Throughout the menstrual cycle, we may feel vibrant and full of energy one day but crippled by cramps the next day. Although painful periods can be indicative of hormonal imbalance, it’s totally normal to experience fluctuations in energy (and even mood) throughout the menstrual cycle. Taking note of where you’re at in your cycle can help you anticipate these shifts in energy, and focus on the nutrients that will best support your body during different times of the month.
Understanding the Menstrual Cycle
When you hear ‘menstruation’, you might immediately think about the time of the month when you bleed. And while that is part of the menstrual cycle, there are actually three different phases that occur throughout the cycle. Menstrual cycles usually range from 21-35 days in length–day 1 is counted from the first day that you bleed.
The three cycles are determined by the release of an egg: the follicular phase occurs before an egg is released, the ovulatory phase occurs when the egg is released, and the luteal phase occurs after.
The Follicular Phase
The follicular phase starts from the first day of bleeding. It typically lasts 1-14 days. Menstrual bleeding occurs when the uterine lining is shed, and estrogen and progesterone are at their lowest. You may have low energy during bleeding–this is totally normal.
Foods to focus on
Since you’re technically losing blood during the first part of the follicular phase, focusing on your iron intake will help prevent iron deficiency and keep energy levels up. Foods that are high in iron include:
- Dark leafy greens, like spinach
- Red meat
You can also help boost your body’s absorption of iron by prioritizing vitamin C intake. This means focusing on foods like:
After menstrual bleeding, estrogen and testosterone levels begin to rise and energy starts to increase. Great news! During this time, you’ll want to focus on nutrients that will help metabolize estrogen. That means loading up on fermented foods like:
The Ovulatory Phase
During the ovulatory phase, a matured egg is released. If you’re looking to conceive, this is the window of time when you’re considered most fertile. Estrogen is at its highest during this time.
Foods to focus on
Since estrogen is processed through the liver, you’ll want to load up on foods that are anti-inflammatory and support this vital organ. That includes:
- Fatty fish (like salmon)
- Raw nuts and seeds
- Fruits and vegetables (all the colours of the rainbow!)
The luteal phase
Once you’ve reached the luteal phase, the lining of the uterus thickens due to progesterone production. If the egg released during the ovulatory phase is fertilized, it will attach to this lining in preparation for pregnancy. Otherwise, progesterone will begin to drop and another period cycle begins. If pregnancy doesn’t occur during this time, energy will begin to wane towards the end of the cycle. This is when symptoms like fatigue, mood swings, or cramping may set in.
Foods to focus on
Focusing on foods that will help produce serotonin is a great way to lift mood. This includes:
- Leafy greens
Loading up on magnesium-rich foods will also help combat fatigue and cramping. Try adding these into your rotation:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Dark chocolate
Every cycle comes with its ups and downs, and sometimes that can make us feel like we’re at the mercy of our hormones. But, staying aware of where you’re at in your cycle will give you a leg up on prioritizing specific nutrients to support the body during different times of the month. Your body will thank you!