Menstrual cycle: diet, exercise and psyche according to each phase

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Do you have an urge for chocolate? This isn’t always a coincidence, as our needs vary according to which phase we’re in. For this reason, adapting our diet, exercise and mental health management to each phase helps ensure a regulated cycle.

Phases of the cycle

Cravings, bad moods or stomach aches aren't always determined by our cycle. But with the right diet and exercise and by following a few important tips, we can boost our hormone production, which helps us to become more balanced and allows us to take a break now and again.

An overview of the 4 phases

  1. Menstruation phase: the cycle begins with the first day of bleeding, which is triggered by the drop in progesterone and oestrogen levels.
  2. Follicle phase: this is the phase after menstruation when the follicle develops until it’s ready to burst and release the maturing egg.
  3. Ovulation phase: after ovulation, the egg is expelled from the follicle in the ovary into the fallopian tube. Its outer coating remains behind as the corpus luteum.
  4. Luteal phase: the corpus luteum produces progesterone to prepare the lining of the uterus for implantation of the fertilised egg.

Female cycle – influence on mood

Hormone concentration levels vary according to each phase of the cycle. The hormones oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone etc. influence our metabolism, energy levels and mood. During menstruation, many women feel a greater need for rest and withdrawal. After menstruation, the rise in oestrogen levels often leads to a need to go out, make new experiences and socialise. Finally, the rise of progesterone during the last phase of the cycle causes some women to experience greater mood swings.

How can I control my mood?

When it comes to managing our mental health, it’s important not to attribute unpleasant feelings to a certain phase, nor to fight them. For many women, however, just being aware of their cycle helps them to recognise their body's hormonal fluctuations and corresponding effects and to better understand their bodies. Having such an understanding can help us discover the potential of each phase, especially the difficult ones.

Diet during the cycle

Hormones not only affect our mood, they also regulate metabolic activity. This means that during the first half of the cycle our calorie requirement is somewhat lower. In the second half, on the other hand, our calorie requirement increases, as does our need for carbohydrates and for more regular meals. At the same time, intestinal activity decreases, because the body is concentrating on more important tasks: the possible implantation of an egg.

How do I adapt my diet to my cycle?

We’ve learned that the cycle influences our food requirements. But this doesn’t only work in one direction: we can also influence our cycle with our diet. An example? Valuable fatty acids are essential for hormone production which, in turn, ensures a regular cycle. This means that women shouldn't be afraid of healthy fats. Healthy fatty acids are particularly important during the part of the menstrual phase when hormone production starts.

Exercise during the cycle

Just as is the case with diet, exercise and our hormonal condition have a mutual impact on each other. During the menstrual phase, women are – in hormonal terms – at their most similar to men. Many women, provided they don’t suffer from severe menstrual disorders, notice how their energy levels increase from the third or fourth day of menstruation. And by the time their period is over, many feel as fit as never before, are capable of strenuous strength training or run their best times.

How do I adapt my training programme to my cycle?

Many female professional athletes are now proving the potential gains to be made from cycle-based training. This means using the phases where energy levels are high for intensive training, and other phases for less intensive – but sometimes longer – training sessions. But it’s especially important during the luteal phase to listen to your body’s signals and take good care of yourself both during and after exercise. Yoga, walking, swimming and other less intense sports are ideal during this phase. And these are the sports that also help to alleviate menstruation disorders.

How do hormonal contra­ceptives change the menstrual cycle?

Hormonal contraceptives like the pill can change a woman’s menstrual cycle – especially when the menstruation phase is cut out. Our expert explains what influence this has on the entire cycle.

Hormones in the cycle – with Dr Felder (in German)

In the podcast, Dr Stephanie Felder explains how the female cycle works.

How to alleviate menstrual disorders?

For years, Manuela Suarez suffered from severe menstrual disorders and tells us in the podcast what helped her.

Help with disorders – with Manuela Suarez (in German)

Manuela thought there was no escape from menstrual disorders – until she started to learn about her cycle.

It’s good to know that when it comes to menstrual disorders, an irregular menstrual cycle, pre-pregnancy, menopause, endometriosis or if you want to get to know your own body better, observing your cycle more closely is a good place to start.

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