Understanding Your Menstrual Cycle

Are you ever confused about the phases of your menstrual cycle and what a healthy cycle actually entails?

Then keep reading because today we'll be explaining the 4 phases of your cycle and signs of a healthy one! Knowing this information is crucial because reproductive and hormonal health is intricately linked to overall health in women. Understanding what is going on in your body at each phase of your cycle also allows you to become more in tune with your body, which can help you understand when to push and when to give yourself grace.

The Follicular Phase

The follicular phase begins the first day of your period and ends when you ovulate.This is the "fun phase." You will naturally have an increase of:

  • Pain tolerance
  • Endurance
  • Energy/motivation
  • Strength
  • Insulin sensitivity
  • Force generation
  • Glycogen utilization

This phase is the most optimal for:

  • Muscle growth
  • Trying for PR's
  • Refeeds/diet breaks
  • Increasing macros during a reverse (if you are close enough to time it with this phase)

The Ovulation Phase
This phase happens around days 10-18 of your cycle and is when an egg is released from the ovary to be fertilized.

There is a natural increase in:

  • Estrogen
  • Risk of injuries

You will still feel strong and energized in this phase, but you will be more susceptible to injuries. Studies have shown women are 3x as likely to experience ACL tears during the ovulation phase due to greater ACL laxity, greater knee valgus, and greater tibial external rotation during functional activity.

During the ovulation phase some women will experience:

  • Bloat
  • Water retention
  • Cramps
  • Breakthrough bleeding (this is the blood that makes its way through as the egg releases - should only be a light pink spotting)

This is the actual time of the month that women are fertile. Most women will only be ovulating for 12-14 hours, however sperm can live in the vagina for up to 5-6 days, allowing women a 5-6 day window to get pregnant each month.

The Luteal Phase
This phase begins after ovulation and ends when you start your period.
This is the phase when life just seems hard. You will naturally have an increase of:

  • Progesterone
  • Water retention
  • Metabolism
  • Cravings
  • Mood changes

A decrease in:

  • Serotonin
  • Strength
  • Glycogen utilization

Symptoms you may see:

  • Low energy
  • Constipation
  • Warmer body temps (especially running hot around bedtime)
  • Lack of recovery (this is due to our bodies trying to use fats as a primary fuel source during this phase vs. carbs as normal)
  • Lack of motivation
  • Mood swings
  • Bloat
  • Increase in scale weight

Ways to support yourself during this time:

  • Educate yourself! Give yourself the power to understand what is actually going on within your body and you will eventually start recognizing the symptoms that your body experiences through each phase
  • Potentially increasing fiber in the luteal phase to help with constipation
  • Understand extra rest is okay during this time and/or switching training for lighter activities i.e. walking
  • Opt for period-friendly snacks to help with cravings (i.e. sugar free jello/pudding, dark chocolate, raspberries and fresh fruits, etc.)


This is when your period starts and the body goes back into the follicular phase to start the cycle all over again. You may not experience 100% of the benefits of the follicular phase on day one of your cycle, but as you reach days 2-3 you should feel dramatically better! A healthy period can be anywhere from 3-7 days, and a healthy cycle is within +/- 4 days each month.

Healthy Period Symptoms

  • Minimal cravings
  • Only slight breast tenderness
  • Mild cramps
  • Low to moderate bleeding and clotting
  • 3-7 days of bleeding
  • Cycles within +/- 4 days
  • Minimal breakouts around the cycle
  • No excessive mood swings


Red Flags Around the Menstruation Cycle

  • Amenorrhea (lack of cycle)
  • Symptoms of PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder)
  • Late cycles
  • Symptoms that cause you to miss school or work
  • Extreme breast tenderness (hurts to the touch)
  • Excessive bleeding (could indicate something else is going on)
  • Irregular cycles, not occurring +/- 4 days
  • Extreme changes in the cycle compared to past cycles