep and getting sufficient rest.
- Try swapping out coffee for a soothing tea to reduce cramping.
- Incorporate mineral-rich foods to help replenish iron and zinc. Think: kale, pumpkin, spinach, beans, red meat.
During the follicular phase, estrogen and progesterone levels start to rise. With this, energy levels may feel like they are going back up.
Moving into the later follicular phase, you may feel your mood improve as estrogen helps support the production and transmission of serotonin in the brain.
Here's how to make the most of the follicular phase:
- Try out a longer exercise session. A boost in stamina during this phase may make longer workouts feel more comfortable and productive.
- Drink beverages with electrolytes and carbohydrates to help improve exercise performance and stamina during this phase.
- Focus on foods that help the body process estrogen like fermented foods (sauerkraut, kombucha, pickles) and sprouts.
During ovulation, an egg is released from the ovary. Estrogen and testosterone peak during the ovulatory phase, and progesterone continues to rise slowly.
This phase is a great time for higher-intensity training. Still, make sure to properly stretch and warm up. Some studies suggest that ACL injury risk is highest around ovulation.
Here's what to do to support your body during the ovulatory phase:
- Opt for nutrient-rich foods like fruits and vegetables.
- Your body may be more receptive to strength training at this phase. You can support muscle growth by eating more complex carbs and protein.
- If you are trying to conceive, this is go time!
During the luteal phase, the egg that was released through ovulation becomes a structure called the corpus luteum. The corpus luteum emits estrogen and progesterone which triggers the uterine lining to thicken which would allow for a fertilized egg to implant).
If sperm does not fertilize the egg, and an embryo does not implant, the corpus luteum deteriorates and levels of progesterone decline. The thickened uterine lining sheds which is what causes menstrual bleeding.
Some research has shown that cardiovascular strain is higher during the luteal phase.
Your body temperature may also rise. Studies have found that this change in body temperature may actually improve performance in short activities while negatively impacting endurance activity performance.
However, a study of marathon runners found that more runners set personal bests during their luteal phase.
- Protein. Protein. Protein. Try adding in more eggs, lentils, leafy greens, fish, and tofu.
- Reach for a magnesium-packed snack before bed (dark chocolate, avocado, almonds) if you're having trouble sleeping.
- Scale back the exercise intensity if needed and look for lighter strength workouts or incorporating some yoga or pilates.
- You might find yourself needing to eat more. The extra calories will help you maintain balanced energy through your workouts and recover well afterwards.
The first step
The hormone cycle is so much more than just your period and the more you know, the better you can support your body through every phase.
The challenge for many women is actually understanding what phase of her cycle she is in at a given time. We often rely on "standard" values or "normal" ranges.
The truth is, only 13% of women have a 28-day cycle. There is also variation in the length of different phases. This means that two women who have 28-day cycles may not be ovulating at the same time, or menstruating for the same amount of time.
The key is understanding YOUR own cycle and that's where Oova comes in.
Oova's at-home, non-invasive hormone testing can help by letting you know where you are in your cycle, in realtime. The personalized precision helps translate your cycle and recognize patterns.
A great way to start is by keeping a journal with notes about your daily symptoms, your emotional wellbeing, and when you are experiencing your period.
We've created the Oova Symptom Tracker to help you get started. If you are looking for a digital option, the Oova App is also entirely free to download and lets you track your symptoms, generate reports, and add notes about how you are feeling day-to-day.
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