How To Eat To Support Your Cycle

How To Eat To Support Your Cycle

Menstruation can come with some unwelcome symptoms like fatigue, bloating, breast tenderness, abdominal cramps, mood swings and skin breakouts (known as premenstrual syndrome or PMS) that leave us feeling less than our best selves. But there’s good news – what we eat throughout the month can influence our menstrual health and how we feel throughout our cycle. 

We often think of menstruation as the main event of our cycles, but there are actually four phases that can leave us feeling pretty different, each with its own nutritional requirements. Certain vitamins and minerals can target and reduce PMS symptoms when they do occur and conversely, support us when we are feeling more energetic. Our cycles are also a great way to rotate the foods we are eating and ensure variety in our diet.

Do you struggle with PMS? Are you interested in improving your hormone health? If you’re looking to transform your health, head to Consultations to see how I can help you start your journey to the healthiest version of yourself today!

What To Eat During the Menstrual Phase (Day 1) 

The first day of bleeding marks the first day of your entire cycle. Menstruation occurs from roughly days 1-5. Hormones are low for the first few days, with oestrogen and FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) beginning to rise towards the end. 

During this phase, our body often feels the need to rest and replenish. Nourishing ourselves with nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory foods can support our bodies, and preliminary research has indicated that calorie requirements may actually be slightly higher during menstruation.

It’s important to eat iron-containing foods at this time due to blood loss. Some women also require an iron supplement, but make sure you speak to a health professional before taking supplements and be mindful to avoid iron overload, which can be dangerous.  

Iron-rich foods include red meat, eggs, dark green leafy vegetables (like spinach and chard), beans and lentils, dried fruit (e.g. apricots and figs), tofu, nuts and seeds. Top tip: Pair these iron-rich foods with vitamin C-rich foods to support iron absorption, such as citrus fruits, peppers, leafy greens and tomatoes.

Other foods to focus on are beetroot, broccoli, chia seeds, dark chocolate, fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, ginger, turmeric, walnuts, water-rich fruit and vegetables for hydration, like cucumber and watermelon. 

Foods to limit during the menstrual phase

Try not to consume too many foods that stimulate the gut, like coffee, fatty and spicy meals and sugar-free foods (with sweeteners). It is suggested to avoid alcohol as it can stimulate the gut, but research has also found a correlation between alcohol consumption and length of menstrual cycle, which most likely also translates in to more days bleeding!

Reducing the amount of sugar we consume, especially from white refined carbohydrates, can be a helpful way to take some pressure off our body during an already stressful time of the month. By limiting our sugar intake, we avoid large spikes in our blood glucose (sugar) levels, which in turn would provoke insulin spikes and so affect other hormones in our body, potentially worsening menstrual symptoms. Research suggests we might actually be more prone to blood sugar spikes during this time and during the luteal phase (leading up to your period), so it can be helpful to be particularly mindful of sugar consumption at these times.

Focus on replacing white refined carbs with brown wholegrain carbs, such as brown rice, whole wheat sourdough or wholegrain rye bread. These wholegrain varieties contain fibre which helps to slow down the release of sugar into the bloodstream. Also try get your carbohydrates from other grains like buckwheat and quinoa, as well as legumes like lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas and hummus.

 

What To Eat During the Follicular Phase

A lot of women feel their best in their follicular phase. This is from roughly days 6-15 (from the last day of bleeding to the first day of ovulation). Oestrogen dominates during this part of your cycle, along with luteinising hormone (LH) to trigger ovulation.

If you are trying to conceive, this is the best time to focus on hormone balance and optimise fertility by eating nutrient dense foods like avocado, berries, eggs, fermented foods (yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir), dark green leafy vegetables (spinach and chard), legumes (lentils, chickpeas and beans), lean proteins (chicken, turkey, fish and tofu), nuts, seeds and whole grains.

Some women find themselves prone to dehydration during their follicular phase due to the high levels of hormones, so drink extra water during this time if you feel you need it!

Foods to limit during the follicular phase

Foods to avoid in your follicular phase are similar to during the menstrual phase – alcohol which can affect hormone balance and liver function, foods that stimulate the gut like too much caffeine (which could also impact oestrogen levels), highly processed and fatty/fried foods.

 

What To Eat During the Ovulatory Phase (Ovulation)

Ovulation occurs around Day 14 in a regular 28-day cycle. Immediately after ovulation, your body is prepared for a fertilised egg to implant itself in your uterus. Progesterone rises, prompting the uterus lining to get ready for implantation.  

During your ovulatory and luteal phases, you want to focus on liver-loving foods to support detoxification pathways, and metabolism and elimination of the hormones from your follicular phase. Focus on cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, cabbage, kale, broccoli, bok choy and brussels sprouts), berries, lean proteins, nuts and seeds (chia seeds, flaxseed, brazil nuts, walnuts and sunflower seeds), eggs and oily fish like salmon and mackerel.

Zinc-rich foods are also particularly helpful during this time, including oysters, pumpkin seeds, beef and cashew nuts.

Foods to limit during ovulation

You may want to limit sugary foods which can affect mood and energy, and trans fats which can negatively impact hormone production and overall reproductive health – although we should always be seeking to minimise our consumption of these!

 

What To Eat During the Luteal phase

From days 21-30 or the week before your next period, your body begins preparing to shed the uterus lining and repeat the cycle again. As the dominant follicle begins dying, it takes progesterone with it and oestrogen remains low. 

This is when those pesky PMS symptoms can start up, so our bodies need magnesium-rich foods like nuts and seeds (almonds, peanuts, pumpkin seeds), avocado, dark chocolate (yes really!) and bananas. Also focus on dark leafy greens (like spinach and kale), eggs, lentils, oily fish like salmon, sweet potatoes, turkey and whole grains.

Foods to limit during the luteal phase

Avoid alcohol and excess caffeine, which can exacerbate mood swings and disrupt sleep. Also consider limiting sugary foods which may contribute to premenstrual migraines and mood swings, and high sodium foods which may contribute to bloating and water retention.

 

Summary

Research is still relatively new with regards to what to eat during your menstrual cycle, along with much of women’s health – but there are some clear ways we can support our bodies throughout the course of the month. 

Alcohol, high sugar foods and excess caffeine can be particularly problematic during menstruation and the luteal phase due to their gut stimulant effects and as blood sugar management is generally poorer during these times, but we should always be mindful of our consumption of these. 

Our caloric requirements may be higher just before our periods and during menstruation, so it’s totally normal to feel hungrier! Listen to your body, make sure you’re hydrating but try to resist the cravings for highly processed and fatty, fried foods and they will most likely just make you feel worse!

What all the dietary recommendations have in common for each of the phases is that they resemble the Mediterranean diet. Mediterranean diet adherence was found to be directly linked to length of menstrual cycle and probability of suffering menstrual pain! Understanding this and how best to eat to support our hormones is one way we can really improve our quality of life in terms of our menstrual cycle and have an easier time on our periods.

 

This blog post was written by Jasmine Bliss, a Registered Associate Nutritionist (ANutr). 

References:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41746-023-00884-x

https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/studying-the-link-between-the-menstrual-cycle-and-blood-sugar/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32545490/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36367830/

 

Everyone’s nutritional requirements will be different, which is why I take a personalised approach with all of my 1:1 clients and tailor each nutrition plan to their unique needs and goals.

This is just a small insight into the types of things I discuss with my 1:1 clients. If you’re looking to optimise your nutrition, transform your health and elevate your quality of life, please get in contact via Consultations or book a FREE 15-minute call and let’s chat about how I can help.  

 

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