Did you know that by simply understanding which menstrual phase you are in throughout your monthly cycle can help to maximize efficiency, productivity, communication and mood? In fact, being strictly compliant to one single day-to-day routine all month long might be holding you back from feeling your best throughout the month. Seriously! This is for any of you ladies who are too compliant for your own good… let’s dive into when it’s actually a good idea to let loose on those reigns for a hot minute.
By the way, this is something that both men and women can benefit from reading. So before you stop reading men, pay close enough attention and you’ll come away knowing the best time to have those important conversations with your partner and so much more!
Why Pushing Yourself Isn’t Always The Best For You
Do you consider yourself to have an impressive amount of perseverance? Do you push through episodes of fatigue, changes in mood and personal desires to complete a task no matter how you’re feeling? Are you one to hit the cycling studio 5 times a week everyday no matter how you are feeling?
Some of you are identifying with most of these questions and feeling pretty good about yourselves while others are starting to feel as if they SHOULD be more like this. Well, against current social norms and expectations, I’m going to dive into why this is actually not the best way to live your best life as a menstruating female. A woman’s cycle can lead to seemingly random changes to mood, energy, and appetite (just to name a few). But did you know that you can actually anticipate how you’ll feel throughout the month and use this information to plan social events or what kind of workout you will absolutely crush vs. another? By understanding what is going on through the four phases that make up your monthly cycle you can optimize each month to feel better, accomplish more and be in an appropriate mood for your social schedule.
Let’s Work With What We’ve Been Given
No matter your current understanding of female hormones, most people can probably agree that there’s some complex stuff going on in there. If we didn’t have a scientific view into this world I would even stand to use the word “magic” in describing it – in fact, I would still consider the female reproductive system to be magical even with this scientific understanding! I mean come on… every month the female body prepares the perfect environment and a few eggs for possible fertilization that can sustain life. Every month! I start off with this obvious, yet amazing fact to just set the stage for the appreciation that is often not given to a woman’s cycle. Yes, I realize it is annoying and for some women painful or unpleasant and others who take a pill to only have it once or twice a year. What if instead of trying to squander this natural cycle that is taking place in some phase or another every single day of the month, we actually appreciated it? Thanked it? Even honored it by adjusting small things in our routine to compliment it?
It’s kind of how every middle-school aged girl wants the opposite kind of hair than they were born with. Girls who have straight hair want curly hair – girls who have dark hair want light hair and vice versa. Years are spent straightening those curls out and dying dark hair blonde, but somewhere along the way many women begin to embrace what they have naturally been given. I get it, I have naturally curly hair and for years tried straightening it even though it was such a hassle! It took forever, was never completely straight and with the slightest drop of moisture in the air turned into frizz-heaven. Once I embraced my natural curls, my hair was not only healthier from the lack of frying sessions with a straightener, I also appreciated what I had much more and now wouldn’t think of changing it. It may not be today, it may not be tomorrow, but I encourage you to take steps to appreciate your cycle. This could even mean looking toward more natural forms of birth control or getting off birth control all together, but that’s another topic for another day.
The (Amazing) Female Reproductive System
Each monthly cycle is made of four phases: menstrual, follicular, ovulatory and luteal. These four phases each bring about their own change in hormones, energy and emotions. By knowing which phase you are in you can understand how to optimize your schedule, eating and social life to be at the top of your game all month long!
The more we can work with our natural cycle the smoother life will flow. Women used to understand much more about their cycles and how to optimize their life around them, rather than forcing life to go the way we want it when we want it. In traditional societies, women menstruated together and left the tribe while bleeding. They had time away from typical tasks and responsibilities to focus on the emotional and energetic release which accompanies menstruation.
Now, we can’t very well leave our home of jobs in today’s society while menstruating, but we can learn a lot from this tradition. Instead of working against our bodies every month let’s begin allowing it to work for us by doing certain activities at certain times of the month to maximize our brain chemistry and potential. Every aspect of your life from time at home, the gym or at work will be benefited when you learn to decode the phases of your menstrual cycle.
Optimizing Each Phase
The first half of your monthly cycle (about 2 weeks) is comprised of the menstrual and follicular phase and is collectively called the Follicular Phase. Let’s breakdown each phase to see what to expect and therefore how to optimize four major areas of daily living: energy & mood, nutrition & supplements, exercise and social/work feels…
ENERGY & MOOD. Energy will be the lowest here as hormone levels drop making this the absolute best time for self-reflection and evaluation. You may feel passive and withdrawn, reflective and introverted, or emotionally sensitive. Just by knowing this many women feel relieved when they learn that feeling a little “off” is completely normal. We don’t have to be all sunshine and rainbows everyday! Take this time to embrace your female energy and step out of the typical “male” energy especially if you are in a hard-hitting, non-stop, work environment.
