If we really were what we ate, we’d have a lot of late-night pizzas, guilty-pleasure donuts, and well-intentioned salads for friends and family. While this saying may not be literal, we really start to notice the effects our diets have on our bodies as we age.
And we’re not just talking weight. A midnight snack can torture us with heartburn, and we start to develop hamburger hangovers. So it’s no surprise that what we eat can have a huge impact on our menstrual cycle as well.
Whether your goal is to stay energized, avoid pain, or feel your best emotionally and physically, these diet tips are perfect for helping you achieve your goal, no matter where you’re at in your monthly cycle.
The Four Phases of your Menstrual Cycle
Before we get into how you can alter your diet to sync up with your reproductive health, let’s look at the four different phases we go through over the course of a normal menstrual cycle every month.
- The Menstrual Phase – Also known as your period, this is the messy bit of your cycle when your uterus sheds its lining. Besides bleeding, many women experience pain, acne, bloating, and mood swings. Most periods last anywhere from 2 to 7 days.
- The Follicular Phase – Your follicular phase lasts around 7 to 10 days. This is the part of the cycle that occurs right before you ovulate. You might feel tired at the beginning of this phase, but you will begin to gain more energy as your estrogen and progesterone levels climb.
- The Ovulatory Phase – During this part of your cycle, your estrogen levels peak and your body releases more testosterone. Many women experience an increase in confidence, positivity, and libido in the 1 to 2 days this phase occurs.
- The Luteal Phase – After ovulation, your estrogen drops while your progesterone begins to rise. This leads to many of the symptoms behind premenstrual syndrome (PMS). You may encounter changes in mood, increased bloating, and altered brain function. Your luteal phase usually lasts anywhere between 11 and 17 days.
By identifying what phase you are at, you can then alter your diet to boost metabolism, increase your energy levels, and combat some of the negative hormonal effects that go along with your cycle.
1. The Menstrual Phase
Many women endure a host of negative physical symptoms when on their periods. Pain, fatigue, and bloating are some of the most common complaints. Dysmenorrhea – also known as period pain – is caused primarily by a combination of cramping and inflammation. The foods we eat can greatly reduce the intensity and length of these symptoms.
According to one study, eating fresh veggies and fruit helped reduce period pain. Researchers believe this is because doing so lessens the production of estrogen within the body. Estrogen has a big role in causing your uterus to contract to better shed your uterine lining. These contractions are what cause the pain associated with cramping. By decreasing the effects of estrogen, you can reduce the intensity and frequency of your cramps.
Another way to fight period pain is by decreasing inflammation. One great way to do this is to eat more omega-3 fatty acids. These acids can do everything from help ease depression to protect your heart, and they can also inhibit the production of molecules that cause inflammation.
By eating iron-rich foods, you can also combat fatigue. Feeling sluggish and tired are common symptoms associated with menstruation. This is because many of us suffer from anemia. Anemia can be associated with blood loss from our periods. In fact, 20% of American women are anemic, compared to only 2% of men. When we’re low on blood, we don’t get enough oxygen for our body to run optimally. Adding extra iron to our diets allows our blood cells to carry more oxygen and provide us with more energy.
So, to give a brief overview, some of the foods you should eat during your period are:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables like bananas, kale, and citrus
- Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids
- Chia seeds
- Iron-rich foods
- Dark chocolate
In order to avoid bloating and increased inflammation, you should not consume:
- Foods high in sodium
- Baked products
- Foods that may cause gas
2. The Follicular Phase
As your body prepares to release an egg, you will experience a gradual increase in energy. Usually, you’ll feel the most fatigue during and right after your period. But as your estrogen and progesterone levels begin to rise, you’ll trade in tiredness for liveliness.
Your diet during this phase is all about maintaining and boosting energy levels. You can really enjoy the full spectrum of a balanced diet during your follicular phase. You’ll want to normalize your estrogen levels by consuming foods with a nutrient called diindolylmethane (DIM).
Drinking plenty of fluids will keep you hydrated and make your hormones remain level. Here are just a few of the foods you can enjoy while going through the follicular phase:
- Foods high in proteins and vitamins
- Foods high in DIM
- Brussel sprouts
- An abundance of fluids
During your follicular phase, you have the most leeway with your diet. But it’s still best to avoid excessive alcohol consumption so that you remain hydrated.
