The female body is beautiful and complex, there is no question about that. However, we will all admit that when that time of the month comes around, we become a whirlwind of hormones, as our hormone levels will rise and fall according to different time frames of our cycles.
Did you know that what you eat during your period should be synced around the three phases of your menstrual cycle? There are things you will need to avoid, to help you feel better and relieved of certain symptoms like period pain and menstrual cramps, (general PMS symptoms), but also there will be foods to eat that should be a must, to keep up your energy levels and ensure you are getting the adequate nutrition to fuel the stress that comes to your body during that time of the month.
So if you’ve ever wondered what to eat on your period, within this blog post, we hope you will be able to take away what you should exactly eat during your period, nutrient-wise. However, we also hope to educate you more on the intricate works of each part of the cycle, and how the key hormones Progesterone and Oestrogen will fluctuate, and therefore influence your dietary needs more than you think.
FYI, you could also take supplements to aid you for the different parts of your menstrual schedule. After reading this, you will know exactly what you need and why!
How does a woman’s cycle work?
A woman’s fertility follows a 4-way schedule. Usually the schedule renews itself every 28 days, however it can extend to 35 days too. Each woman will differ with her framework when it comes to menstruating, so do not worry if your own calendar differs by a few days each and every month. It is said that stress, eating and lifestyle factors can affect the routine appearance of your period.
The following phases are elaborated down below and yes, before you wonder, the actual period where you menstruate is considered the fourth and final week/phase of your framework.
The first phase of your menstruating framework is the Follicular phase. Here is where the Oestrogen and Progesterone levels rise just after you finish menstruating. Biologically this phase will be prompted to occur via the stimulus hormone FSH, due to hypothalamus and pituitary gland release of the follicles. Your ovaries will react to this by making 20 follicles embed on the surface. Those follicles are what mature the one egg that survives, and ultimately house the egg when the uterus thickens from accumulated grown follicles. 
Ovulation is where the egg is released from the ovaries (usually around two weeks into the cycle), and due to the rising levels of Oestrogen, the hypothalamus will recognise your hormones rising and thus release the GnRH hormone. This leads to a chain reaction of further prompting the pituitary gland to release the LH and FSH further.  It is the rising LH levels which are triggered by Oestrogen, that provide signals for the ovulation process and funnelling of the egg towards the uterus. This action induces waves that guide the egg to where it needs to be. It only has a time span of 24 hours before it will die, meaning sperm will need to fertilise it before it will be ineffective towards inducing pregnancy.
This phase involves transforming the follicles from the Follicular phase, into corpus luteum. This structure is responsible for signalling Progesterone with falling Oestrogen to maintain the lining which surrounds the uterus. Every single day, those levels will fall and will continue doing so if no egg is embedded within the uterus. The corpus luteum will slowly die within the last 8 days leading up to the end of your 28-35-day window. As the Progesterone falls, so does the lining. Meaning, this gives you what is known as your ‘period’.
This is where the endometrium lining is shed through the vagina as blood, mucus and cells from the lining. Usually this process can occur for as short as three days, to as long as a time span of a week. Menstrual cramps are common PMS symptoms, and generate from the contractions that occur within the uterus to shed the lining of the womb.
Sync your nutrition to your menstrual schedule
Syncing your nutrition towards your period schedule is important because your body will need certain nutrients to maintain your energy levels and help alleviate the common PMS symptoms such as bloating/ water retention, pain, migraines etc. Of course, it is normal to have cravings during that time of month and mood swings for example, as your hormone levels will be fluctuating consistently for each part of the month. However, adhering to the best foods to eat on your period will ensure that women can sufficiently stay on top of their daily lives to the best they can.
One thing to mention here is that women will always experience PMS symptoms differently from one another. No two women will ever be the same; so, it is important to mindfully address your period and get into the habit of tracking the length of your cycle, your mood swings, PMS symptoms such as pain moderation etc. Why? Because sometimes the symptoms women may have, are key to underlying conditions within the period. For example, excruciating pain is not common for any woman, and can indicate underlying health issues such as endometriosis. So, always consciously try and be aware of your own cycle and the symptoms which come along with it!
