Read Part 1 Here: What are Hormones and How do they Function?

A menstrual cycle is a roughly four-week span of time when three key hormones—estrogen, testosterone and progesterone—rise and fall in a specific pattern. The cycle is determined by the number of days from the first day of one period to the first day of the next. So day one of the menstrual cycle is the first of full bleeding day of the period.

Depending on how high or low these hormones go and the direction they’re headed, they impact you in a wide variety of ways, for instance your mood, energy, love life, sleep quality, food cravings and health.

A typical cycle is approximately 24 to 35 days (average 28 days for most women). It is not abnormal for a woman’s cycle to occasionally be shorter or longer.

The menstrual cycle occurs in three phases: follicular, ovulatory and luteal. The first half of the cycle is known as the follicular phase and the second half of the cycle is considered the luteal phase. Midway through the cycle between days 12 and 16 ovulation occurs, known as the ovulatory phase.

The Follicular Phase

Day 1 of the menstrual cycle, estrogen and progesterone levels are low.

As estrogen rises throughout this cycle week, this hormone will be boosting your mood, energy and patience and ratcheting up your desire for adventure and to socialize.

For some women, these hormone-fueled benefits kick in quickly; for others it takes a few days or longer. It depends on your personal sensitivity to hormone fluctuations as well as if you’re eating enough iron-rich foods to make up for iron loss as you bleed during menstruation. (When iron dips, it can trigger fatigue, fogginess and a down mood.

The Ovulatory Phase

You build more muscle and build it faster when you do resistance exercises during the first half of your cycle—your week 1 and week 2—so keep that in mind when you’re working on your training program. Testosterone also rises during week 2, which further impacts building muscle and also has a positive effect on your libido.

One downside of your Week 2: Some women experience anxiety or greater stress during this cycle week due to high estrogen triggering excessive arousal in the brain. Meditation, yoga, moderate aerobic exercise (such as brisk walking) and chamomile tea all help reduce this hormone-fueled anxiety.

At ovulation, usually around Day 12 – 14, increased estrogen levels trigger a sharp rise in Luteinizing Hormone (LH) from the pituitary gland, causing release of the egg from the follicle.

The Luteal Phase

Your week 3 is really a two-parter: During the first half, you can experience a ‘pre-PMS’ phase. The symptoms are like a shorter, less intense version of PMS and may include irritability, fatigue and a down mood.

Luckily, by the second half of your Week 3, estrogen rises again, putting a stop to any annoying pre-PMS symptoms you’ve experienced, which helps level out your mood.

Progesterone rises throughout your Week 3 and, as it does, it slows you down and makes you quieter, more cautious and a bit foggy and physically fatigued. That’s because progesterone is a sedating hormone. If you’re sensitive to progesterone, this can be a cycle phase when you experience bouts of sadness or crying.

During your week 3, progesterone has you craving favorite comfort foods that are high in fat and calories. Your appetite is also greater and you’re hungrier more often, so you tend to eat more at meals and snack more frequently.

Try some strategies such as filling up on protein and fibre-rich foods, so you’re less likely to crave high calorie foods and your blood sugars will be more stable (helping to keep mood in check as well).

If you do have a moment of indulgence—blame it on biology. Try not to worry too much about it. We all indulge from time to time, and feeling guilty tends to contribute to a continued cycle of overeating due to the de-motivation that the guilt brings on. Also try not to skip meals as you may be more sensitive to spikes in blood sugar.

Estrogen drops throughout your premenstrual week 4 and the lower it goes, the more it has the potential to drag down your mood and make you sad, irritable or anxious.

However, not all women have bad moods during their premenstrual weeks. Depending on your genes and how healthy your lifestyle is (if you’re getting good sleep, eating nutritious foods, exercising regularly and de-stressing), you could have just a little or no premenstrual grumpiness or you could be hit with many bouts of bad moods.

Looking to keep your weight in check? You burn up to 30% more fat during aerobic exercise up to a couple of days before your period due to the combination of estrogen and progesterone firing up your body’s fat-burners.

About the Author

Felicia Newell is a Registered Dietitian (RD), Nutritionist, and Health Coach. She is also the owner of Sustain Nutrition, and helps clients from all around the globe fight through the misinformation in the online world, and master their health goals in a way that also allows them to also enjoy life. After many years in practice and through extensive research, Felicia knows that the ‘restrictive dieting’ technique never works long-term, and she takes the realistic approach of the ‘80/20 rule’, as well as working with clients to find the specific strategies that work best for them. You can download her FREE Meal Planning Starter Kit to help get you on your way to crushing your health and wellness goals.

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