Knowing how to nourish and support your body throughout your menstrual cycle could make the world of difference. Here, expert columnist Claudine Thornhill reveals how you can go with the natural flow of yours
Many aspects of a woman’s life are defined by cycles; nothing more so than her menstrual cycle. While the menstrual cycle can range from anywhere between every 21 to 35 days, there’s also a cycle within it, which, much like the moon phases and the seasons, is split into four phases. Many people have seen and felt the benefits of living and eating in sync with the natural rhythm of their cycles – want to try for yourself? Here I’ll break down why and how to do it.
The menstrual phase
Assuming day one is the first day of your period, this phase happens on days one through five of the cycle. Many will experience low energy and a decrease in motivation around this time due low oestrogen and progesterone.
To replenish the body, mineral-rich foods such as bone broths, red meat, and seafood for iron and zinc, along with comforting foods like soups and stews, are helpful. Since ginger is antispasmodic, ginger tea can be a helpful pain reliever for those with cramps.
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re not like that woman in the commercials who is happily cycling through lush green fields at this time. Gentle movement such as walking, light weight training, yoga, or pilates is preferable to anything too strenuous or high energy.
The follicular phase
This phase includes the menstrual phase through to ovulation.
Diet-wise, women can consume iron and magnesium-rich green vegetables, such as spring greens, cabbage, kale, and Brussels sprouts. Vitamin C foods, such as lemons, oranges, and limes, support detoxification and increase the absorption of iron foods, while nettle tea supports hormone balance. Eggs and lean protein will support egg quality, and fermented foods such as tempeh, kimchi, yoghurt, and miso will provide gut-supporting probiotics.
Once menstruation is over, energy starts to rise and cardio, as well as weight training with heavier weights feels more doable, and since this period leads up to ovulation, a time when a woman is most fertile, it is an ideal time to connect with our creativity, whether it be singing, dancing, or trying something new to move the body in different ways.
The ovulatory phase
This is a brief period of three to five days around the middle of the cycle. Generally, your energy (and libido) will be its highest during this phase.
During both the follicular and ovulatory phases, oestrogen is rising and there may be a desire to eat lighter and leaner foods. Nutrient-dense raw fruits and veggies will provide fibre, and continuing to eat fermented foods will support gut health, which is essential for menstrual health. Avocados, salmon, and chia seeds provide the healthy fats required to balance hormones. At this phase, light grains such as quinoa and couscous are preferred over dense carbs.
Since energy is at its peak at this time, this is the moment to get those high intensity and cardio workouts in, which will also help to balance oestrogen levels.
It’s worth mentioning a study that found people were more prone to injury during the late follicular and ovulatory stages of their cycle, possibly due to ligaments being more lax in preparation for pregnancy. Mobility exercises, warming up, being mindful of form, and not overextending are key ways to avoid injury.
The luteal phase
In the phase after ovulation, and leading up to menstruation, the rise of progesterone causes an increase in appetite. Eating more regularly and including dense carbohydrates such as rice, potatoes, and butternut squash, alongside protein, will help to reduce PMS symptoms.
Starting to include iron and zinc-rich foods will help to replenish stores lost during the period.
Moving slowly and gently is ideal during this phase. Studies have shown that fatigue can set in quicker, and that endurance can be compromised in the luteal phase. Listening to your body and focusing on either recovery or light, low impact activity like yoga or swimming, is ideal.
Seed cycling can help to promote balanced hormones, supporting the body to adjust to hormone changes during the cycle. To seed cycle, consume:
. 1–2 tablespoons of ground flax and pumpkin seeds per day during the follicular phase
. 1–2 tablespoons of ground sunflower and sesame seeds per day during the luteal phase
Add the seeds to smoothies, porridge, yoghurt, hummus, or use them to make protein balls.
Visit the Nutritionist Resource to find out more, or speak to a qualified nutritionist.