A females reproductive or menstrual cycle typically lasts anywhere between 24-36 days, for the purpose of this post I will assume a 28 day cycle. The female menstrual cycle can be divided into two different phases, the follicular phase which is the first half of the cycle up until ovulation and the second half which is the luteal phase. With each of these phases comes different levels of hormones thus a difference in mood, appetite, energy, sleep and even temperature.

The first phase of the menstrual cycle (follicular phase) begins with menstruation. During the follicular phase the endometrium (the lining of the uterus) is shed, this occurs due to the declining levels of progesterone and oestrogen which stimulates the release of prostaglandins (lipid compounds that have a hormone like effect) that cause the uterine arteries to constrict. This deprives the cells of oxygen and they begin to die, eventually the entire stratum functionalis (temporary tissue) sloughs off.

After menstruation and leading up to ovulation oestrogen begins to rise, this is when women should be feeling their best, oestrogen is one of the most important hormones for women, it is responsible for childbearing and female characteristics. With the rising oestrogen levels, women tend to have more stability in their mood, oestrogen increases protein anabolism, lowers blood cholesterol, increases endurance levels and speeds up recovery time, meaning this is a great time to be undertaking high intensity training. Oestrogen helps the body to repair damage and build bone. The appearance of a woman’s skin during this time will often be at best due to the higher levels of oestrogen, oestrogen is said to be associated with increased collagen production – collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and is a major component of skin.

Ovulation usually occurs on day 14 in a 28 day cycle, luteinizing hormone is released and this initiates the release of a mature egg down the fallopian tube and on the way to fertilisation. During ovulation women may experience vaginal discharge and increased sex drive due to the peak in oestrogen. The second half of menstrual cycle which is known as the luteal phase is the time the body prepares for pregnancy. This phase sees a decline in oestrogen and a slight rise in progesterone, the rise in progesterone is to thicken the lining of the uterus to prepare for implantation of the egg (if it is to occur). The declining levels of oestrogen during this time mean that a woman may experience mood changes, changes in the skin and overall less energy and slower recovery time from exercise. This time is a good time to take it easy on yourself and replace the high intensity workouts with pilates or yoga. It is so important to work with your body and not against it.

Illustration by Nakia Jones.