Is it possible to adapt your food to your menstrual cycle to optimize fertility, hormones, and overall health? The short answer is YES, and I’m excited to share everything I know about my favorite topic when it comes to hormone health: cycle syncing! In this article, I’m specifically going to unpack exactly what to eat in each phase of your menstrual cycle. For a complete overview of cycle syncing, check out my Beginner’s Guide to Cycle Syncing.
Your menstrual cycle isn’t just when you have your period. Every month, women go through very consistent and predictable hormonal fluctuations as part of our infradian rhythm.
Most women just think of their cycle as bleeding and non-bleeding days—and if you’re trying to get pregnant, maybe you think about ovulation as well. The truth is, there are actually four distinct phases of your monthly cycle, and each one has specific effects on your physiology. Not only does your infradian rhythm impact how you feel each month, it also impacts how your body responds to certain inputs.
Cycle syncing is adapting your life inputs, such as food, exercise, and even work deadlines, to your menstrual cycle to support your health and proper hormone function. Ultimately, cycle syncing can help improve how you feel, look, and perform long-term. It’s an incredible strategy for regulating your periods, optimizing fertility, and reducing negative symptoms typically associated with your period, such as PMS/PMDD, cramping, and fatigue.
Why Adapting Your Food to Your Menstrual Cycle Matters
So, how does the food you eat play a roll in your menstrual cycle? Your hormone fluctuation influence things like insulin, your metabolism, and detoxification pathways, so adapting your food to your menstrual cycle will support these physiological shifts.
First up, there’s the effect of hormones on insulin. Insulin’s main job is taking glucose (sugar from the food we eat) and moving it out of the bloodstream and into cells as needed to keep blood sugar balanced. This is an important job, because blood sugar needs to stay balanced for us to have even, steady energy all day. Too low of blood sugar, and you can feel faint and weak. Chronically high blood sugar can lead to issues like insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes.
The two main sex hormones that rise and fall throughout your menstrual cycle are estrogen and progesterone. Basically, as estrogen and progesterone fluctuate naturally throughout the month, they bring insulin along for the ride. And depending on your insulin levels, you may be able to use carbohydrates more efficiently, or not.
That’s not all, though. Sex hormones can also have an impact on brain chemistry, like serotonin and dopamine levels.
Research has demonstrated giving women with reported PMS extra serotonin-creating substances can actually relieve PMS symptoms. Carb-rich foods help boost serotonin levels, which may be why carb cravings increase for many women during the second half of their cycle.
As your body makes hormones throughout the month, it also needs to break down and excrete those hormones. This job falls on your detoxification organs, most notably your gut, liver, and kidneys. This is especially important mid cycle when estrogen peaks. Many women experience symptoms of estrogen dominance throughout their cycle and PMS because they aren’t properly detoxifying hormones. Incorporating more detox-supporting foods, like sulfur-rich veggies, can support the detoxification of hormones, especially as you move from the ovulatory to luteal phase and hormone levels drop dramatically.
These are just a few examples of how your cycle can impact your diet, but they can start to explain why you might find yourself craving different food at different times of the month.
Cycle Syncing Your Food: How to Eat During Each Phase of Your Menstrual Cycle
Phase 1: The Menstrual Phase (Days 1-6)
What happens: In Western medicine, this is considered the beginning of a new cycle, but to your body, it’s really the end result of your entire cycle. This is when your hormone levels are at their lowest, which makes some women feel more tired, moody, and irritable.
If you have a heavier flow or are prone to iron deficiency, you might experience low iron levels during your period, too. This is also when you’ll get “set up” for a new cycle, and what you eat during this phase can set the tone for your cycle ahead.
What to eat: Eating lots of nutrient-dense, healthy-fat-rich foods. Incorporate foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon and cold water fish, as research shows omega-3 rich foods can help resolve PMS symptoms like cramping and bloating, and can help improve hormonal health in the upcoming cycle.
This is also the time to focus on warming, nourishing foods like soups and stews. Incorporate foods that are rich in heme iron, like grass-fed beef, bison, clams, and oysters, which can help provide your body with protein and fat to keep blood sugar stable and restore iron levels.
Vitamin C rich foods are also incredibly beneficial during this time, as iron uptake is enhanced by vitamin C. Also, your immune system is slightly down-regulated, so upping this powerful antioxidant can help you stay healthy. Incorporate citrus fruits like mandarines and limes, and vegetables rich in vitamin C like bell peppers and tomatoes. Because iron absorption can be inhibited by caffeine, this is also a great time to switch to decaf.
