Cycle Syncing Nutrition

gut health menstrual cycle menstruation womens health

Many women can recognise patterns associated with their menstrual cycle, perhaps routine differences in bowel habits, energy levels, and/or food cravings. But did you know that your nutritional choices can help support your health depending on the stage of your cycle you’re in? Let’s take a look at what foods you can include according to your menstrual cycle.  

Foods for the Follicular Phase

The first phase of your cycle lasts roughly days 1-14 and is called the follicular phase. The first day is marked by the beginning of your period. Hormones remain quite low during this phase. Oestrogen will rise before ovulation (when an egg is released) but then falls again before the second phase of your cycle.

Limit gut irritants

Many women experience gut issues during their period as well, with abdominal pain and diarrhoea being the most commonly experienced [1]. The shedding of your uterus is driven by hormone-like chemicals called prostaglandins. These chemicals can trigger other smooth muscles such as your bowels to react in a similar way and causing gastrointestinal discomfort or a change in bowel habits like diarrhoea or constipation. Minimise gut irritants like caffeine, spicy foods, artificial sweeteners, and alcohol which may further exacerbate GI issues. Be sure to include a balance of healthy fats, lean sources of proteins, and foods high in fibre to support good health during this part of your cycle.

Include iron-rich foods

Women who experience heavy menstruation are at higher risk of iron deficiency, and those who are highly active are at an even higher risk [2]. Signs of iron deficiency include shortness of breath, cold hands and feet, and light-headedness. Including more iron-rich foods in your diet can help to replace iron losses such as lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, iron-fortified cereals, and legumes.

Physical activity

Studies have shown that women are stronger in this low-hormone phase. If you’re highly active, you can take advantage of increased resistance training outcomes and the ability to recover faster during this time in your cycle!

Lowdown on the Luteal Phase

The second phase of your cycle which is roughly days 15-28 (based on an average cycle length of 28 days) is called the luteal phase. Both oestrogen and progesterone rise during this phase to prepare for pregnancy. They are at their highest 5 days before menstruation, where pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) can happen and women are more likely to report a range of symptoms. Let’s take a look at how you can support your health during this phase!

Choose complex carbs

Do you find yourself scouring the cupboards for a sweet treat in the lead up to your period? Well, your physiology may explain why! Studies also show a 5-10% increase in metabolism the days before menstruation, and you may find that your appetite increases [3]. Oestrogen also reduces your ability to burn carbs, potentially to save your stores in case of pregnancy and may explain why you craves carbohydrate-rich foods during the high hormone phase of your cycle. Having too few carbs can increase cortisol (the stress hormone) due to the brain preferring carbs for energy! During this time, aim to include complex carbohydrates which are high in fibre to help keep you fuller for longer, and pairing them with lean sources of protein and healthy fats.

Reduce salt intake

High oestrogen and progesterone affect the hormones regulates fluid, leading to retaining more water and constricting blood vessels which may lead to bloating. Reducing your salt intake may help to reduce bloating. Try choosing fresh ingredients, cooking at home, and using herbs instead of salt to flavour your meals.

Choose sleep-promoting foods

Do you ever find yourself tossing and turning and unable to fall asleep in the lead up to your period? In the high hormone phase, progesterone can interfere with the release of our sleeping hormone, melatonin, leading to an increased body temperature which may disrupt sleep [4]. Include melatonin rich foods in the evening may help support good sleep such as tart cherry juice concentrate, milk, pistachios, mushrooms, and tomatoes.

A Final Word

As a woman’s hormone levels rise and fall over the course of the month, nutritional needs vary too. Understanding these changes can help you support your mind, body, and gut through nutrition!



[1] Bernstein, M.T., Graff, L.A., Avery, L. et al. Gastrointestinal symptoms before and during menses in healthy women. BMC Women's Health 14, 14 (2014).

[2] Mansour D, Hofmann A, Gemzell-Danielsson K. A Review of Clinical Guidelines on the Management of Iron Deficiency and Iron-Deficiency Anemia in Women with Heavy Menstrual Bleeding. Adv Ther. 2021 Jan;38(1):201-225. doi: 10.1007/s12325-020-01564-y. Epub 2020 Nov 27. PMID: 33247314; PMCID: PMC7695235.

[3] Curtis V, Henry CJK, Birch E, Ghusain-Choueiri A. Intraindividual variation in the basal metabolic rate of women: Effect of the menstrual cycle. Am J Hum Biol. 1996;8(5):631-639. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1520-6300(1996)8:5<631::AID-AJHB8>3.0.CO;2-Y. PMID: 28561339.

[4] Sharkey KM, Crawford SL, Kim S, Joffe H. Objective sleep interruption and reproductive hormone dynamics in the menstrual cycle. Sleep Med. 2014 Jun;15(6):688-93. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2014.02.003. Epub 2014 Mar 6. PMID: 24841109; PMCID: PMC4098663.


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