NUTRITION & SUPPLEMENTS. Embrace healthy fats, iron rich animal proteins, cooked veggies, and root veggies to help stabilize cravings, replete iron from blood loss and help to support hormone production. A proper meal example here would be roasted beets with cooked kale, 3-4 ounces iron rich ground grass-fed beef and a warm cup of bone broth to sip on. Supportive supplements here are collagen, fish oil, trace minerals and magnesium.
*in order to provide you with the safest supplement recommendations possible some of these links go to a closed company site called Xymogen. Read more about why we recommend their products here. To order simple enter practitioner name “moday” and referral code”Health”. We do receive small kick back from sales from these supplement links.
EXERCISE. Match your intuitive feelings with restorative exercises like yoga, pilates and walking outside instead of forcing yourself to do that hour long HIIT or cycling class. The key here is knowing this AHEAD of time so you don’t beat yourself up about not accomplishing that intense workout to the best of your ability, or not being hard on yourself when you want to sleep in a little longer.
SOCIAL/WORK FEELS. The key here is preparing ahead of time and avoid scheduling large social events or take on tasks at work that drain you. This is the ONLY time in the month when the left and right hemispheres of your brain have a better connection with each other leading to deeper intuition, insight, and revelation… embrace that! This means instead of being hard on yourself for not being as productive or bad-ass as you normally are, take this time to see what has been working in your life, what hasn’t, and what you want to change for next month. Take an epsom salt bath, get lost in a juicy fiction novel and puzzle! Sound like a foreign concept to you? Exactly… Hop to it and watch how your mood begins to stabilize when you work with your hormones.
Understanding where you are in your cycle and tuning into these cues takes a few months for most women to get the hang of. Again, they key is to plan ahead and understand how each cycle will affect these four areas differently so you can adjust your schedule accordingly!
ENERGY & MOOD. Energy and mood levels will begin to increase after the heavy lifting of menstruating comes to an end. In this phase the body begins to make estrogen to prepare for possible fertilization. You’ll likely feel a higher sex drive, be more energetic and have more mental and creative clarity.
NUTRITION & SUPPLEMENTS. This week is a great time to bring back some raw veggies especially sprouts and cruciferous vegetables, as well as fermented foods. These foods contain 3-endole-carbinol, which helps the body metabolize and break down estrogen, which is the main cause of PMS. A perfect example of complimenting nutrition with a change in hormone status. Enjoy a big green salad with broccoli sprouts and fermented sauerkraut with a creamy avocado dressing along with some baked cod. Supportive supplements include a Greens powder and fiber like ground flax seed, 2 tablespoons daily.
EXERCISE. This is a good week to do more cardio and challenging workout. Take advantage of higher energy levels by doing some higher impact workouts. These will provide that endorphin high post your previous slower week during the menstrual phase. This is also the best time to gain muscle and burn more fat.
SOCIAL/WORK FEELS. As energy levels begin to increase and you are feeling more energized than the week before embrace this as a time to express your creativity and engage in social events. Now is a good time to start new projects, plan goals for the month, and brainstorm for the future.
The second half of your monthly cycle (about 2 weeks) is comprised of the ovulatory and luteal phase collectively called the Luteal Phase. Let’s breakdown each phase to see what to expect and therefore how to optimize four major areas of daily living…
ENERGY & MOOD. Energy and mood levels will remain pretty stable here so enjoy this peak in energy and libido. You may feel outgoing and adventurous at the beginning of this phase but may not be as resistant to stress – so don’t push it like in the follicular phase. Some women do feel slightly depressed near the end of this phase, especially if ovulation is not regular.
NUTRITION & SUPPLEMENTS. This phase looks a lot like the follicular phase so no need for huge changes. Continue to eat plenty of raw foods to prevent estrogen dominance. The fiber and antioxidants in raw veggies break down and move estrogen out of the body. Raw juices and fresh veggies also ensure that the liver gets glutathione, which is required to break down estrogen in the liver. A hormone stabilizing meal could consist of a fiber packed gluten-free grain like quinoa with blood sugar balancing avocado and shrimp for protein. Be aware that your body is preparing for a possible baby at this point so insulin resistance in lower: this means it’s not the best time to binge on high glycemic foods. Supportive supplements include a Greens powder, fish oil and prebiotic fiber like this one or green banana flour.
