Women aren’t small men, and that is something we need to take into consideration, particularly from a health and fitness perspective.
Women undergo hormonal changes throughout their cycle, unlike male counterparts who have a general even keel. This means that they can experience changes in symptoms due to these fluctuations. What is important to note early on, is that this will impact some females more than others, but the more knowledge you have around your body, alongside tracking your cycle and symptoms, the more power you have to act on this and adapt everything to suit your physiology.
Firstly, let’s look more at the menstrual cycle.
You’ll often hear the cycle being referred to as the early or late, or first or second part of the cycle, but in order to be clearer on some key elements of the cycle we’re going to talk about the 4 phases of the cycle.
Phase 1 – Menstruation (early follicular) – This is commonly known as the ‘period’ and this phase makes up days 1 to 7 of the cycle (this menstruation phase can be referred to as the first week, or often just the days spent bleeding), if you are tracking your cycle then day one of bleeding is the first day of your cycle. On average the bleeding phase lasts for 3 – 7 days.
Phase 2 – The follicular phase (late follicular) – The follicular phase is actually the whole first half of the cycle (pre ovulation), but it is useful to break the follicular phase down into two elements to distinguish the difference between the two. So, we can class the late follicular phase down as days 7 – 14. Important to note here that oestrogen levels reach their peak towards the end of the follicular phase, just before ovulation.
Phase 3 – Ovulation – Ovulation is the main event of the menstrual cycle, ovulation is literally the whole point of the cycle, as with ovulation reproduction can happen. This occurs around days 14 – 16 (based on the length of your cycle). Ovulation is critical to female health, and ovulation is what causes the high hormone phase in the second half of the cycle. During this phase an egg bursts out of the chosen follicle, where it is ushered into the fallopian tube. Once the egg is released it survives for 12 to 24 hours.
Phase 4 – The luteal phase – The luteal phase is typically referred to as the second half of the cycle, or the high hormone phase. As a result of ovulation the corpus luteum (which is the follicle or structure that housed the egg before the egg breaks free in ovulation) secretes progesterone, making progesterone the dominant hormone in the second half of the cycle.
Progesterone is thermogenic/heat inducing, meaning it raises your basal body temperature for the remainder of the luteal phase.
Iff the egg is not fertilised then the corpus luteum dissipates, and both Oestrogen and progesterone decline, leading into menstruation and the next cycle begins.
How do you know if you have ovulated?
One of the easiest ways to measure ovulation is by measuring your basal body temperature (BBT), if you ovulate you will see a temperature increase around the time of ovulation (midway through your cycle), this is a sign that ovulation has occurred.
In order to gauge more information about your cycle, then we’d highly advise you track your cycle using one of the common apps, and alongside this track any symptoms you may experience. This way you can adapt your training, nutrition and recovery based on patterns and findings.
This is a topic we are going to go into in much more detail during our female health – nutrition and training seminar this month at The Fitness Collective HQ.