What are the common symptoms of PMS?
The following symptoms are very common when you go through PMS and period:
- Abdominal cramps
- Water retention and bloating
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Mood swings
If you are a woman that goes through all/some of these symptoms, there are foods to avoid, and help ease the discomfort you may feel.
What to eat during the follicular phase?
Due to this part of the cycle occurring directly after your period, it is important to top up to account for nutrients lost during blood loss. Iron levels will deplete, meaning this part of the cycle should accommodate for plenty of iron rich foods, in addition to Vitamin C and B Vitamins too i.e. B12. These vitamins are vital to prevent anaemia (low levels of iron/oxygen complex within blood cells), which is a common result in depletion of these nutrients. Women are far more likely to be anaemic than men, due to their periods. The more you engage with these food sources throughout your cycle, the less likely it will be that you suffer the common symptoms of dizziness, fatigue and palpitations that are associated with anaemia. 
So, in summary:
- Iron rich foods like beef, turkey, beans, leafy greens, egg yolks
- Vitamin C sources such as broccoli, kale, pineapple, kiwi and citrus fruits
- B12 sources such as salmon, tuna, fortified cereals, fortified soy and plant milks
- B6 sources such as fish, turkey, non-citrus fruits, potatoes and starchy vegetables.
This time of the cycle, it is not necessary to avoid any food, as your Oestrogen levels and Progesterone rise, meaning your energy levels should slowly rise again, and you will find that you have a pounce back to your feet!
Supplements for the follicular phase
There are many supplements out there that will cover the nutrients covered above. However, it is important you select supplements that are focused around female function, as they will have the correct clinically approved doses with menstruation cycles consciously in mind.
- Iron Complex (with combined Vitamin C) to support both iron and Vitamin C levels. It is suggested that women take supplements which boost their iron after menstruation with 15-50 mg per day. This will obviously depend on how heavy your blood loss is during your period.
- Magnesium tablets are perfect to take during the follicular phase, as this is when your progesterone levels will rise, and magnesium helps support the process, alongside being an anti-inflammatory for the corpus luteum digression and prostaglandins that can be released later on during the luteal phase.  Building up your dosage following the days towards the luteal phase is definitely a good idea.
- Calcium supplements have been proven to reduce PMS symptoms like bloating, water retention and mood swings during the luteal phase, if taken every day.  Calcium can be satisfied in the diet too but just in case it is not, this is definitely the way to go about getting a 500mg dose per day!
What to eat on your period: The ovulatory phase
Here you will most likely see a drop-in appetite, and an increase in your energy overall. While ovulation can initially boost your energy, you will discover that your hormone regulation at the moment is at its peak, in terms of Progesterone, Oestrogen LH and FSH. Taking B vitamins sources of food and magnesium, is important to ready you for the next phase to come, which does dramatically drop these key nutrients in your body naturally, during the luteal phase.
So, in summary:
- B12 sources such as salmon, tuna, fortified cereals, fortified soy and plant milks
- B6 sources such as fish, turkey, non-citrus fruits, potatoes and starchy vegetables i.e. chickpeas
- At least 25 grams of fibre per day, to promote bowel regulation which can be affected during ovulation (not all women) i.e. whole grains, nuts, seeds, avocado and apples.
Try to avoid highly processed foods, as they can actually curb your energy that comes naturally during the ovulatory phase.
Supplements for the ovulation phase
- B6 supplements of 50-100 mg per day, however take consciously and seek medical advice if you are taking other medication at present. 
- Chasteberry has been proven to aid women who suffer from common symptoms of breast tenderness, constipation and water retention during late luteal/menstruation. From just 200mg per day, it lessens the symptoms of PMs during the last phase of the cycle. Take these everyday but stop 4-5 days before your period begins. 
You can also repeat the doses of other supplements listed during the follicular phase also!
What to eat on your period: The luteal phase
Here is where you need to up your nutrition game and foods to eat for your period! If your body does not fertilise the egg within your uterus, the Progesterone levels alongside the Oestrogen, LH and FSH fall to prepare your body in the shedding of the uterine lining. Prostaglandins stimulated through the death of the corpus luteum stimulate the cramps, and a way to curb that is through an increase in omega-3 fatty acids.
