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Menstrual Health

Nutrition Essentials for the 4 Stages of Your Menstrual Cycle

Fluctuating hormones during the menstrual cycle is a roadmap to support women that yet remains vastly misunderstood. Cycle syncing is a powerful way to demystify what to eat during your period and ensure optimal nutrition.

Nov 21, 2023

4 min read

Written by Pallavi Pundir
Medically Reviewed by 

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A visual of a uterus and a calendar depicting the 28-day menstrual cycle against a background of healthy food.

Almost all women will relate when I say that my life revolves around my menstruation cycle. On certain days, I’m slow and lethargic, unable to focus at work. On others, I run a half-marathon on a whim and tick off all the work deliverables in a jiffy. 

These are indicators of fluctuating hormones during the menstrual cycle and an aspect of women’s health that, though it is a roadmap to empower women, still remains vastly misunderstood. This post is a cursory resource on nutrition during the four stages of a woman’s menstrual cycle. During your menstrual cycle, hormone changes can cause changes in mood, appetite, creativity, energy, and social engagement. 

“Cycle syncing” is a way to adapt to these changes to achieve better balance and feel your best. Cycle syncing is arranging your routines around the phases of your menstrual cycle.

Days 0-6: Menstruation: Load up on iron, vitamin B12, and vitamin C

Women across the world experience a vast range of symptoms during menstruation – over 100, some health experts say, including abdominal pain, headache, nausea and back pain. 

This is when the endometrium sheds, causing bleeding, and oestrogen is at its lowest point, causing your energy levels to be low. This could be a time to slow down and gear your diet towards nourishing your body.

Have you been wondering what to eat while menstruating to relieve period cramps, reduce period bloating, and boost energy levels? Health experts recommend a diet rich in iron and vitamin B12, fruits rich in vitamin C like berries, kiwis, oranges and lemons, and lots of greens like kale, broccoli and peppermint tea during this time. Vitamin C-rich foods help in the absorption of iron from a plant-based diet and support healthy blood flow.

Days 1-13: Follicular Phase: Eat the rainbow

Occurring simultaneously during menstruation and going on till the 13th day, this period is characterised by gradually increasing levels of oestrogen, essential to build muscle mass.

Experts recommend a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, cruciferous vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats during this time. Simply put, when it comes to foods to eat during your period, the adage “eat the rainbow” is a good one to follow during the follicular phase as long as the rainbow includes real food.

Day 14: Ovulation: O is for Omega-3 fatty acids

Experts recommend a diet rich in fibre and protein during the most fertile time of the month. Include Omega-3 fatty acids abundant in oily fish like salmon, anchovies, sardines, mackerel, and trout.

Omega-3 fatty acids can improve the existing egg quality of the ovarian follicles. Vitamin E is essential to maintain the oestrogen and progesterone balance during ovulation. Zinc plays a vital role in the formation of many hormones.

Days 15-28: Luteal Phase: Indulge in a protein & fat-rich diet

In the luteal phase, progesterone rises alongside oestrogen. The calming hormone progesterone enhances sleep and impacts how the brain picks up new skills.

A 2016 study comprising 259 regularly menstruating women found that most of them felt an increase in food cravings during this phase, indicating a potential connection between macronutrient intake and menstrual cycle phases.

Experts recommend a diet rich in protein and fat and focusing on foods such as fish, nuts and avocado during this time. Food rich in magnesium can help reduce PMS symptoms; foods like dark leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds can help during this period. 

Iodine found in seafood and seaweed helps reduce breast soreness, and foods like bananas and artichokes that are rich in potassium help reduce bloating by working with sodium to increase urine production and reduce water retention.

Medically reviewed by:

Dr Shruti Mane, Obstetrician and Gynaecologist

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