Phase 2: The Follicular Phase (Days 6-12)
What happens: During the follicular phase, all of your hormones start to rise. It’s a time of new beginnings as you enter a new cycle. You start to have more energy, and your immune system is high functioning during this time.
This is also when your body is more insulin sensitive, which means your body uses carbohydrates more efficiently.
What to eat: As estrogen levels rise, it’s important to start bringing in foods that support proper estrogen detoxification. Leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables, like kale, collard greens, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower are packed with a phytonutrient called diindolylmethane (DIM), which can help you metabolism estrogen and reduce symptoms of estrogen dominance. Your body is also hard at work developing a dominant follicle, so it’s important to nourish your follicles with foods like avocado, almonds, and wild-caught seafood. These are all rich in vitamin E, which is found in follicular fluid and is important for egg maturation.
Due to increasing energy levels and a downshift in your metabolism, you may find you crave lighter, fresh foods. Keep foods rich in protein and complex carbs, as you’ll need them to fuel higher intensity workouts. Your body uses carbohydrates incredibly well during this phase, as you’re more insulin sensitive, so don’t shy away from them. This is also a good time to focus on eating probiotic-rich foods like kombucha and sauerkraut, to help “prime” the microbiome and estrobolome (bacteria in the gut which metabolizes estrogen) for coming ovulation.
Phase 3: The Ovulatory Phase (Days 13-16)
What happens: As ovulation approaches and occurs, your estrogen levels are surging, your energy is high, and most women feel their mood is stable. You remain insulin sensitive, which means you’re using carbs effectively, though your metabolism is naturally a bit lower in this phase of your cycle.
Because hormone levels are high, there’s a greater tax on your detoxification organs, including your liver and kidneys, which play a key role in breaking down and excreting old hormones.
What to eat: Because estrogen is peaking, keep incorporating leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables that will support estrogen metabolism. During this time, it’s also important to support your liver with sulfur-rich foods, like pasture-raised eggs, onions, chicken, and broccoli. Your liver plays a big roll in the detoxification of hormones, so it’s great to give it extra support during this phase.
Vitamin B is also an important nutrient for this phase, as it helps support the release of an egg and aids in implantation. The good news is, many of the foods mentioned above are a great source of B vitamins, include dark, leafy greens and pasture-raised eggs. Other B vitamin rich foods are spinach, chicken, and grass-fed beef. This phase is also the time to cut out the alcohol, as it can negatively impact estrogen detoxification.
Because you’re more insulin sensitive and this phase is perfect for high-intensity training, make sure eat plenty of carbohydrates, especially post workout.
Phase 4: The Luteal Phase (Days 17-28)
What happens: This phase is when progesterone peaks. Estrogen also rises slightly. Then, hormone levels drop to their lowest levels right before your period starts. This downward shift is responsible for the symptoms of PMS/PMDD some women experience.
Your body temperature increases and research has shown that resting metabolic rate naturally speeds up in this phase. This means you don’t just feel hungrier, you’re actually burning more calories during this phase—up to 300 calories more each day! At the same time, energy declines and you become less insulin sensitive. Your immune system also slightly downshifts.
What to eat: Two specific nutrients are important during this phase: vitamin C and magnesium. Vitamin C is incredibly important for progesterone production. In fact, research shows that vitamin C significantly increases progesterone in women. This is important during this phase because many PMS symptoms can occur because of an imbalance of estrogen and progesterone, specifically estrogen dominance. Opt for foods rich in vitamin C, like organic strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, and sweet potatoes.
Magnesium-rich foods like spinach and dark chocolate are also important for balancing fluid retention, reducing cravings, supporting hormone metabolism. Research shows magnesium supplements can reduce PMS/PMDD symptoms, so consider incorporating a magnesium supplement.
Cravings for warm and comforting foods go up just before you start your period. Go with this flow. Starchy root vegetables like potatoes, pumpkin, and squash can be incredibly satisfying during this time and may help to boost serotonin levels. This is also a great time to incorporate healthy fats, as your body needs more calories and is less insulin sensitive. Fatty fish like salmon and grass-fed meats will support your body’s energy needs, and will help you flow right into a healthy menstruation phase.
Adapting Your Food to Your Menstrual Cycle: Guidelines, Not Rules
Cycling syncing your diet to your menstrual cycle is all about getting better in tune with your body and supporting proper hormone function and fertility. Remember: these are guidelines and suggestions, not hard and fast rules! Go with your flow, and do what feels right for you as you use this template for syncing your food to your menstrual cycle.
I’m confident that once you go with this flow, you’ll notice improvement in how you feel, your hormones, and your overall health.
Have you tried adapting your food to your menstrual cycle? How has cycle syncing helped you balance hormones and improve your health? Share with me below!