Photo of Pine trees with snow for winter, blooming tulips for spring, orange leaves on trees for fall and bright blue sky with clouds for summer. Four phases of the menstrual cycle

4 Phases of the Menstrual Cycle

Guest Blogger: Corissa Leik

Winter. Spring. Summer. Fall.

No one needs to define these words for us, right?  We’ve been living in the rhythm of the life cycle, reflected in the seasons of the year, our entire lives.  

But what if I told you that, as a woman in her cycling years, you experience this rhythm each month in your body?

And, that understanding this rhythm can be incredibly powerful in supporting your mental, physical, and emotional health??

You see, rather than simply operating in a 24-hour circadian rhythm (which is important!), women also operate in a 28-day monthly rhythm due to the way our hormones fluctuate throughout the month.  These fluctuations can be broken down into four phases—menstrual, follicular, ovulatory, and luteal—and each phase can affect our mood, energy, metabolism, sleep, and so much more! 

Menstrual phase (Winter), 4-7 days:  The first day of your bleed to the last is known as your menstrual phase.  During this phase, your core body temperature drops as progesterone and estrogen levels plummet and your body releases the uterine lining.  This time, when your hormones are at their lowest and you tend to feel less social, is a good time to “hibernate”—take a step back, reflect, re-evaluate things in your life.  Ditch the cold therapy and opt for warm baths and foods rich in minerals like meat, sea veggies, and beets to replace minerals lost from bleeding.  Move your body in whatever way feels best to you—some women feel energized and ready for a heavy lift (especially around Day 3 when estrogen levels start to rise!), and some feel better with gentler movement like walking and stretching.  Remember—no two women are alike, so you may feel completely different on your period than someone else!  Get to know what your body needs during your menstrual phase.

Follicular (Spring), 5-7 days: From the end of your bleed to a few days before ovulation is known as your follicular phase.  This phase is characterized by rising estrogen as the ovary prepares a follicle for ovulation.  And that rising estrogen usually leads to a boost in energy, focus, and mood!  This “springtime” of your cycle may have you feeling like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon, so this is the perfect time to try a new experience or brainstorm and dream of future projects and adventures.  Fresh foods with fiber like cruciferous vegetables will help metabolize estrogen, fermented foods like yogurt and sauerkraut will support your gut microbiome, and proteins like eggs provide key nutrients for healthy egg quality.  Moving your body in a fun, joyful way usually feels good during this phase—have a dance party with your kids, explore a new hiking trail, or sign up for a barre class.  Think fresh, fun, and new!

Ovulatory (Summer), 2-3 days:  The few days surrounding the day you ovulate can be separated into its own phase because ovulation is the main event of your menstrual cycle—estrogen levels reach their peak, along with your fertility!  During this time of “full bloom,” you may find yourself feeling more social, with an extra dose of energy and motivation (a bump in testosterone levels that happens right around ovulation helps with this).  It’s the perfect time to plan a date night or fun social event, give a big presentation at work, or tackle a heavy lifting session.  As your body temperature spikes during this phase, your body may be able to handle more raw, cooling foods like cucumbers, leafy greens, berries, and peppers—and the fiber from these foods will help metabolize estrogen as your levels surge during ovulation!  But don’t skimp on the protein, especially if you’re more active and upping your strength training game during this phase—your body still needs fuel and rest!

Luteal (Fall) 12-14 days: As soon as ovulation occurs, the corpus luteum, which is the structure left behind after the egg is released, begins to produce progesterone.  Progesterone’s job is to maintain the uterine lining in case pregnancy was achieved during ovulation, but it also has a powerful effect on how we feel and function in the last half of our cycle.  We become slightly less insulin sensitive, so regular meals with balanced macronutrients will help maintain stable energy and mood (this is not the time for fasting—save that for your follicular phase).  Find yourself craving chocolate the week before your period?  That may be because chocolate contains magnesium, a mineral your body needs during this time—so go ahead and indulge in some dark chocolate, but be sure to include other magnesium-rich foods like spinach and sunflower seeds!  And just like in the fall when we focus on preparing for winter—harvesting, cleaning, storing things away—you may feel the urge to clean, re-organize, or wrap up projects during this phase.  At the beginning of your luteal phase, a heavier workout may feel great, but toward the end, be sure to prioritize sleep and recovery, including stress-relieving activities like Epsom salt baths, reading a good book, and whatever else brings you joy as your serotonin levels take a dip at the end of your cycle and maintaining stability in your mood can become more challenging!

Now, before you go to your calendar and cancel everything in your life that doesn’t occur at the ideal time for your cycle phase, remember this—your cycle is a rhythm to be honored, not a formula to be followed.

Knowing your cycle doesn’t make you fragile and only able to do certain things at certain times of the month—it just means that you are armed with information to control the things you can control.  If you have the freedom to schedule an event during an ideal time in your cycle, go for it!  But if you don’t, you are prepared to give yourself some extra care before and afterward, or communicate what you need to your loved ones.  

And finally, remember that this journey is about getting to know the rhythm of your cycle—not what anyone else says you should be experiencing!  Some women feel fabulous on their period, some feel very low-energy.  Some people don’t feel their best while ovulating, while others feel like they can conquer the world.  Understanding your own unique cycle is a way to respect how you were created and support your optimal health!

Back to blog