Like most women you probably already know a lot about your own menstrual cycle such as how regular it is and the signs and symptoms of when you are due on. However like most women, you may be totally unaware of how you should use your menstrual cycle to plan your nutrition and exercise routine and get the best out of your body.
Menstrual cycle coaching is an approach to nutrition and exercise I have spent a lot of my time in the last couple of years researching and using, sometimes without my client’s even realising (Jedi coach
ing tricks) and I have recently written my first female specific nutrition and training plan based around the cycle.
In this and forthcoming articles I want to help educate you on the details of the menstrual cycle and how you can use that to your advantage with your exercise and eating habits.
The Menstrual Cycle in Detail
The menstrual cycle is a rollercoaster of changes in the female body as it prepares for the possibility of pregnancy. The cycle brings with it fluctuations in hormone levels which in turn brings with it changes in mood, energy levels, appetite, cravings, motivation and reactions to food and exercise.
The cycle varies in time depending on the individual and external reasons. Usually it is based on 28 days however it is common to have cycles anywhere between 23 and 35 days.
Teenage girls cycles can be anywhere up to 45 days long, Women between the age of 25-35 usually have regular periods lasting around 28 days and women in their early 40's tend to have shorter more regular cycles followed by 10 years of unpredictability all the way up to menopause.
The first day of your cycle is the first day of your period (day 1) and your period may last anywhere between 3-7 days.
There are 2 phases to the cycle – The follicular and luteal phases and both bring with them different characteristics which in turn changes how your body works and ultimately how your body deals with food and exercise.
The follicular phase (phase one) usually lasts 10-14 days
The luteal phase begins at ovulation and can last anywhere from 12-16 days
As your body progresses through the cycle it adapts to the hormonal change and with that changes how it works, looks and feels.
In this article I am going to explain the follicular phase and how to take advantage of this phase through your nutrition.
The Menstruation and Follicular Phase - Nutrition
The follucular phase is the time of your cycle from menstruation through to when your body releases a mature egg ready for fertilisation at ovulation (approx day 14)
The initial 2 weeks of your cycle from Day 1 of your period onwards is on paper, the best time to start a new “diet” and make good progress with your body. Although I understand it may not necessarily feel like it at that time, your body is raring to go, it is physically in the best place possible and mentally you are more focused than at any other point of your cycle.
Your appetite is at its lowest
You have less cravings
You have better mental focus and clarity
Your body will burn more fat for fuel
Your body can use carbohydrates for energy more effectively
The first few days of the follicular phase is also known as “menstruation”. In this phase particularly your appetite will be at it’s lowest. It may also be a time where you feel most worn out or lethargic which is why it is key to eat well in this time to boost your mood and energy. You will also need to ensure you increase your iron levels to counterbalance the loss through your period.
Once menstruation is over you will certainly start to feel more energetic and with an increase in the hormones oestrogen and testosterone comes an improvement in your mood and how you feel about yourself and even how you look...the follicular phase leading up to ovulation is usually when you will feel the most attractive.
Your hormone oestrogen is at it’s most dominant in the first phase of the menstrual cycle as you can see from the chart at the top of the page. In this phase you tend to conserve your carbohydrate stores better, but your body will also breakdown and utilise use your fat stores for effectively, increasing your body’s ability to burn body fat.
Your diet should therefore include good sources of healthy, nutritious carbohydrates with regular portions of protein whilst eating a lower amount of fats. To help absorb the extra iron, an increase in vitamin C is also advised.
Foods high in B Vitamins such as meat, fish, dairy and eggs will give you the much needed energy boost in your cycle, especially the first few days.
Follicular Phase Food Recommendations
Eat a portion of lean protein at every meal – this will help boost your Vitamin B levels and metabolism, giving you more energy whilst helping your body breakdown more fat at the same time. I know red meat is not a personal favourite for many women however try to get some in to your diet at this time of the month to increase iron levels.
Eat plenty of green, fibrous vegetables – this will help to keep you full, pack your body with vitamins and minerals and help with the breakdown, transportation and removal of excess oestrogen (we will speak about this at a later date) Green, leafy vegetables are especially key if you want to get leaner legs and bum.
Eat 2-3 portions of nutritious carbohydrates – This will give you much needed energy, keep your metabolism boosted and assist your body In breaking down fat.
Eat a moderate amount of healthy fats – fats are vital for your health and hormone production so keep a good amount in your diet including healthy oils, fish, meat, dairy, eggs, nuts, seeds and avocado.