Should you eat differently in different stages of your cycle?

fertility menstrual ovulation Oct 01, 2022
Stages of the menstrual cycle

Chances are you crave or eat differently throughout your cycle already. For example, closer to your, or during your period you may reach for comfort foods and around ovulation you may find it easier to stick to the healthier eating habits. There is a reason why you may feel like different foods at certain stages of you cycle. The reason is hormones!


Throughout your cycle your hormones change. With changes in hormones come changes in metabolic function, behaviour, motivation, mood and cravings for certain foods. The foods you eat can impact your hormones and your hormones can impact what you feel like eating.


What does a typical cycle look like?

A menstrual cycle is typically thought to be an average of 28-days but it can be shorter or longer than this.

There are 4 stages of the menstrual cycle:

  1. Menstrual (Day 1-5)
    • Your period marks the very first day of you cycle
    • A menstrual bleed is triggered by a decline in hormones when a pregnancy isn’t achieved.
    • Bleeding days vary in women
  2. Follicular (Day 5-14)
    • From the end of your period until you ovulate
    • Oestrogen is the dominate hormone
  3. Ovulatory (10-14)
    • Where the egg is released (ovulation)
    • Often when women feel their best, have energy and a high libido
  4. Luteal (14-30)
    • Progesterone is the predominate hormone in this phase
    • Think PMS, bloating, cravings and low energy
    • Your metabolism is higher, so you need more energy (aka food).

If the egg isn’t fertilised, hormones drop off which instigates a bleed and the cycle starts over again.


What foods may support for each stage of your cycle?


You lose approximately 1mg of iron during your period because of blood loss. This can be more in women with heavier bleeding, adenomyosis or endometriosis. It’s not surprising that 1/3 of women are iron deficient. Consuming iron rich foods like slow cooked meats, darker cut of poultry, tofu, lentils or black beans is really important to replace lost iron in this phase.

Foods to be avoided include; coffee and high sugar foods. Coffee in particular can contribute to excess cramping while sugary food may increase inflammation. You may also benefit from including high magnesium foods to help reduce cramping like pumpkin seeds, almonds and spinach.

For those that suffer from period pain, anti-inflammatory spices like ginger and turmeric may assist also.



In the follicular phase women often feel more energetic, light and motivated. Oestrogen is awesome like that! But for those who have excess oestrogen, it can cause issues in the next phase of their cycle. If you know you have issue with excess oestrogen, focus on fibre rich foods and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli (especially broccoli sprouts) to support bowel and liver clearance of excess oestrogen. If low oestrogen is your concern, flaxseeds are fantastic for boosting oestrogen levels.

Tolerance to carbohydrates is better during the follicular phase. Focus on fibre rich carbs like wholegrain pasta or bread, to help with bowel clearance of oestrogen but also to refuel glycogen stores.

If you are planning for a pregnancy, avoiding alcohol in this phase is important as it can interfere with ovulation. Alcohol can also increase oestrogen so those that suffer from oestrogen excess may benefit from refraining.



Ovulation is the time your hormones are at their peak for the cycle. This leads to more energy, high libido and increased productivity.

If you are a more active person, around ovulation is usually the best time to hit your personal best. Workouts like HIIT and Tabata.

If you were wanting to play around with intermittent fasting, this is the stage of your cycle to do so (if you aren’t planning on conceiving).


Luteal Phase

How you may feel will change, depending on whether you are in the early stages of pregnancy or not. In the luteal phase progesterone is the predominate hormone, meaning pro-gestation. If a pregnancy is not achieved, you will experience a gradual drop off in hormones which will then trigger a menstrual bleed.


If pregnancy is your goal, focus on folate rich foods like green leafy vegetables like cooked spinach, kale and silver beet. Getting enough folate in the early stage of pregnancy is critical to support the development of your baby’s neural tube. Studies have also shown that women who get adequate folate prior to pregnancy are more likely to achieve a pregnancy.

Other foods you may want to consider supporting implantation and pregnancy are those that contain natural nitrates or help with nitric oxide production. Nitric oxide helps to promote blood flow to the uterus (and all blood vessels) and improve microvascular circulation. All which can benefit implantation. Foods that contain natural nitrates include beetroot, garlic, and watermelon.


For those who aren’t attempting pregnancy, the hormonal decline in this phase can have some pretty awful side effects. Mood changes, PMS, constipation, and sore boobs just to name a few.

There a few nutrients which help to support progesterone levels and have some decent evidence for reducing PMS.

  • B6- found in dairy products, tuna, chickpeas, papaya and rockmelon
  • Zinc – seafood, shellfish, seeds and nuts
  • Vitamin C- berries, broccoli, capsicum, kiwi fruit
  • Magnesium- dark chocolate, wholegrains, leafy green and legumes e.g. lentils
  • Iodine- a common cause of sore breasts that we have observed is low iodine. Both the breast, ovaries and thyroid are iodine hungry glands! Include seaweeds like nori wraps or dulse flakes in your diet in boost iodine intake.


This is the phase where you really benefit from healthy eating. But don’t be too strict on yourself, progesterone actually increases your metabolic rate, meaning you need more food than other phases of your cycle. Chances are if you aren’t eating enough calories, you will be getting some cravings. Give your body the nutrients it needs by focusing on nutrient dense foods rather than quick sugary fixes.

Constipation can be a huge issue for many women in this phase. Focus on including fibre rich wholegrains like quinoa and legumes like lentils and chickpeas, all of which have the added benefit of being rich in magnesium too. Ensure adequate hydration and include 2 kiwi fruits a day to help alleviate constipation.

Foods you want to reduce in the luteal phase are coffee, refined carbs (like white breads and pastries), high sugar foods and excess salt. Bloating is often a concern for many women in the lead up to their period so swap your daily coffee for dandelion root tea, which is a natural diuretic helping to reduce fluid retention.


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