Are you a slave to your hormones? Here’s how food can help!

Are you a slave to your hormones? Here’s how food can help!

Ladies do you ever feel like a slave to your hormones? Tired, sad and angry at the world one week, then the next you are ready to take on the world.  All the answers lie in your period. Yes that time of the month we all associate with bloating, cramps, head-aches, and mood swings.  This is all due to hormonal fluctuations in our bodies and if these hormones are out of balance, the above symptoms get out of control.  The good news is we can reduce the above symptoms and increase our performance at each stage of our monthly cycle.  With a little understanding of each phase and a little technique called cycle syncing, you will start to understand that our periods really are our super power! In this blog I am going to teach you about how to optimize your nutrition around your period, to keep those symptoms at bay, and help you optimize your training results.

Phase 1: Follicular Phase

Duration: 7 – 10 days, Starts first day after your period until ovulation

Food Focus: Fresh and Light

You will likely be feeling your most energetic during this stage. All your hormones, whilst at their lowest, will slowly begin to increase.  Specifically a feel good hormone, oestrogen will be on the rise, bringing you increased will power, creativity and focus.  It’s the perfect phase to begin your new dietary habits.  During this phase, a focus on fresh and light foods, will help you optimise your energy levels.   Specifically foods that will help you replenish your iron levels (post period) and support oestrogen production.  During this phase your body will also be more sensitive to insulin.  So this means that you don’t need to fear those carbs! In fact your bodies main source of energy during this phase will be from healthy, energy dense carbs.

Foods to eat:

             Grains: Oats, Barley, Rye, Wheat

Veggies + Fruits: broccoli, carrot, leafy greens, parsley, rhubarb, string bean, zucchini, artichoke, Avocado, grape fruit, lemon, orange, pomegranate, lime, plum and strawberries

             Protein: Chicken, eggs, soft shell crab

             Other: Nut butter, Olives, Saurkraut, Kimchi

How to cook for this Phase: How you cook your food also has an impact. During your follicular phase, favour light cooking methods, such as sautéing and steaming.

Phase 2: Ovulation

Duration: 3-5 days

Food Focus: Fibrous and light

Your oestrogen levels will be reaching their peak during ovulation phase.  Expect to feel a surge of energy and confidence during this time.  Your main focus should be on raw veggies (for fibre) and fruit (for higher levels of the anti oxidant, glutathione).  Both will aid in eliminating any excess estrogen.  Focusing on these foods will also help prevent estrogen driven symptoms, such as acne, tender breasts and bloating.  Stick to lighter grains during this phase, such as quinoa and corn.  During ovulation your body will also not recover from your training as quickly as other phases, so ensuring a good source of protein and carbs post any workouts will aid in recovery. You can also take collagen and Vitamin C to help with recovery during this phase.

Foods to eat:

Grains: Amaranth, corn, quinoa

Veggies + Fruits: Asparagus, Bell pepper, Brussel sprouts, chard, chive, egg plant, spinach, tomatoes, Apricot, strawberry, fig, persimmon, raspberry

             Protein: Red lentils, Lamb, salmon, shrimp, tuna

             Other: Vitamin C, Collagen

How to cook for this Phase: Continue with lighter cooking preparations such as steaming or raw. 

Phase 3: Luteal

Duration: 10-14 days

Food Focus: Curb Cravings

During your luteal phase, the hormone progesterone rises, and with it premenstrual Symptoms (PMS).  Symptoms such as bloating, irritability, mood swings and brain fog may develop, making this a tough week for your energy levels.    This week your food focus should be on foods rich in B Vitamins, calcium, magnesium and fibre.  This combination will aid in enhancing your luteal phase

Increased progesterone, can bring with it bloating and increased cravings for comfort foods high in calories.  By opting for foods rich in B-vitamins, calcium, magnesium and fibre you can work to reduce sugar cravings, mitigate the effects of fluid retention and promote continued elimination to flush hormones effectively.  Try focusing on roasted starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkin and parsnip.

Another side effect of increased progesterone is that it can trigger constipation and slow down digestion. This can cause temporary bloating and water retention for some women. So ensure you increase your intake of fibrous foods and water.

Increased progesterone can also make you sensitive to changes in blood sugar. Therefore if you eat too little during this phase dramatic changes in mood are more likely to occur.  Therefore I recommend ensuring you eat regular meals, leaving no more than 3-4 hours between each.  Ensure you are consuming a source of protein with each meal, to aid in stabilising blood sugar as well.

During this phase you are also insulin resistant. Our bodies will not be able to convert carbs to glycogen as easily.  Therefore we should focus more on eating healthy fats during this stage.

Foods to eat:

Grains: Brown Rice, Millet

Veggies + Fruits: Cabbage, Cauliflower, celery, collard, cucumber, garlic, ginger, leek, onion, parsnip, pumpkin, radish,. Squash, sweet potatoes, water cress apple, date, peach, pear and raisin

             Protein: Beef, Turkey, chickpeas, cod, flounder

             Other: Mint, peppermint and spirulina

Phase 4: Menstrual

Duration: 3-7 days

Food Focus: Add nutrients, warmth and comfort

During your menstrual phase, your body is involved in the process of eliminating the lining of your uterus, so focus on foods that add nutrients.  Foods that can help include water rich fruits and vegetables that have an overall low glycemic index  and are rich in iron, zinc and iodine.  Specifically adzuki and kidney beans, kale, kelp, mushrooms, beets and water melon.

Foods to eat:

Grains: Buckwheat, wild rice

Veggies + Fruits: Kale, Kelp, Adzuki and kidney beans, mushrooms, beets, watermelon, blackberry, blueberry,

             Protein: Pork, Crab, lobster, scallop

             Other: Tamari, decaf coffee, flaxseed

How to cook for this Phase: During this stage, optimizing comfort should be key.  Opt for cooking methods that feel comforting, healing and nourishing to you at this stage.  Warmer soups and stews are always a good choice year round.   I’d also recommend antioxidant rich smoothies, featuring some dark berries ( blue berries or black berries), Kale and flaxseed (promotes hormone balance and anti-inflammation) as a wonderful afternoon snack or morning breakfast.  

 ~ Amy Breur

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