EXERCISE. Continue hitting it hard with those higher impact workouts like strength training or HIIT in the beginning of the week and taper off toward the end with more restorative practices like pilates. This is the perfect time to notice how to adjust movement based on a change in energy levels through the week. With higher energy levels during the beginning of the week, understand what is feels like to workout when you’re really feeling like you to. Then, transition to slower movements toward the end of the week when you feel a drop in energy.
SOCIAL/WORK FEELS. Energy levels are at their highest during this phase than any other time of the month thanks to a spike in estrogen, FSH (follicular-stimulating hormone) and testosterone. This is the best time for productivity, collaboration and creating relationships. Use this time to get involved within the community or take on a big work project. Communication is a strong point here so use this time to talk with the boss or your partner in an even-keel and confident manner.
ENERGY & MOOD. As we bring it full circle here hormones like estrogen, progesterone and testosterone go from their highest to their lowest as your body gears up for menstruation which lowers energy levels. SIDE NOTE: Women on birth control are kept in a constant luteal phase, keeping estrogen low which can make them more insulin resistant and decrease thyroid production.
NUTRITION & SUPPLEMENTS. This is the week to buckle down and avoid excess sugar and caffeine as much as possible – yes, that means chocolate which contains both of these ingredients. Instead focus on fueling the body with cooked foods that are rich in B vitamins, magnesium, and fiber such as crunchy chickpeas, roasted root veggies, liver, nuts and seeds. Supportive supplements include trace minerals, fish oil and a probiotic.
EXERCISE. Three days before the menstrual cycle begins again, taper off of high intensity workouts and slow things down with movement like pilates and yoga. This might be easy because you feel a decrease in physical strength/stamina. This will also be an important factor in decreasing the stress response on the body. Don’t push it here – instead bring that focus inward and get in touch with your slow energy once more. This is absolutely the most important time to avoid excess stress as much as possible. It is when this downward shift if energy is ignored that many women experience weight loss resistance because cortisol levels are naturally higher here. Pushing through with high stress situations and high impact workouts can increase cortisol further.
SOCIAL/WORK FEELS. Now is the time to wrap up errands you started when energy levels in the previous phases instead of taking on brand new and stressful projects. Focus on more creative and visionary tasks like taking on a small-creative project in your home or re-organizing your closet because you just watched Maria Kondo of Netflix! This is the best time for inspired creativity, out of the box thinking, and problem solving.
Have Your Most Productive Month Ever
Understanding and predicting your cycle allows you to create a schedule that honors your body. For example, I know that during the follicular phase I know I am going to do more HIIT workouts because I feel like I can take on the world. However, during my luteal phase and the very beginning of my menstrual phase I plan for extra self-care like more baths and give myself a little break when I’m feeling emotionally vulnerable. I try to avoid scheduling any crazy social events that I am managing at this time as well. Of course that might not always be possible, but even if it isn’t it’s knowing what to expect from my body that makes me content in whatever situation I am in.
Now that you understand how the four phases of the menstrual cycle and how these affect energy & mood, nutrition & supplements, exercise and social/work feels how do you get started on your most productive month ever?
- Begin to track your cycle and take simple notes about your energy, mood and cravings on a free app like Flo.
- You can see on the calendar what phase you are in depending on the day of the month. Every woman is different but the usual breakdown of a 28 day cycle looks like this: the Follicular Phase (menstruation+follicular): begins on the first day of bleeding to about day 10 and the Luteal Phase (ovulatory+luteal) takes us though days 11-28.
- Now you can begin to map out your month accordingly!
During the second half of the follicular phase and first half of the luteal phase:
- Schedule those muscle building, high intensity workouts
- Load up on raw veggies, fiber rich gluten-free grains
- Tackle that big project at work, engage in healthy or possibly challenging communication with loved ones and empower your ass-kicking, high-power feminine energy
During the second half of the luteal phase and first half of the follicular phase:
- Slow it down with restorative movement like yoga, pilates or getting outdoors for a long walk in nature
- Embrace iron rich grass-fed meat and roasted veggies galore!
- Accept the fact that it is ok to slow down and pamper yourself with a bath, make time for creative thinking instead of burning the candle at both ends here. Your mood and waistline will thank you.
By understanding what your body needs and when, all that’s left now is to have your most productive month ever by not trying to give 100% every single day of the month!
Taking the time to reconnect with what your body’s natural cycle is something that all menstruating women can benefit from. It takes time to establish this intuitive connection, but I promise you knowing your body in this way is so worth it and you will feel the benefits in every area of your life.