You probably already knew that your menstrual cycle is more than just your period — it’s a continuous pattern made up of four distinct phases. Your hormones fluctuate throughout each phase, and no surprise here, but those changes impact everything — your mood, energy levels, appetite, and more.
But what you might not know is that what you eat can also impact your well-being during each phase. And a cycle-syncing diet, or choosing what foods to consume (or avoid) during your menstrual cycle phases is part of a concept called cycle-syncing. This is when you align your lifestyle — diet, exercise, etc. — to each phase of your menstrual cycle. “Instead of pushing yourself, you can match your energy level … to what can be expected during that week of your cycle,” says Susan Albers-Bowling, PsyD, a psychologist at Cleveland Clinic’s Women's Health Center.
It’s worth noting that menstrual cycles vary in length and symptoms, and food is just one factor that can impact how you feel. “It's a complex mix of factors such as nutrition, stress, sleep, and other environmental factors,” says Albers-Bowling. And there’s no perfect way to ‘hack’ your cycle so you always feel amazing, says Nicole Calloway Rankins, MD, a board-certified OB-GYN, podcast host, and maternal health advocate. Rankins suggests keeping track of how you feel (with a calendar or a period-tracking app), and then using that as a roadmap. “You are always the expert on your own body and your life and how you feel, and that outweighs everything,” she says.
While cycle-syncing food won’t avoid all menstrual cycle-related symptoms such as cramping, bloating, or mood swings, being mindful of what you eat may help your body navigate the waves, says registered dietician nutritionist Anita Mirchandani.
The basics of a cycle-syncing diet
If you’re interested in testing out a cycle-syncing diet, there are some cycle-syncing foods that experts say may help. But don’t feel like you have to pigeonhole yourself to these specific foods, says Mirchandani. “At the end of the day, it's really important to understand your body and listen to your body intuitively and respond to it,” she says. Look at your nutrition holistically to include a variety of nutrients throughout the day, she says. Generally, here’s what to eat to feel your best throughout your cycle. Consider this your cycle-syncing food chart.
Cycle-syncing diet: Menstruation phase
During your period, your estrogen and progesterone levels are lower. You may feel like you have less energy, in addition to experiencing common period symptoms like cramps, bloating, mood changes, and breast soreness.
Losing blood during your period can reduce your iron levels. So the primary nutrient you may want to pay attention to here is iron, says Mirchandani. Add iron-rich foods such as leafy greens, meat, beans, or some seafood to your grocery cart, as well as vitamin C-packed foods, which can help your body absorb iron.
As far as what else to eat on our period, consider foods with a lot of nutrients, some fiber, and a balance of protein, carbs, and fat to give you more sustained energy. You may also want to limit sodium during the menstruation phase, which can make you feel more bloated.
But let’s not forget how physically taxing your period can be. It’s okay to give your body what it wants, and let your appetite lead, reminds Mirchandani.
Cycle-syncing diet: Follicular phase
The follicular phase is when you feel more energetic, says Mirchandani. Your estrogen and progesterone levels are both still initially low, but estrogen levels start to come back, says Alexander Chiang, MD, a board-certified OB-GYN at UCLA Health. To sustain your energy, add protein and complex carbs to your meals, Mirchandani suggests. Instead of simple sugars that will only give you a short burst of energy, opt for foods such as yogurt, oats, eggs, quinoa, and starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes.
Cycle-syncing diet: Ovulation phase
This is when “there is a luteinizing hormone surge, which triggers ovulation,” says Chiang. Your energy may take a slow dip, says Mirchandani. In addition, you may also notice an increase in body temperature and some ovulation pain.
“Try not to eat foods that spike your glycemic index” says Mirchandani, such as white rice or soft drinks, during this phase. “[Those foods] will cause your blood sugar to spike and drop, and that will enhance some of these low-energy [dips] that you're already feeling.” Stock up on healthy fats such as flaxseed, omega-3 rich foods including fish, and walnuts. (FYI, these foods are also great for your brain).
Cycle-syncing diet: Luteal phase
During this menstrual cycle phase, your body is preparing to either support a pregnancy or shed the uterine lining. You may experience symptoms such as mood changes, bloating, breast soreness, brain fog, lethargy, and changes in appetite, says Chiang. These symptoms are often referred to as the period flu, but don’t worry, it’s not the actual flu.
You may want to add protein and calcium-rich foods to your plate such as tofu, beans, and yogurt. They may help mitigate PMS symptoms and cravings. Mirchandani also recommends going back to energy-sustaining foods, such as eggs and avocados.
There’s no perfect cycle-syncing diet. Your menstrual cycle symptoms are unique to you, no matter what you choose to eat on your period. But keeping track of how your body feels and giving it a balanced diet of nutrients can help mitigate some of the pain and fatigue along the way. So, go with the flow, so to speak.
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