How to Change Your Nutrition in Your Menstrual Cycle - Coach Mark Carroll

How to change your nutrition in your menstrual cycle

Nov 17, 2022
Sheridan Skye

Nutritional considerations across the menstrual cycle are a relatively new topic. This means that there’s limited evidence to support its use. Still, emerging data suggests it could be helpful for some women who experience symptoms such as increased appetite, constipation, PMS and bloating during their period. Changes in nutrition might help manage those uncomfortable side effects for some. This blog post by our Head of Nutrition, Sheridan Skye, will dive into some changes you can make to optimize your health and performance. 

We will be referring to a few critical terms throughout this blog. You must understand these terms before diving into the content. I previously wrote a blog titled ‘should you eat more when you have your period’ which outlines the key stages of the menstrual cycle and the terms you will need to know: 

A woman’s cycle is the entire cycle from the end of a bleed to ovulation and cycles back toward a new bleed or better described as menstruation, the follicular phase, ovulation and the luteal phase.

  • Menstruation, or period, is normal vaginal bleeding that occurs as part of a woman’s monthly cycle.
  • The follicular phase is the part of the menstrual cycle that occurs between the first day of a period and lasts until ovulation. During the follicular phase, the body produces more estrogen — a hormone — and prepares to release an egg.
  • During ovulation, part of the ovary called the ovarian follicle discharges an egg. The egg then travels down the fallopian tube, where it may encounter a sperm and become fertilized. 
  • The luteal phase occurs after ovulation and before your period starts. During this time, the lining of your uterus typically gets thicker to prepare for a possible pregnancy, and estrogen begins to decline while progesterone increases. Again, this is to help the body prepare for menstruation. 

Credit: Femmi 

The follicular phase: 

The follicular phase is the first phase of the menstrual cycle, and it’s all about oestrogen. As oestrogen levels rise, the follicles in the ovaries start to mature and develop. This hormone also plays a crucial role in preparing the uterine lining for implantation and thickening cervical mucus to aid in fertilization. Now, it’s no secret that oestrogen plays a significant role in the female body, but did you know it also impacts muscle building? It might seem counterintuitive – after all, testosterone is typically considered the male hormone responsible for increasing muscle mass. However, oestrogen actually has anabolic properties as well. It can help with muscle growth and maintenance and increase bone density. For this reason, some women find it helpful to focus on heavier loads during this part of their cycle. 

Other effects of oestrogen:

  • Reduces appetite 
  • Improvement in using and storing glucose from the consumption of carbohydrates

Women might feel stronger in this stage of their menstrual cycle due to improvements in fuel utilization from carbohydrates. They might also report improvements in rate of perceived exhaustion (RPE) and hit personal bests during this stage.

Practical nutritional strategies to use during the follicular phase: 

  • Increase in carbohydrate intake. 
  • Increasing foods that are higher calories per 100g ensures sufficient calories are consumed while appetite is low. 

The Luteal Phase

Feeling moody and crampy? Chances are, it’s your luteal phase. This is the menstrual cycle phase after ovulation, when your body’s progesterone levels are at their highest. Elevated progesterone also causes an increase in body temperature and, therefore, an increase in metabolism. This means that you may require more calories, and appetite increases during this phase of the cycle. It can lead to PMS symptoms such as mood swings, breast tenderness, bloating and potentially an increased rate of perceived exhaustion. This means that everything might feel heavy! 

Other effects of elevated progesterone levels include: 

  • Discomfort training in hot environments (thank the elevation in body temperature for this one). 
  • Increase in fluid retention (ever wondered why the scales increase right before or during the first few days of your bleed?). 
  • Decrease in gut transit time (hello, constipation!)

Practical nutritional tips for the luteal phase: 

  • Increase fibre intake to assist bowel movements. 
  • Increase your calorie intake a few days before your bleed and a few days while your appetite is higher. 
  • Consuming carbohydrates around training sessions when insulin sensitivity is highest.
  • Consuming small yet regular meals over fewer, larger meals. 

Menstrual Phase

This is where your bleed occurs when a successful pregnancy has not happened during ovulation. During menstruation, prostaglandin production increases. 

​​Prostaglandins, also known as PGs, are a family of molecules with diverse bodily functions. They help regulate inflammation and immune responses, play a role in reproductive health, and even affect the contraction of muscles in the uterus during childbirth. For some women, this causes more frequent bowel movements and pain often associated with ‘period cramps’. In addition, during this phase, iron stores are depleted as the body sheds the uterus lining. 

Practical nutritional tips for the menstrual phase include: 

  • Consuming foods high in haem iron
  • Consuming foods high in vitamin C to assist with the absorption of iron
  • Consuming coffee or wine separate from foods high in iron

Premenstrual Stress 

It’s that time of the month again – PMS has arrived. For some, it means mood swings and cramps. For others, it can lead to more severe symptoms like headaches, fatigue, and even depression. But what exactly is PMS, and why does it happen? PMS is a collection of symptoms that occurs before a person’s period (around 5-7 days before), triggered by hormone fluctuations in their body. While every person experiences PMS differently, there are ways to help manage the symptoms. Diet, exercise, and relaxation techniques can all play a role in minimizing discomfort during PMS. And remember – while PMS may sometimes be frustrating, it’s just a normal part of being a human with a menstrual cycle. So hang in there – your period (and relief from PMS) will be here soon enough.

Practical nutritional strategies to help with PMS: 

  • Magnesium supplementation may help mood changes. 
  • Iodine supplementation for breast tenderness. 

So there you have it, try these strategies throughout your next cycle to see if they make a difference!

 

Yours in Health,

Sheridan Skye

Head of Nutrition

@sheridanskyefit