3. The Ovulatory Phase
There’s a lot of energy packed into the shortest phase of your menstrual cycle! When ovulating, your body release an egg into your fallopian tube. Many women are at their most social, outgoing, and energetic during this phase. Your libido may also rev up, and your appetite may decrease.
With your body becoming less dependent on carbohydrates, you can rely on a protein and fat-rich diet. This will allow you to sustain heightened energy levels longer without the crash that usually follows a meal brimming with carbs.
It’s also important to take in a variety of vitamins to ensure your body releases an egg as smoothly as possible and you maintain optimal uterine health. Essential fatty acids (EFAs), zinc, and B vitamins are an important part of these processes.
Foods high in fiber will also help you avoid bloating and constipation that might occur during ovulation or in the phase that immediately follows it.
Some of the best things you can eat while in your ovulatory phase are:
- Carb-lite/protein-rich foods
- Foods with EFAs, zinc, and B vitamins
- Nuts and seeds
- Red meat
- Beans and lentils
- Foods with a lot of fiber
- Dark chocolate
Like in the previous phases, drinking too much alcohol can have a negative effect on your menstrual cycle. Another risky drink during the ovulatory phase is caffeine. Caffeine can leave you dehydrated, and for those who are looking to get pregnant, it can also decrease your fertility.
4. The Luteal Phase
You’ll most likely maintain the emotional and physical boost you obtained during your ovulatory phase all through the first week of your luteal phase. But as you near your period, your energy levels will begin to drop alongside your estrogen and progesterone levels.
This is about the time that those of us who suffer from premenstrual syndrome (PMS) experience the worst of our symptoms. We tend to feel a bit down and lethargic as our body prepares to shed the uterus’s lining. Diet during this time is all about comfort and nourishment. During our luteal phase, we should listen to our bodies and eat foods that are nutrient dense. But this doesn’t mean you have to overindulge. Instead, try partaking in smaller portions more frequently to keep your energy levels even.
You can also benefit from stocking up on some of the vitamins your body will depend on during your upcoming menstrual phase. Iron-rich foods can help you avoid fatigue, while fruits and vegetables that are water dense assist you in staying hydrated.
A diet that includes the following will ensure you make it through your luteal phase feeling your best:
- Comforting foods high in nutrients
- Meaty stews
- Stir fries
- Foods high in iron
- Dark chocolate
- Water-dense fruits and vegetables
Again, one key factor to feeling your best during your luteal phase is to stay hydrated, so avoid copious amounts of alcohol or caffeine.
Frequently Asked Questions
What foods can I eat to make my menstrual cycle more regular?
There are a number of “superfoods” that can help induce your period and get you on track to having a regular cycle. Fruits rich in vitamin C, like papaya and pineapple, can jumpstart a late or infrequent period. Regularly eating foods like ginger, turmeric, jaggery, and beetroot also assist in regulating your menstrual cycle.
What foods make your period better?
Fresh fruits and vegetables reduce estrogen production and the cramping associated with it. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids and iron reduce inflammation and increase your energy levels. Try to avoid alcohol, foods high in sodium, breads, and foods that cause gas.
What foods should I eat during my follicular phase?
You can maintain a steady level of energy throughout this phase by eating food that is rich in nutrients and vitamins. You can also keep your estrogen levels steady by consuming foods with the nutrient diindolylmethane (DIM). Don’t forget to stay hydrated and avoid drinking alcohol excessively.
What foods should I eat when I’m ovulating?
Your energy levels tend to peak when you ovulate, so you can move away from a carbohydrate-based diet and instead fill your plate with foods dense with protein and healthy fats. Essential fatty acids (EFAs), zinc, and B vitamins also play an important part in ovulation. Including fiber in your diet will help keep you from feeling constipated or bloated while in your ovulatory and luteal phases. Try to avoid alcohol and caffeine, especially if you’re trying to get pregnant.
What foods should I eat when I’m PMSing?
We tend to feel at our worst during our luteal phase. That’s why it’s important to listen to our cravings and our bodies. During this phase, we benefit from smaller, more frequent meals consisting of nutrient-dense comfort foods. Including iron in our diets will allow us to avoid fatigue. We can consume fruits and vegetables that are water dense to stay hydrated. Try to avoid excessive amounts of caffeine and alcohol.