Your cycle is split up into four phases: the menstrual phase, follicular phase, ovulation phase, and luteal phase. We have different needs throughout each phase. Our level of creativity, metabolic rate, activity level, and mood all change depending on where you are in your cycle. Understanding your needs during each phase will help you better support and take care of your body so you can feel empowered.
Day one, of your 28-34 day cycle begins when on the first day of your period. However, phase one of your cycle beings during the follicular phase, when your period ended. Here is a breakdown of the four phases of your cycle and how to eat for your menstrual cycle.
Women’s hormones go through a 28-34 day cycle while men’s hormones cycle through a 24-hour period. So our needs are very different. While men can “re-start” and follow the same practices each day, women cannot. This is due to the infradian rhythm. The infradian rhythm is a biological system that women in their reproductive years possess, and it affects their brain, microbiome, immune system, metabolism, stress, and reproductive system. When we properly support our infradian rhythm through nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle, we will be able to feel and look our best.
Day 1 begins the first day of your period and usually lasts 3-7 days. This is known as the menstrual phase. During this phase of your cycle, your uterus sheds its endothelial lining, and estrogen and progesterone drop so you need to increase your intake of calories. This is also known as the “rest phase” and you should refrain from participating in high-intensity exercises and instead, focus on slower movements, stretching, yoga, or rest.
Proper nutrition on your period is extremely important to support the menstrual phase. Consuming warm foods and beverages such as soothing tea, broths, and soups will help to support your body during this phase. You also want to focus on anti-inflammatory foods to reduce or balance out the inflammation occurring in the body. Increase your intake of healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids including fatty fish (salmon, sardines, herring), chia seeds, flaxseeds, and walnuts, in addition to protein.
Iron is a key nutrient during menstruation to replenish iron stores lost while bleeding. Good sources of iron-rich foods include red meat, spinach, kidney beans, legumes, and lentils. To increase absorption pair iron-rich foods with Vitamin-C-rich foods like broccoli, citrus fruits, and red bell peppers. Magnesium is another important nutrient, especially during menstruation, and may help reduce cramping and pain.
Studies showed that low levels of magnesium have been linked to increased symptoms such as headaches, anxiety, cramping, and breast tenderness. Magnesium-rich foods include dark chocolate, nuts and seeds, avocados, whole grains, and leafy greens. Here are some meal and snack ideas during your menstrual phase:
- Salmon with sautéed spinach and wild rice
- Steak with broccoli and sweet potato
- Dark chocolate covered almonds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Warm chicken and vegetable soup
- Greek yogurt with fresh fruit
Week 2 of your cycle is the follicular phase which is the 7-10 days after your period ends. At the beginning of this phase, estrogen, and progesterone levels are low, as they were during your period. Toward the end of this phase, estrogen will begin to rise. While in the follicular phase, metabolism slows and cortisol levels are lower. Because of this, you can eat lighter and work out harder which will help build lean muscle mass and will better optimize fat stores.
Your body is more efficient at using the food or fuel that you are consuming during this time. Focus on eating steamed and root vegetables such as carrots and beets, lots of plants, and whole grains. Here are some meal ideas for the follicular phase:
- Lemon chicken with quinoa and steamed carrots
- Steak quesadilla with roasted vegetables and brown rice
- Vegetable omelette with
- Salmon salad with pumpkin seeds
The ovulatory phase lasts 3-4 days in the middle of your cycle around week 3. During this time your body produces an egg and releases it down the fallopian tube. There will be a surge of estrogen, testosterone, and the production of luteinizing hormone which stimulates ovulation. Due to the surge in hormones, you may experience more energy. Participate in going all out during your workouts by doing HIIT, weight lifting, boxing, or other bodyweight circuits. It is common to experience PMS symptoms or cramping during ovulation and this may be due to difficulty breaking down estrogen. Consuming cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, kale, and cauliflower can help metabolize estrogen due to their detoxifying properties.
Metabolism remains slow so you can continue to consume fewer calories during this phase. Focus on consuming good-quality protein and fiber to encourage excretion and normal bowel movements. Elimination of estrogen is key during ovulation because of the surge in estrogen. Nutritional needs include a good intake of fiber and cruciferous vegetables to support metabolism. Raw foods and vegetables like salads and vegetable juices support this phase. Here are meal ideas for the ovulation phase:
- Açai bowl with fresh berries, kiwi or banana toppings
- Mixed green salad with grilled chicken, avocado, veggies, feta cheese and walnuts
- Kale salad with beans and lentils, beets, sweet potato, and goat cheese
- Shaved brussel sprout salad
The luteal phase is the 10-14 days after ovulation and before your period begins. During this time, progesterone levels start to rise, and estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone will hit their highest and drop right before your period. Your metabolism increases so your caloric needs increase during this time and exercising should be a lower impact. This is because your progesterone levels rise and this is your calming hormone. If you continue to restrict calories and do higher intensity training like in the first half of your cycle, you may actually turn on fat storage and muscle wasting. (Source)
During this phase of your cycle, you should focus on increasing your intake of calories to help balance blood sugar levels due to the increase of metabolism and resting cortisol levels. You will want to continue to consume cruciferous vegetables to metabolize excess estrogen, consume magnesium-rich foods for PMS symptoms, and include more complex carbohydrates. Hydration is also important during this phase due to a rise in body temperature before your period. Here are some meal and snack ideas for your luteal phase:
- Buddha bowl with chicken, beans, rice, roasted squash, broccoli, and sweet potato
- Add electrolytes in water such as Lyteshow, LMNT or adding a pint of salt in water
- Grilled chicken with roasted potatoes and steamed vegetables
- Apples and peanut butter
- Dark chocolate covered almonds
- Eggs, sliced avocado and grapefruit
Our bodies go through several hormonal changes throughout its menstrual cycle. We can balance and support those changes with the proper nutrition and lifestyle adjustments. Leaning into each phase of our cycle and providing our body with what it needs, can empower us and enable us to achieve overall wellness.
For more insight on your cycle, reach out to our friendly nutritionists here at Vessel after taking your first test! Sign up now!
Sara Chille See all the author’s articles