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Cycle Syncing: What Foods to Eat Before, During and After Your Period

Updated: Jul 11, 2022

How would you describe your monthly cycle? A beautiful ebb and flow of different seasons or a crazy rollercoaster ride you wish you could get off of? If you aren’t BFF’s with your menstrual cycle, you’re not alone. In a survey conducted with over 2,000 women, 47% of them reported that they have suffered from hormonal imbalances.

Hormones play a major role in our health. They influence everything from our weight, digestion, mood and energy to our sleep, skin, immune system and bone health. Our body is a system of systems and if one system is off, it affects the whole body.

Unfortunately, a lot of women who suffer from hormonal imbalances don’t even know it. They think their symptoms like fatigue, bloating and anxiety are “normal”, but I promise you, they’re not!

Female hormones are very delicate and can be thrown off by diet, exercise, stress, sleep, caffeine, drugs, alcohol and environmental toxins. There are a lot of fluctuations happening over the course of a month primarily between the hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Each one of these hormones requires different nutrients to work their best.

While some physical and mental fluctuations are normal throughout the different seasons of your cycle, they shouldn’t be interfering with your quality of life. If you’ve been diagnosed with a hormone imbalance such as PCOS, Endometriosis, or Hypothalamic Amenorrhea or if you have painful periods and awful PMS symptoms, adjusting your nutrition will always be part of the solution. I encourage you to not slap a bandaid on your symptoms and hop on birth control or insert an IUD. We want to get to the root so your body can actually heal.

Some diagnoses require additional support and please note that the approach to healing is different for everyone depending on your specific hormonal imbalance. The suggestions in this blog will help the average woman improve the quality of her cycle, but if you’re not seeing progress I encourage you to get tested so you can find a more customized approach. Let’s dive in!

The bleed (aka your period)

The first day you bleed counts as day 1 of your cycle. If you’re not already tracking your menstrual cycle, I highly recommend you start. There are so many free apps out there that make this super simple to do and it will help you keep track of where you are each day, so you can adjust your nutrition accordingly.

In a healthy cycle your period should last around 3-7 days. Many people compare this phase to the season of “winter”. It’s a time to rest, relax and hibernate. Your hormones are at their lowest. Your uterine lining is shedding and your body is hard at work. It’s likely your energy will be a bit lower during this time and you may experience some mild cramping.

Nutritional Tips For The Week of Your Period

  • Make sure you stay hydrated! Dehydration can be a sneaky culprit behind your fatigue. Choose filtered water if you can or increase water rich foods like cucumbers, celery, and watermelon.

  • Ramp up your iron intake. When you lose a lot of blood during your period, you may end up losing more red blood cells than your body can make, which means you’ll have less iron in your body. Iron is essential for oxygen transport throughout your body and without enough of this mineral you can expect to feel pretty tired. Great sources of iron include grass fed beef, lamb, pumpkin seeds, spirulina, lentils, and black beans.

  • Add in some citrus. Vitamin C facilitates the absorption of iron and low levels can lead to fatigue, low mood and depression. Your adrenal glands also need vitamin C for healthy cortisol levels, another hormone that can affect your cycle. Add in fruits such as lemons, oranges, limes and grapefruit or choose sweet potatoes as a healthy carb for your meal.

  • Load up on magnesium rich foods. Magnesium will help with any pain and cramping caused by your period. Foods high in this mineral include leafy greens, hemp hearts, avocados, nuts and dark chocolate. When choosing dark chocolate, aim for 70% cacao or higher. Dark chocolate is also a great way to boost serotonin levels if you’re feeling a little low.

  • Reducing inflammation should be a major focus during your period, since menstruation is an inflammatory process. Omega 3 Fatty acids can help with this. Incorporate foods like wild caught salmon, oysters, sardines, walnuts, chia seeds and flaxseeds.

  • To ward off any sugar cravings, get your protein in. Animal proteins including chicken, beef, eggs and salmon are all high in B vitamins which support healthy energy levels. Try to get 3-5 oz at each meal.

  • Brew a warm cup of tea and cozy up! My go-to’s during this time are turmeric, raspberry leaf tea, or chamomile tea. Turmeric is anti-inflammatory, raspberry leaf tea helps to balance hormones and chamomile tea calms the nervous system.

  • Comforting warm foods can help during this time. Cooked foods are easier to digest and will help reserve your energy. Chilis, soups, stews or stir-fries are great options for dinner. Add in some spices like turmeric, cayenne and cinnamon to help reduce inflammation and encourage blood flow.

