Does the imminent arrival of your period have you reaching for the cookie jar?
Below you will see an abbreviated dot point format on what to eat and when to eat it during your menstrual cycle. This is based on the hormonal fluctuations and how these hormones regulate and have a bidirectional relationship with appetite, digestion, metabolism of specific macronutrients and brain chemistry.
This brief outline is for use as a general guide only and to provide education on the natural fluctuations in your body throughout the menstrual cycle. Do not use this in place of individualised medical advice, if you are experiencing menstrual issues or other health related problems, please seek help from a qualified health professional.
The menstrual cycle is divided into 4 phases:
The period – the bleed, the part of the menstrual cycle that gets the most attention and can often bring about the most symptoms for many women.
The follicular phase – this includes the period through to ovulation; it is the formation and growth of a follicle and a rise in hormones.
Ovulation – the superstar of the menstrual cycle, when the follicle releases the egg, this is when you are your most fertile. Important to know the timing, signs and symptoms both if you are trying to get pregnant or avoid it.
Luteal phase – the time between ovulation and the next period, often the time when people experience PMS.
Period & Early Follicular Phase (~days 1-6)
· Oestrogen and progesterone are their lowest.
· You may experience inflammation, bloating, discomfort, this is individual for everyone. You should not experience severe pain
· Appetite differs based on the person
· Some people have strong cravings based on their symptoms – food for comfort, chocolate, salty chips, slow cooked stews, pasta. Others have a reduced appetite.
· All hormones are low which impacts our neurotransmitters especially dopamine and serotonin which impact our motivation, energy and mood.
Foods to include:
· Ensure you’re eating foods rich in iron, magnesium and B vitamins.
· Iron rich foods – red meat, leafy greens, chicken, legumes, grains
· Easy prepared, easy to digest foods – slow cooked meats, broths, smoothies, porridge, roast starchy vegetables.
Follicular Phase (~days 6-13)
· Oestrogen and testosterone are on the rise (as is FSH and LH)
· You will feel super confident, energetic, sexy.
· In fact, as oestrogen levels peak you are like superwoman! This promotes excitatory neurotransmitter production and can also cause you to be a little frustrated that others cannot match your output.
· Appetite is general slightly reduced
Foods to include:
· Fresh light food choices
· Lots of vegetables and salads and an array of fresh herbs
· Lean proteins and complex carbohydrates
· Fresh fruits
· Because oestrogen improves insulin sensitivity the first half of you cycle means your body can utilise carbohydrates more effectively for fuel.
· Flaxseeds and high zinc foods such as oysters, lean red meat and pumpkin seeds.
· Increased testosterone and oestrogen
· Increased mood and sex drive
· Include similar foods as previous but slowly lower carbohydrate total
Early Luteal phase (~day 14-22)
· Progesterone will increase body temperature.
· Appetite increases
· Decreased ability to utilise insulin due to lowered oestrogen levels.
· The body utilises fat as a preferred fuel source rather than carbs
· Some people will find they need up to 300calories extra per day in the luteal phase, this is activity level and genetic dependant.
Food to include:
· Lightly cooked, steamed or sauteed meals,
· Plenty of fibre and water – due to increase in progesterone levels which can slow digestion and cause constipation, also important to maintain oestrogen metabolism and excretion.
· Slightly fewer complex carbohydrates.
· Healthy fats – polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats including oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil. These will promote satiety, curb cravings and ensure you are getting adequate calories.
Late Luteal Phase (~days 23-28) the PMS week :
· Oestrogen and progesterone are on the decline, but progesterone remains the primary hormone
· This can be why many woman CANNOT STOP EATING. Incredible hunger which lasts until the period arrives and hormone levels drop again.
· The drop in oestrogen at the end of the cycle also causes a huge drop in serotonin and dopamine – this is in part responsible for PMS symptoms.
· The higher your oestrogen if unopposed by progesterone, the greater the fall – night sweats, insomnia, migraine, fatigue, irritability.
· If you have good amounts of progesterone these symptoms should not appear, and sleep should be sound.
Food to include:
· Quality protein – meats, seafood, eggs, legumes.
· High Vitamin B foods especially B6 and B5
· Magnesium rich foods – leafy greens, avocado, nuts, seeds, dark chocolate (aim for 90%)
· Complex carbs
· Healthy fats
· Lots of cruciferous vegetables – broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprout, radish, kale.
When our hormones are being supported through diet and lifestyle, are metabolised by well-functioning liver, kidneys and bowels you will feel amazing. The hormones rise and fall as they are meant to with little disruption to your daily life and routine. In an ideal world, our period should arrive with little fanfare, maybe just a slight increase in appetite in the days preceding and you should feel strong, vibrant and energetic mid-cycle. Bouts of prolonged PMS, mood fluctuations, lethargy, bloating, gut disturbances and many other symptoms are all signs that something is not working as well as it possibly could and that you may need to support your body in the process.
Remember, just because something is common does not mean it is normal.
Stay tuned for the next post about macronutrients and micronutrients for a healthy menstrual cycle.
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