How to train and eat according to your menstrual cycle?
Updated: Mar 1
Are you one of those women, who puts herself an intense training plan in place and follows it no-matter what? Maybe you like HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), cross-fit, running, spinning classes, hard-core training classes, hitting gym to do heavy weight-lifting several times a week etc. You might be the one who says, I am going to take up running and then run every day of the week for 5-10 kilometres. Some weeks are harder than the other ones, but you still keep pushing. Or you might be the one, who really listens to your body and gives it exercise what it wants and when it wants- I am happy for you to be in-tune with your body. Unfortunately I know many women who don't do it and who go and exercise hard all the time. I have been in the past one of them as well.
In recent months, I have been listening to a few doctors like Dr. Stephanie Estima sharing how our hormones work, how women should exercise and eat based on their monthly cycle and this is what I want to share below.
Why you want to eat and exercise according to your cycle?
As you know, when it comes to hormones, we women are different. During the course of 4 weeks every month our hormones like oestrogen, testosterone, progesterone either go up or go down. This has an impact on our mood, our energy levels, our eating habits, but also on our fertility, our libido. In order to experience your body the best possible way you need to get to know your body. Each of the menstrual phases actually need specific diet and exercise to help your hormones function as they should.
Our hormones are impacted by what we eat, how we eat, our lifestyle- sleep, exercise, stress management. Many women tend do the same thing week in week out- we eat the same way, we do the same workouts, but often we are still struggling with weight issues, with mood issues. Our bodies don't operate that way- they need different treatment at different times of the month. Same happens in the nature, the tides come and go, the seasons change, mornings turn into evenings.
You must have also heard about moon cycle. If our bodies are in balance, we tend to align with the nature, where we ovulate during the full moon. Our body is more fertile when the earth is most fertile.
If we learn to eat, exercise, live more based on our cycles, we become more balanced, more productive and more in tune with our bodies. Courtney Bursich says if you really tune into your body, you can actually experience all four seasons during the monthly cycle.
I have written in the past as well about how to eat right for your monthly cycle, so do refer to this article as well, where I write also about seed cycling and how it can support your hormones.
How to eat and exercise based on your cycle?
Week 1- Menstrual phase
The week starts when your menstruation starts. Most of the hormones during this week are relatively low. This is the winter season of your monthly cycle. During this time it's good to rest more, do introspective work, journal, set some intentions for the rest of the month. As your left and right brain are also more balanced during this week you are able to connect more emotional and factual things- therefore you can make better decisions.
From a diet point of view it's a good week to try more ketogenic way of eating- high quality fat, moderate protein and low carbohydrate. Think around 70% fat, 20% protein, 10% carbohydrates. It's also good to focus on consuming blood building foods like organ meats (liver, heart, kidneys), dark green leafy vegetables, beetroot, sweet potatoes, red peppers, garlic, cherries, raisins, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, eggs, red meat, turkey, chicken, shellfish, oysters, fermented dairy products, cheese.
This is a good week to focus on slower pace exercise- walking, yoga, pilates.
Week 2- Follicular phase
This is the week after your menstruation. Oestrogen and testosterone are starting to increase. This is the spring season of your monthly cycle. Since your energy levels are increasing, you are able to be more productive. You experience good problem solving capabilities, better verbal skills. It's good to execute on projects and take on speaking engagements. This is the time, where you get work done.
From a diet point of view, double the intake of protein and carbohydrates. Try 40% fat, 40% protein, 20% carbohydrates from your meals in a day . Focus on eating the rainbow (broccoli, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, yams, green leafy vegetables etc).
During this week, you tend to consume less calories, burn more fat, put on more muscle. If you can show up for yourself in terms of exercise till ovulatory phase, you will see more muscle growth. This is a good time to use heavy weights in the gym. Try and stay away from heavy cardio as our tendons tend to be stiff this week. Light jog or elliptical are good choices.
Week 3- Ovulatory phase
This is the summer season of your monthly cycle and the pinnacle of your cycle. This is the time where we women feel the best- we are more social, glowing, libido is high. This week is a good week to return to a ketogenic diet, but add in more resistant starches (for example cooked and cooled rice and potato, green bananas, legumes, oats, whole grains, seeds). Try to eat 70% healthy fat, 20% protein, 10% carbohydrates in your meals during the day.
From exercise point of view it's good to focus on strength training: 8-12 repetitions for the weights you lift.
Week 4- Luteal phase
This is is the autumn season of your cycle. Oestrogen level is starting to come down and progesterone is starting to rise. This is the time to slow down.
Consume 40% fat, 40% protein and 20% carbohydrates during your meals. As your body is naturally hungrier this week, don't deprive it of food.
It's best to avoid hard exercise during this week of the month. Try yoga, pilates- exercises that are putting you in a rested state. If you want to lift weights in the gym, go for lighter weights with 15-20 repetitions. We tend to be more inflamed during this week, therefore exercise and muscle contraction helps to release anti-inflammatory compounds.
We want to be mindful of our liver, especially women in their 40s and 50s, when we consume alcohol. With the age our metabolism slows down, we become more insulin resistant, we loose muscle, we gain more fat. Liver has a very important role in the body, amongst many other functions creating hormones and detoxifying our bodies of excess hormones. Alcohol, environmental toxins, what we put onto our bodies (cosmetics), into our bodies (food, pharmaceuticals) etc all puts strain on our liver. If our liver is sluggish, it affects the rest of the body. Learn from here how you can support your liver health.
Intermittent fasting and cycle
It's important for women to be in tune with their bodies and not practice long fasts, especially if you are stressed, have eating disorders.
In the first week of our cycle our bodies can handle fasts better, so you could try a day of water fast. If you have PCOS- then you can practice water fasts throughout your cycle.
In the second week of your cycle you can practice intermittent fasting or time-restricted eating. Eat for example in 8 hour eating window. But don't practice extended period of time with no food.
In luteal phase, if you have hormonal issues, you tend to have more issues with sleep, your rings on your fingers might get tighter, you tend to retain more water, your bowel movements slow down. If you have oestrogen dominance, you could try bone broth fast (helps to reduce inflammation in the body).
You can learn more about intermittent fasting from this article.
As you can see, not all weeks are the same when it comes to hormones and it's good to have a different approach caring for your body. Learning how your body is evolving during your cycle every month can help to use your menstrual cycle to your advantage and provide better functioning. You will be more balanced and more productive as a person.
If you are not someone who tracks your cycle yet, I can recommend Flo, an app I have used for years to track my monthly cycle.
If you have health goals you want to reach, whether it's around weight, stress management, sleep, exercise, don't hesitate to reach out to me for health coaching at email@example.com.