So, in summary:
- Omega-3 fatty acids such as coconut oil, olive oil, leafy greens, avocados, beef and salmon
Try to avoid intake of omega-6 fatty acids that are found in processed foods, vegetable oils-any processed foods at all! Omega-6 fatty acids heighten the inflammatory response, meaning you probably will feel more pain.
Avoid salt and sugar heavy foods, as they will alter your mood significantly (energy crash) and contribute to bloating and water weight from the sodium.
Supplements for the Luteal phase
- Fish Oil supplements can relieve cramping due to their aid in helping build the 3 series prostaglandins that balance the inflammatory response. Around 2000mg per day should do the trick!
- Zinc supplements taken prior to menstruation and during the luteal phase have been proven to be anti-inflammatory and therefore are great to take to combat and reduce PMS.
- Continue taking Iron, Magnesium, Calcium, B6 and Chasteberry, as instructed above.
What to eat on your period: The menstruation phase
Cravings during the late luteal phase leading up to your period, are very common indeed. The reason for this is due to the fluctuating high levels of leptin within your body, which is a hunger hormone. Here it is vital to stay hydrated to combat and manage the increased water weight that occurs due to the prostaglandin response.
While you may be really leaning in for the chocolate, sugar and carbs during this time, it may actually do more worse than good. Foods that play with your blood sugar levels directly influence your mood and energy too, and considering during this phase you already feel at your worst, eating healthy will aid your recovery past the PMS stage far more quickly. Try and lean in for the healthy alternative instead. If you are craving chocolate for example, go for the dark chocolate, which has less sugar and saturated fats in it. You do not want to be feeling more bloated, or fatigued than you already do, do you?
Try taking fruit and herb infused teas such as Chamomile tea, which can relax the tension in your stomach, and also help you reduce the bloating that you currently feel during the final stage and time of the month.
Avoid eating foods that cause havoc with your digestive system. The contractions that cause your cramps, also stimulate your bowels too, meaning you will probably be going to the toilet quite a lot during the first few days of your period. If you consume things that spur on your toilet habits more, such as coffee, alcohol and spicy foods for example, your tummy will just hurt even more than it does already.
Red meat is a huge no-go too. Yes, it is rich in iron, however the meat itself is high in prostaglandins, which can unfortunately make you feel far worse and cramp that much harder ladies. Opt for lean protein sources instead during this time of the month.
Remember, if you mindfully cycle sync foods to eat around your cycle, your body will love you for it, when it comes to your period arriving. We cannot stress enough how educating yourself on what to eat during menstruation can make all the difference to a healthier and happier you!
- Betterhealth.vic.gov.au. 2018. Menstrual cycle | betterhealth.vic.gov.au. [online] Available at: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/menstrual-cycle [Accessed 21 March 2021].
- O’Callaghan, S., 2021. Nutrition For Your Menstrual Cycle – A Beautiful Mess. [online] A Beautiful Mess. Available at: https://abeautifulmess.com/nutrition-for-your-menstrual-cycle/#:~:text=With%20period%2Drelated%20blood%20loss,to%20fatigue%2C%20dizziness%20and%20nervousness. [Accessed 21 March 2021].
- Newton, R., 2019. Herbs and Supplements for Common Menstrual Issues. [online] Nixit. Available at: https://letsnixit.com/blogs/blog/herbs-and-supplements-for-common-menstrual-issues [Accessed 21 March 2021].
- Healthline Medical Network, 2020. PMS Supplements: 7 Options for Mood Swings and Other Symptoms. [online] Healthline. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/pms-supplements#calcium [Accessed 21 March 2021].
Fatima is a writer, blogger, health and well-being advocate; with a nutritional science degree at her command. Her passion is to propagate the importance of female health and the ways lifestyle can be enhanced via dietary interventions and supplements. Embodying the literal term “we are what we eat”, she is a proud seeker of knowledge for the most updated methods to heighten personal health regimes.