Cycle Phases and Ovulation

The menstrual cycle has 4 phases: the follicular phase, the ovulatory phase, the luteal phase and the menstrual phase. Below, I will break down the average lengths, the hormone activity and the effects on your mood and lifestyle that each phase is likely to have.

I even address which foods may best serve you during these times, which can help maximize your ability to create healthy, viable eggs for conception as well as manage the negative symptoms of the hormone fluctuations. These food recommendations are based on the specific nutrient content of each food and how it can benefit us during our cycle phases. This information has been gathered from various sources for confirmation, but primarily from the book Woman Code, by Alisa Vitti.

         1. Follicular Phase (7-10 days)

    • The Science:
      • Hypothalamus -> pituitary gland -> FSH -> ovaries get ready to release an egg
      • Egg follicles start to swell and grow
      • Estrogen increases
      • Uterine lining starts to thicken
    • What it means for you:
      • Physical energy improves/increases
      • Mental energy/creativity increases, making this a good time to tackle tough projects at work and brainstorm. You may also feel more social and more willing to try new forms of exercise.
      • Vagina is dry at first, then some thicker secretions can occur as this phase progresses
    • What should I eat?
      • Enzyme and probiotic-rich foods, and light, fresh foods.
      • Sprouts, oranges/citrus, plum, pomegranates, cruciferous veggies, sauerkraut/kimchi, avocados, artichokes, carrots, lettuces, herbs, green peas, string beans, zucchini, brazil nuts, cashews, chicken, eggs, clams, crab, trout, nut butter, olives, pickles


         2. Ovulatory Phase (3-5 days)

    • The Science:
      • FSH rises sharply ->  LH surges -> one follicle swells and bursts, releasing an egg into a fallopian tube on its way to the uterus
      • Estrogen peaking, testosterone surges then drops
    • What it means for you:
      • Energy levels are high, you may feel magnetic. Communication skills are at their peak. This is a great time for group exercises classes, running with friends or higher intensity workouts.
      • Vaginal discharge increases, becoming optimal for conception on your peak fertility day with the consistency and appearance of egg whites
      • You may feel mittelschmerz, or ovulation pain/discomfort, often on one side (side of ovulation). This may also be accompanied by cravings and a headache
    • What should I eat?
      • Go easy on the carbs, fill up on veggies/fruit/fiber which helps eliminate all the extra estrogen floating around and detoxifies the liver. Foods during this phase are all about creating the healthiest egg possible. Raw foods and lighter cooking methods recommended
      • Asparagus, red bell peppers, brussels, bitter greens, egg plant, okra, spinach, tomatoes, apricot, cantaloupe, coconut, fig, guava, berries, almonds, pecans, pistachios, lamb, salmon, shrimp, tuna, chocolate, coffee, turmeric


         3. Luteal Phase (10-14 days)

    • The Science:
      • Progesterone increases -> uterine lining continues to build -> FSH and LH decrease. Estrogen increases further, testosterone increases. If egg is not fertilized, progesterone drops, triggering a period to start (shedding uterine lining).
    • What it means for you:
      • Still high energy at first, then decreasing as you get closer to period. Adjust exercise routines accordingly.
      • Good time for domestic chores as mind becomes more detail-oriented and feels the need to organize, nest and turn focus inward. Relaxing and taking a break from very social engagements is what feels more natural during this time.
      • PMS symptoms may occur- bloating, irritability, headache, mood swings, cravings
    • What should I eat?
      • Foods rich in B-vitamins, calcium, magnesium and fiber. They stave off sugar cravings and fluid retention, and help flush out estrogen and cleanse the liver further. Roasting and baking are recommended cooking methods. Complex carbs needed during this time.
      • Cruciferous veggies, celery, dark greens, garlic, ginger, leeks, onion, pumpkin, sweet potato, squash, apples, dates, peaches, pears, raisins, chickpeas, white beans, pine nuts, walnuts, beef, turkey, white fish, mint, spirulina


         4. Menstrual Phase (a.k.a. your period, 3-7 days but varies)

    • The Science:
      • Progesterone drops -> period starts. Estrogen peaks and then drops -> stimulates hypothalamus to prepare for another cycle.
    • What it means for you:
      • Brown spotting and red bleeding accompanied by pelvic cramping, low backache, fatigue and cravings.
      • Tend to feel lower energy, more relaxed. Rest and recovery should be a focus. Yoga and walking are ideal, and towards the end more intense exercise can resume.
      • A great time to journal, reflect and course-correct your life as needed.
    • What should I eat?
      • Nutrient-rich foods, low-glycemic foods, water rich fruits and veggies. Seafood and sea veggies replenish electrolytes and minerals. Foods during this time restore blood and kidneys. Comfort foods are welcome here.
      • Beets, dulse/kelp (sea veggies), mushrooms, water chestnuts, berries, grapes, cranberries, watermelon, kidney beans, chestnuts, duck, pork, catfish, all shellfish, sardines, squid, decaf coffee, miso, salt, tamari (gluten-free soy sauce).


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