Ladies, do you know what exactly is going on in your bodies in a given month?
GUYS, don’t quit reading. This is just as important for you as it is for the women to read this entire article. In your lifetime, you will come in contact with a female...be it your significant other, sister, daughter, mom, or simply just a friend. Telling her she’s crazy is simply just ignorant and rude...and will make matters worse. Actually develop an understanding as to what is going on so you can instead be a resource for her...not a nuisance deserving a quick punch in the throat.
Now back to the women...
Have you ever wondered why you feel a certain way? Maybe you’ve felt energized and motivated right after your period or groggy and tired in the days leading up to your period?
If you’ve had somewhat of a similar experience as me, you’ve likely just chalked it up to “being crazy,” or maybe you have actually been told that by someone (your doctor, friend, significant other, family member). In fact, I don’t know the number of times I was just quiet one day (or maybe God forbid in a bad mood) and some ignorant guy goes “oh must be THAT time of the month again.”
Well let me be the first to tell you that you’re not crazy.
In fact, you’re pretty much normal...there is actually a reason for what you’re feeling and when you’re feeling it. Now, there are some outliers and some emotions/feelings that are out of the norm...but from my research and experience working with hundreds of women, this is pretty much spot on for most women out there.
This article is going to teach you
What is going on at a physiological level
Why you’re experiencing it
When in your cycle you’re likely to feel certain ways
How to support your body – both nutrition AND training
So, what is exactly happening in your body during the month?
The average female cycle is roughly 28 days. There will obviously be some variation (1) between months and (2) between individuals. We typically see a range between 26-36 days.
The first day of your cycle is the first day of your period. This happens when both estrogen and progesterone (our two big key players) drop. This triggers the lining of your uterus, the endometrium, to shed. The average period lasts about 5 days.
After your period, your body starts preparing for ovulation. This is known as the “Follicular Phase”. The drop in both estrogen and progesterone during your period stimulates the pituitary gland (in your brain) to release Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH). As the name suggests, this begins the growth of follicles in your ovaries to get an egg ready for ovulation. During this time, estrogen begins to rise, starting around Day 8, until you reach ovulation. Estrogen does a number of things. It increases “fullness” in certain areas (curves are more pronounced, lips are fuller, etc.). It also stimulates the thickening and lining of the uterine wall and promotes ovulation. Around days 9-10, we also (although not depicted on the graph) see a slight increase in testosterone (this is important for the next section!).
Once estrogen spikes to its highest level around Days 12-14, another hormone joins the party. This time, it’s the Luteinizing Hormone (LH). LH here marks the official beginning of your ovulatory phase and stimulates the release of the egg from the follicles developed in the Follicular Phase. Once released, the egg travels down the fallopian tube and either implants in the endometrium if fertilized or slowly dissolves and passes out of the body with the uterine lining (start of your next period and cycle). After ovulation, we see a massive drop in estrogen, beginning the Luteal Phase.
Now a couple of things happen when the follicles release the egg and we begin the Luteal Phase. The now empty follicle is called the corpus luteum. (Fun fact: this “ruptured follicle” is actually a ruptured cyst which is completely normal. If cyst remains, it causes a ton of pain and can be a sign of PCOS.) The corpus luteum triggers the release of progesterone, and eventually estrogen again. Progesterone is the dominant hormone from days 15-28, or until you begin your next period, and peaks around day 21.
If the egg isn’t fertilized, then both progesterone and estrogen drop...beginning your next cycle. Then it’s rinse and repeat. Now if you do become pregnant, those hormones remain elevated.
I know I threw a lot of science at you. Now we’re going to get into the fun part...where I get to explain what you’re feeling at certain time points during your cycle.
During the follicular phase—to remind you, this is when estrogen is high—you are likely to feel very confident and energized. Most women will actually report feeling their best selves the two weeks immediately following their periods...and this is all due to our friend, estrogen. Women will also report feeling the most attractive. Remember I mentioned curves are more pronounced and lips are fuller? Your skin is often most clear and has a “glow” during this time. Why? Because everything is leading up to ovulation...when your body hypothetically speaking should be becoming pregnant. I also mentioned earlier that we see a quick bump in testosterone roughly 4-5 days before ovulation. This is actually to increase your libido, or sex drive, to encourage ya know, getting pregnant.
Some of these feelings brought about by both estrogen and testosterone are why, most often, you’re feeling your best and most confident self... I mean it makes sense, from a biological standpoint and even evolutionarily. The point of the female cycle is to become pregnant. Regardless of where you are at in your life, your body is preparing to have a baby every single month. The female body has evolved biologically to encourage this process...by producing hormones and creating an environment that encourages getting pregnant. It wouldn’t make sense to produce the hormones that make you feel lethargic and bloated during the time critical period you need to be in the mood. Contrary to popular belief and opinion, you actually can really only get pregnant 4-5 days before ovulation and 2-3 days after ovulation (which comes to a vary narrow 5-6 day window of getting pregnant), so the time really is valuable and your body is going to create the perfect environment to encourage it.
Now after ovulation, in the two weeks leading up to your period, you’re in the luteal phase. Here, estrogen has dropped considerably, and progesterone has taken over. It’s during this phase that women get the poor rep of “being crazy” or “moody”. Progesterone is kind of like our bodies’ natural Valium. It makes you feel calm and “chilled out”. It may cause you to feel more introspective, which is why you often want to stay in for a movie night rather than go out for a night on the town in the later half of your cycle. This is when you mistakenly get blamed for “being emotional”. It’s actually just progesterone...telling you or just encouraging you to slow down...because for all it knows, you could be pregnant and will have 9-10 months of stress literally creating life and growing a human inside of you. Progesterone is actually trying to give you 2 weeks of calm and peace before life gets crazy...unfortunately, very few of us realize this, and instead fight this feeling (making us miserable), which makes us get blamed for being emotional or moody or crazy.
Support Your Body
From my personal experience (and from the experience of many women I have worked with), even just the realization that what you’re feeling is completely normal and you’re not in fact “crazy”, “bitchy”, “unreasonable”, “moody”, etc. is enough to feel 100x better.
Now how to go about supporting your body during the month...there are a number of things you can try.
#1 Support Your Natural Hormone Cycle
Work with your hormones. I recommend downloading a tracking app (Kindara is my favorite) and learning about your cycle. You can even go one step further and track other parts of your cycle, such as cervical fluid (when you’re about to ovulate) and/or basal body temperature (you will see a 0.5-1°F spike during ovulation). This will tell you when you’ve ovulated and will let you see your individual cycle and when you reach and pass certain phases. I find that this is very empowering for many women and ends up taking back a lot of the control you feel like you don’t have.
For your actual cycle, use your hormones and how you’re feeling at certain phases to plan ahead.
Plan new and exciting events/tasks/jobs for the earlier half of your cycle, when you’re more energized. In case you forgot, this is when estrogen is high. You’re going to be motivated and energized...so you might as well plan fun, social things to do when you’re feeling up for it.