Do you track your cycle? If not, it’s time to start. Because that knowledge is useful for way more than just birth control.
Our hormone levels are in a constant state of flux. They’re not the same for any two days of our cycles. So it would stand to reason that our body’s nutritional needs would vary from day to day as well.
Sound too complicated to keep up with? Luckily there are loads of free cycle-tracking apps that will take a lot of the guesswork out of it. I’m partial to myFLO by Alysa Vitti. She’s also written some amazing books that go into detail about how getting familiar with your cycle can benefit just about every aspect of your life.
But for now, let’s go over what each phase of your cycle is, and how to support your body nutritionally through all of them.
Your menstrual phase is the period of time (see what I did there?) that you’re actively bleeding. Our estrogen levels are at their lowest point during the menstrual phase.
The day you start your period is the first day of your (roughly) 28-day cycle. The menstrual phase typically lasts 3-7 days.
During this time, your body is most likely to be iron deficient, so focusing on iron rich foods is a good idea. It’s also smart to focus on anti-inflammatory and estrogen boosting foods. Also focus on getting enough water, as we’re most likely to be dehydrated during this phase.
Hydration: 2 liters + of water a day, non-caffeinated teas, and kombucha for gut health support.
Animal Sources: Beef, fish, and poultry. Liver is also fantastic right now if you’re into it.
Anti-Inflammatory Spices & Herbs: Turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, cayenne, cardamom, cumin, garlic, parsley, curry.
Plant Sources: Spinach, chard, kale, collard greens, broccoli, mushrooms, beets bell peppers, lentils, pinto beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, citrus fruits, strawberries, cherries, pineapple, mango, papaya.
The follicular phase begins when you stop bleeding and typically lasts until around day 13. This is when your body is preparing to release an egg. Both estrogen and testosterone are rising.
You’ll likely have the most energy during this phase, so you can also get in some intense workouts.
Hydration: At least 2 liters of water per day. You could also add frozen fruit as ice cubes to your water, or lemon or lime juice for an added energy boost.
Animal Sources: Beef, fish, poultry, lamb, eggs, and dairy products if you tolerate them.
Plant Sources: Chia seeds, quinoa, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, almonds, walnuts, hemp seeds, banana, apple, apricot, kiwi, blueberries, sugar snap peas, kale, green beans, green peas, carrots, sprouts, artichoke, parsley, sweet potato, brown rice.
Ovulation usually occurs around day 14 of your cycle, but the ovulatory phase lasts until day 21. The phase starts out energetic, and your estrogen and testosterone levels are at their highest, giving you lots of energy for socializing (and flirting). Immediately after you ovulate, however, estrogen begins to drop and progesterone begins to rise.
Try to eat foods that will boost your energy and help to ward off bloating or constipation, which can come along with progesterone.
Hydration: At least 2 liters per day. Try adding a greens powder to your water to increase fiber.
Animal Sources: Beef, fish, eggs, and shellfish.
Plant Sources: Cauliflower, broccoli, all greens, tomatoes, potato, bell pepper, egg plant, zucchini, squash, lettuce, cucumber, radish, watermelon, cantaloupe, grapes, grapefruit, plums, pears, peaches, berries, goji berry, maca, micro-greens, spirulina, sunflower seeds, macadamia nuts, pistachios.
The luteal phase lasts until you begin your period again, usually from day 22-28. At this time, estrogen begins to drop, as does serotonin, so you might feel a bit more tired and blue than normal. (Hello, PMS.)
If you’re having cravings, it’s for a reason. Warm, soft, nutrient dense foods are key, and it’s ok to indulge a little more than normal.
Hydration: 2 liters of water per day. Avoid caffeine as it’s dehydrating.
Animal Sources: Bone broth, beef, tuna, salmon, poultry, shellfish.
Plant Sources: Veggie broth, kale, chard, arugula, cabbage, avocado, figs, raspberry, sweet potato, carrots, banana, plantain, brown rice, almonds, sunflower seeds, black beans, chickpeas, whole wheat grains and pasta, and dark chocolate. (It is too a plant source.)
Your Mileage May Vary
Just like no two days of your cycle are alike, no two people are alike, so take this as a general guide and adjust based on how you feel. It will take a few months of tracking to be able to determine the exact days that each phase begins on.
Above all, listen to your body. Once you begin to track your cycle, you might learn all sorts of things about your mood, attention span, energy levels, sex drive, and cravings. And that insight could go a long way in helping you live your best life.