In general throughout your entire cycle you’ll want to avoid/limit your intake of high sugar foods, sweets, desserts, coffee, simple carbohydrates (crackers, white bread, chips), processed foods, fast foods and excess salt. These have all been associated with painful periods and hormonal imbalances.

The Follicular Phase

This is the period of time from when your period first started through to ovulation. In a healthy cycle during days 6-11 your estrogen levels will be on the rise as your body prepares for an egg to be released. Good news, your energy levels should be increasing with the increase in estrogen! This is the season of “Spring” and things are looking up. You may feel a bit happier and ready to start new things.

Nutrition Tips for the Follicular Phase

  • Focus on light, fresh meals full of color. Salads with leafy greens like arugula, spinach and baby kale are perfect for this time.

  • To support your body's natural production of estrogen, add in estrogen boosting foods like alfalfa, green beans, pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, peaches and apricots.

  • Start to add in more healthy carbs as you approach ovulation to help your body gear up! Ovulation requires a lot of energy from your body so you may notice your appetite increasing. Healthy carb options include sweet potatoes, squashes, quinoa and gluten free oats.

  • To help keep hunger levels in check make sure you’re getting plenty of healthy fats like avocado, coconut oil, nuts, seeds and grass fed butter.

  • Oxidative stress tends to be high before ovulation and vitamin C can help! Citrus, bell peppers, and berries are great sources of this vitamin.

  • Support your gut. With hormones fluctuating, bloating can be an uncomfortable side effect. Adding microbiome-friendly foods to your plate like sauerkraut and kimchi or sipping on some bone broth can do wonders.

The Ovulatory Phase

Welcome to “Summer”. This is the shortest phase of your cycle but the most important! Ovulation usually ranges from days 12-16 in a healthy cycle. Your estrogen is at its peak which means a lot of dopamine and good vibes. You’ll usually feel more attractive and confident during this time and your sex drive will increase because your body wants to make a baby!

Nutrition Tips for Ovulation

  • Eat those healthy carbs! Your body needs a lot of energy during this time. Incorporate sweet potatoes, rice, quinoa and starchy vegetables.

  • Because your estrogen is at its peak, it’s helpful to eat foods that will support liver detoxification of potentially harmful excess estrogen. Sometimes we can have too much of a good thing and if you have an oversupply of estrogen you may feel irritable or snappy. Now’s the time to add in cruciferous veggies like Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, turnips, cauliflower and broccoli to help out your liver. Steam these for easier digestion!

  • Green tea is a great go-to drink. This will help with estrogen metabolism as well.

The Luteal Phase

After summer comes fall. Things are starting to slow down and you’re feeling a little more withdrawn now that your estrogen and testosterone are decreasing. In a normal cycle the luteal phase usually runs from days 17-28. As you approach menstruation you might start to feel those PMS symptoms like cravings for comfort foods, anxiety and moodiness flare up, but there are a lot of nutrition shifts we can make to combat this.

Nutritional Tips for The Luteal Phase

  • Progesterone is on the rise during the luteal phase and it’s important you have enough of it so you can stimulate a healthy growth of your uterine lining - this is crucial for a successful pregnancy if you’re trying to have a baby! To support your body's natural progesterone production focus on foods high in zinc and magnesium like sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, oysters and beans. Incorporate foods high in vitamin C like citrus, bell peppers and sweet potato. And get plenty of vitamin B6 from protein sources like chicken and salmon.

  • During the luteal phase you're super sensitive to blood sugar spikes so make sure you are eating regular meals centered around protein, fat and fiber. Now would be a great time to ease up on carb heavy meals.

  • To combat sugar cravings try sweet root vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, beets and onions or pick up a chocolate that’s 70% cacao or above.

  • Water retention and bloating increase during this time, so make sure to stay hydrated. Dandelion tea is a great drink because it acts as a natural diuretic. Avoid foods with excess salts, carbonated drinks and dairy products.

  • Naturally your sex drive will be lower in the second half of your cycle. Adding herbs like Maca to your smoothies can help balance this dip.

  • Since cravings are expected the week before your period, I recommend mapping out a healthy game plan to tackle them. How can you honor your cravings with healthier alternatives that won’t drive up inflammation and send your blood sugar on a rollercoaster ride? Make some things ahead so you have options!

To Wrap Things Up

All-in-all a nutrient dense, anti-inflammatory diet based off of whole foods will give you the best chance of having optimal hormonal health. Listen to your body and take note of any patterns you find. At the end of the day, we are all unique and there is no one size fits all approach to this.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with where to start, I recommend writing out grocery lists for each phase of the cycle with some key foods from the tips above. Before you go to the store, check your Cycle app and see where you’re at. Stock up on some of the foods, map out some recipes and build from there!

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