Lesson 2: Intro to Menstrual Phase

As athletes, we are often taught to train our bodies like machines, in order to make them efficient. We look to compare what we're doing to those who are around us and to those we perceive are successful. We are taught to see what "works" and to repeat over and over until we have the results we want.

What if I told you that our bodies are not designed for perpetual sameness? You are physically, mentally, and emotionally changing from week to week, even day to day. You need different things on different days due to this physiological.

Instead of treating your body like a machine, think of your body like a garden. A little sun today, a little less water tomorrow. Gardeners tend to a garden based on a variety of factors. They consider what season it is outside, what is physiologically happening with the plant, and what the strengths and vulnerabilities of that particular plant include. Ultimately, gardeners are able to recognize when a plant is either thriving or dying, and they adjust as such.

If you maintain a garden the same way you maintain a machine, by doing the same thing over and over again, you will destroy it. So, in each phase, learn to ask yourself: "What does my garden need today?"

Time

Believe it or not, the menstrual phase, when you are actually experiencing bleeding on your period, is the beginning of your cycle, which lasts roughly from 1-7 days.

Season: Winter

Each of our phases represent a season. The menstrual phase is associated with the season of winter.

Take a second to close your eyes and think of your garden as you would imagine it during the winter.  The feeling of a cloudy snow day may compare to how you feel during this phase. You might feel yourself leaning towards wanting to stay home, rest, and sip hot tea.

Physiological Hormone Explanation

As you most likely know, the period signals that we are not pregnant.

When the egg is not fertilized (hence not being pregnant), the uterus contracts and the superficial (outer) and middle layer of the endometrium shed from the basal (inner) layer of the endometrium. *Physiological reminder: the endometrium is the lining of the uterus and consists of three layers: the superficial, middle, and basal layer.

This breakdown happens within the uterus, then passes as a liquid through the open cervix and vagina, which is the bleeding portion of a woman's period. Similar to the winter season when the trees are left without their leaves, the uterus contracts to shed its lining.

During this phase, there is a dip in all of our hormones leaving us with low energy.

How Does This Affect Us?

In each phase of the hormone cycle, there are certain things your body is more capable of doing. We often associate negative experiences and symptoms with this phase of our cycle but in reality, each phase comes with its own gifts too.

Superpowers:

The gift of the menstrual phase is intuition:

  • Because our intuition is at its highest, this is a time to reconnect with yourself and nourish your body, mind, and spirit
  • Because we are depleted of influential hormones, we are most connected to our true self
  • This is a time for the 4 Rs: Rest, Receive, Reflect, React (see handout below for further explanation).
    • By taking the time for the 4 Rs, we are able to equip ourselves with a stronger sense of peace, ease, and joy, which prepares us to be able to reach our goals.
  • By taking the time to do this, we become most aligned with ourselves and our purpose.

This is the foundational phase. By tuning into our intuition to prepare our mindset and aligning with our goals, we are able to lay a strong foundation as we flow into the next three phases.

*It’s an amazing thing that our hormones fluctuate and give us different gifts throughout our cycle. It’s important that we honor each gift at those times.

Vulnerabilities, you may experience:

1. Low Energy

  • When talking about our hormones in our cycle, we mainly focus on estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.
  • This low energy leads to a time focused on chilling and investing.
  • It’s important to understand that while lower energy is normal, the feeling of being completely whipped out is not.
  • If you feel completely drained, this might be a sign that your hormones are out of whack.

2. Swings in Emotions

3. Painful symptoms, such as bloating

*It’s important to understand that while you are more susceptible to these symptoms, it is not normal to have these symptoms affect your ability to function in daily life.

How to Balance: Physical and Mental Goals

  • PHYSIOLOGICAL GOALS: 
    1. Nutrition:  
      • Focus: foods that add nutrients and restore 
        • Blood replenishing iron and zinc-rich foods 
        • Healthy fats
        • Higher fiber carbs
        • Anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and immune boosting foods (high nutrient based)
      • The severity of PMS comes from an imbalance between estrogen & progesterone. Estrogen is about to increase, and we want to support that nutritionally.
      • Priority to hydrate 
    2. Movement: should honor your depleting energy levels and be low intensity. 
      • Training: 
        • Don’t push too far, but become curious about your limits during this phase.
        • Spend more time on muscular activation and managing inflammation. 
        • Higher carb utilization during workouts and fewer calories needed.
      • This includes activities such as: 
        • Walking 
        • Stretching 
        • Yin or Gentle Yoga 
        • Slow, fluid, mindful, and restorative movements
        • REST
  • MENTAL GOALS: Nourish your mind and spirit! 
    1. Practices: pause 
      • Reflection: can be through journaling or however you process events and emotions. This is also a great time for daily affirmations.
      • Self-Care: explore what this looks like for you. It can be the typical bubble bath, or it can be taking an extra rest day, for me it’s getting out in nature! 
    2. Social Life: uplifting vs. draining  
      • Focus on listening to what is going to be the most uplifting activity for you.
        • you may feel a little less social than normal
        • it’s ok to cancel plans if you aren’t feeling up to it
        • you may continue to feel social, listen to that 
      • This is all about becoming aware to what YOU need, not purely focusing on what is socially acceptable.
    3. To-Do: our intuition is at its highest 
      • Make decisions 
      • Analyze results/self 
      • Journaling/meditation 
      • Building ideas but not “doing” stuff
      • 4 Rs: Rest, Receive, Reflect, React

Applied to Athletics

This is a time for nourishment in whatever capacity that looks like for you. 

  • As an athlete, I understand that it’s not always in your control to be able to take a break from practices, strength training, etc.
    • If you are on a scheduled program, this can look like lighter weights, focusing on intentional movement instead of performance. 
  • Our bodies are not meant to go full throttle 100% of the time, and this is nature’s way of reminding us to rest. 
    • Overall, you need to understand that mentally giving yourself a break, if you aren’t reaching normal numbers or performance, is okay during this phase. It doesn’t mean you aren’t making progress, it simply means your body is having to work a lot harder than normal because it's depleted.
  • As an athlete, we ask so much of our bodies and many times we need to be able to perform when experiencing our periods. 
  • Therefore, balancing our hormones through nutrition is paramount to our success! 
  • This phase during our cycle doesn’t mean we can’t train and get better it just means it may look a little different.