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Support Your Body Throughout Your Menstrual Cycle

Erin Kloster, Dietetic Intern

Reviewed by Dana Eshelman, MS, RDN, CSSD


Have you ever thought about shifting your diet and lifestyle to compliment each phase of your menstrual cycle? This concept is commonly referred to as cycle syncing and can offer so many benefits, including alleviating PMS symptoms, improved mood, more energy, etc. 


We are going to dive into what happens during each phase of your cycle and how you can alter your nutrition and exercise routine to better support your body throughout each phase. 



Phases of the Menstrual Cycle 


A typical menstrual cycle lasts anywhere between about 28 to 45 days in length and consists of four distinct phases: menstruation, the follicular phase, ovulation, and the luteal phase. Our hormones fluctuate throughout each phase of our cycle, and these hormone fluctuations dictate various physiological processes that occur during each phase.



For example, our appetite, energy levels, performance, and much of what you experience during that time of the\ month has everything to do with these hormone fluctuations. Tailoring your food choices and exercise routine to support these hormone fluctuations can help improve your overall physical and mental well-being. 


With that being said, let’s break down each phase and address how we can better support our physical and mental well-being with lifestyle alterations during each phase. 



Menstruation/early follicular phase (days 1 to 3-7)


What’s happening? 

This is your period phase when the uterine lining sheds and a bleed is initiated. During the menstrual phase estrogen and progesterone are at their lowest, so you might feel extra lethargic and experience a wave of food cravings. 


Nutrition: 

Focus on eating lean protein, healthy fats, complex carbs, and fiber. Some research suggests that eating a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods such as omega 3’s, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds can also help alleviate PMS symptoms. Steering away from heavily processed foods and alcohol during this phase can also aid in minimizing PMS symptoms.


If you experience very heavy periods it can be beneficial to incorporate more iron into your diet to replenish your body’s iron stores. Vitamin C improves absorption of iron in the body, so try including more foods rich in vitamin C in your diet. 


A few foods to support this phase: 

  • Omegas: Flaxseed, walnuts, chia seeds

  • Magnesium: Cacao and dark chocolate 

  • Iron and zinc: lean red meat, chickpeas, tofu/tempeh 

  • Vitamin C: red peppers, strawberries, kiwi, tomatoes 


Exercise: 

Don’t push yourself and give your body plenty of rest during this phase if that’s what you feel like it needs. Consider low impact activities like going for a walk or a light bike ride. 


Late Follicular Phase (days 3-7 to 10)


What’s happening? 

During the follicular phase estrogen levels peak while progesterone remains fairly low. We often feel more energized and might experience suppressed appetite due to these hormone fluctuations. 


Nutrition:

It’s important to be intentional with your nutrition during this phase, especially if your appetite is lower but you are engaging in high intensity training sessions. Don’t be afraid to up the carbs and protein to support your body and energy needs! 


As estrogen levels rise it can also be beneficial to incorporate more foods that aid in balancing estrogen in the body, such as high fiber foods and phytoestrogens. Magnesium levels also drop during the follicular phase, so you may benefit from including more foods rich in magnesium. 


A few foods to support this phase: 

  • Tuna 

  • Chicken and eggs

  • Phytoestrogens: Oats, whole grain bread, brown rice, nuts, legumes, flaxseeds, soy

  • Magnesium: avocados, dark chocolate, black beans, leafy greens 


Exercise:

Our body is often more receptive to higher intensity and strength training during this phase, so you may feel more motivated to get in those harder and longer training sessions. However, remember to fuel intentionally during this phase especially if your appetite is lower.




Ovulatory Phase (~days 12-16)


What’s happening? 

During this phase your ovaries release an egg and estrogen levels peak. With a peak in estrogen, you may experience a peak in energy here as well. 


Nutrition:

Continue to focus on eating plenty of complex carbohydrates, lean protein, fiber, and estrogen balancing foods during this phase. 


A few foods to support this phase: 

  • Chicken and eggs

  • Tuna and salmon

  • Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower

  • Whole wheat, oats, quinoa

  • Legumes 

  • Fermented vegetables 


Exercise:

Similar to the follicular phase, you may focus on higher intensity workouts and strength training during ovulation while your energy levels are still high. 


Luteal phase (~days 16-28)


What’s happening? 

During this phase your body starts preparing for menstruation which is characterized by a rise in progesterone and lower estrogen. This phase is often accompanied by PMS symptoms that you might be all too familiar with such as cramps, bloating, cravings, and mood changes. 


Nutrition:

Research suggests that protein catabolism and fat utilization is higher during this phase, so focus on incorporating more healthy fats and lean protein. Adding in more complex carbohydrates and plenty of fibrous foods can also help support your body throughout this phase. 


Magnesium-rich foods can be beneficial during this phase to help fight low energy and low libido. 


Remember to honor your cravings during this phase. You can focus on eating nutrient dense foods and still allow room for any foods your body is craving.


A few foods to support this phase: 

  • Lean red meat and poultry

  • Tuna, salmon, and white fish

  • Legumes 

  • Leafy greens 

  • Sweet potato, cabbage, carrots, broccoli

  • Apples, dates, banana

  • Magnesium: dark chocolate, cashews, pumpkin seeds 


Exercise:

You might feel lethargic and have low energy during this phase which is completely normal! Give yourself grace and consider tapering back on your exercise routine here. Try slow flow yoga, a light hike, or a walk in nature to boost your mood. 



Adjusting your diet and lifestyle may not solve all your menstrual troubles, but it can certainly help with some! Remember that everyone is different and there is no one size fits all approach to changing your nutrition and training around your menstrual cycle. Big picture, you want to ensure you are including protein, anti-inflammatory fats, and complex carbohydrates to support your body during each phase of the menstrual cycle.


If you are someone that suffers through your menstrual cycle with severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or feel like you cannot function around your time of the month, there is a better way. Nutrition is a powerful tool for improving and maintaining the health of your menstrual cycle. A Dash of Dana has several tools including 1:1 coaching and functional labs to help you navigate any disrupt in hormones.









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