Eating for Your Cycle
Much like nutrition and energy requirements change according to your training schedule ‘eating for your cycle’ means acknowledging that intake requirements change according to the hormonal fluctuations of the menstrual cycle.
Given our hormones aren’t the same every day of the month, it makes sense that our nutrition needn’t look the same every day, either. When this isn’t acknowledged, it can manifest in less-than-ideal outcomes such as binging, yoyo dieting and even training injury.
In this article I’ll offer some guidance on the elements of nutrition that can be modified to mitigate risk of PMS and avoid letting changing hormones get in the way of training and / or fat loss goals.
A quick refresher on the hormonal changes taking place within the menstrual cycle:
The first half of the cycle is the follicular phase, where levels of progesterone are very low, and a surge of oestrogen takes place just prior to ovulation. Testosterone also peaks ever so slightly prior to ovulation.
The second half of the cycle is the luteal phase, where progesterone rises post ovulation and (all things being well) will peak about a week after ovulation. Oestrogen levels are also slightly elevated during this time.
The cycle is commonly described as having two halves (Follicular and luteal) but that’s not to say that we simply have two different hormone pictures throughout the month. In reality, it’s more.
For a deep dive into the phases of the cycle check out Understanding Your Menstrual Cycle.
Eating for the Follicular Phase
Relative to the luteal phase, overall progesterone production is incredibly low throughout the follicular phase which is why this is sometimes referred to as the ‘low hormone’ phase. For this reason, and because oestrogen surges just prior to ovulation (the end of the follicular phase), it’s a time of the cycle when insulin sensitivity is improved, and training recovery & adaptations are more efficient and effective.
It’s the time of the month where the body can tolerate more carbohydrate (without the negative flow on of possible weight gain or cravings) and training boundaries can be pushed. In fact, all other variables aside, it’s a time where high intensity training should be embraced and motivation for eating great food should be at its’ highest.
Eating for the Luteal Phase
Under the influence of progesterone, resting metabolic rate (RMR) increases during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. Although the number varies person to person, it means that women with a menstrual cycle require anywhere between 50 - 300 more calories per day during this phase. If this isn’t acknowledged by eating adequate (or slightly more than normal) fibre, protein and fats early in the day it can manifest in serious cravings later in the day, which is when the Tim Tams/Oreos/Peanut Butter/Cadbury's all start talking to you - of course!
Also due to progesterone’s influence, women can experience a reduction in insulin sensitivity in the second half of the cycle. We could/should proactively counteract this by supporting stable blood glucose levels with beautiful fibre, quality protein and healthy fats at every single meal. Eating excess sugar/any of the foods listed above will unfortunately only exacerbate the lack of insulin sensitivity, further promoting the sugar burning and cravings.
Magnesium can also be incredible at supporting/reducing cravings at this time of the cycle because it helps to improve insulin sensitivity. A randomised, double-blind, crossover study examining the effects of magnesium (200mg) and B6 (40mg) on PMS found there was a trend towards reduced cravings. I can back this up with real world experience because in clinic I see it making all the difference time and time again.
Eat plenty of magnesium rich foods including nuts, seeds, cacao, avocados, legumes and green leafy vegetables. Supplementing with a quality magnesium at 200 – 500mg / day is also an option. I hope this is helpful. If you'd like tailored support for your diet and/or signs of hormonal imbalance, the Healthy Hormones program could be for you. If you're not sure, please book a Complimentary 15-minute Consultation.
Referecnes Solomon SJ, Kurzer MS, Calloway DH. Menstrual cycle and basal metabolic rate in women. Am J Clin Nutr. 1982;36(4):611-616. doi:10.1093/ajcn/36.4.611 De Souza MC, Walker AF, Robinson PA, Bolland K. A synergistic effect of a daily supplement for 1 month of 200 mg magnesium plus 50 mg vitamin B6 for the relief of anxiety-related premenstrual symptoms: a randomized, double-blind, crossover study. J Womens Health Gend Based Med. 2000;9(2):131-139. doi:10.1089/152460900318623