Hormone cycle 'cheat sheet': How to nourish your body during menstrual, follicular, ovulation and luteal phases

Puberty and periods were taboo topics for many of us growing up: We were taught the basics, flung some tampons and left to get on with it. 

As we got older, we started to understand a bit more about our cycles - in my case, namely that I get cravings for chocolate and shed substantial tears in the five days before my period. 

But a decade on birth control put a stop to that and only now at age 27, I'm beginning to get a greater understanding of how my body responds to different stages of my menstrual cycle - of which, it turns out, there are four. 

Beatrice Thorne, creator of New Zealand health brand Eve, is on a mission to end the stigma and misinformation surrounding cycles, hormones, and periods. 

"We live in a world of consistency, of 24-hour windows that rinse and repeat day after day. [But] as anyone who has a period will tell you, menstruators operate on a longer and more varied cycle," she told Newshub.

"Over the course of 28 days, more or less, menstruators roll through four distinct phases or seasons that bring with them different physical and emotional patterns and needs." 

Beatrice Thorne.
Beatrice Thorne. Photo credit: Supplied.

According to Healthline, a woman's menstrual cycle can be divided into four phases: the menstrual phase, follicular phase, ovulation phase and luteal phase. 

"The length of each phase can differ from woman to woman, and it can change over time," Healthline reads. 

Thorne says many of us haven't been "properly introduced" to the four seasons of our cycles and aren't aware each phase requires different nourishment, movement and self-care. 

"We are all unique, and tuning in to each phase of your cycle and the physical and emotional changes that may pop up in each can tell you a lot about your hormone health, energy and tendencies throughout the month," she said. 

She's put together a wrap of the different phases for Newshub as a "self-care cheat sheet", so those of us who menstruate can see what kinds of foods, activities and environments will serve our bodies the best. 

Phase 1: Period and early follicular phase - roughly days 1-6

Kicking off with a sweet release, the first day of your bleed is the first day of a brand new menstrual cycle. To keep this phase environmentally friendly, grab a menstrual cup or some period undies .

During this phase, you may feel a bit more introspective and staying home with Netflix may feel much more appealing than intense workouts and social gatherings.

girl in bed with her period
Staying home with Netflix may feel much more appealing than intense workouts and social gatherings. Photo credit: Getty Images.

This is partly due to your hormone levels dipping to allow your uterine lining to shed, causing your bleed. Our hormones help us feel energetic, outgoing and motivated, so it's natural that we might move into a more introverted phase when they drop away.

To nurture yourself during this time, conserve energy and be gentle with yourself as much as possible by focusing on walks, yoga or stretching over HIIT or running.

Food-wise, look to incorporate anti-inflammatory nourishment with every meal such as leafy greens, turmeric, salmon and extra virgin olive oil; and iron-rich foods such as quality sources of red meat, leafy greens, legumes and gluten-free grains.

Phase 2: Follicular phase - roughly days 7 - 13

Your period has now departed, along with any pain or inflammation that came with it, and oestrogen and testosterone are on the rise, making you feel confident, extroverted and energised.

Increased energy levels during this phase may mean you'll enjoy hitting up a HIIT class or two or trying a new form of exercise. 

home workout
As those energy levels climb, take advantage of it! Photo credit: Getty Images.

During this phase, your body will love rich zinc foods such as oysters, pumpkin seeds, and red meat. Or, try a zinc supplement. Zinc nourishes the ovaries and supports healthy ovulation and progesterone production, which is very important to prepare for the next phase of your cycle.

Phase 3: Ovulation & early luteal - roughly days 14 - 22

Ovulation is the main event of the menstrual cycle and is the only window of your cycle when you can get pregnant. 

Hormonally speaking, this is when oestrogen and testosterone are both at their peaks, waking up your inner Beyonce and making you feel more confident, sexy and giving your libido a lift. It's the perfect excuse to try something new in the bedroom or treat yourself to a new sex toy!

woman and man in bed
Hormonally speaking, this is when oestrogen and testosterone are both at their peaks, waking your inner Beyonce. Photo credit: Getty Images.

After ovulation, progesterone takes over as the dominant hormone, raising your body temperature and increasing your metabolism. Because of this, you may find your appetite increasing a little during this phase, and your body will thank you for fuelling it with healthy fats like avocado, oily fish, nuts and extra virgin olive and coconut oils. 

Phase 4: Luteal - roughly days 23 - 28

The luteal, or premenstrual phase, is your personal autumn. The heat and excitement from the follicular and ovulatory phases have passed, making way for progesterone to slow things down. 

Progesterone is an anti-anxiety aid and is the chill pill of the hormone world, hence the more horizontal approach to life you might find yourself wanting to take during the final phase of your cycle. 

The luteal phase is a time to slow down, and when PMS may rear its familiar head.
The luteal phase is a time to slow down, and when PMS may rear its familiar head. Photo credit: Getty Images.

However, if your schedule doesn't allow for lie-ins and laziness during this phase, taking some B vitamins and ginseng supports better energy, mental focus and performance. 

The luteal phase is also the time when PMS may rear its familiar head.