Trilby here :) We’re going to dive into some simple tools and techniques to empower you to sync your food, movement & energy output with your menstrual cycle. This information is supportive for anyone with a menstrual cycle who is not taking hormonal contraceptives. Hormonal birth control prevents us from having a cycle and blocks communication between the pituitary and the ovaries, so we’re not working with a natural and cyclical chemical cascade. That said, these tools can be immensely supportive if and when you choose to come off of hormonal birth control. If you are currently pregnant, these tools won’t apply until post-birth, so keep it earmarked for when you enter postpartum and are looking to regulate your cycle. If you are in perimenopause, these tools will be supportive to help regulate the associated hormonal fluctuations.
Before we dive in, let’s touch on why this can be so beneficial. Healthy menstruating bodies go through four distinct phases each month – follicular, ovulatatory, luteal and menstrual. I like to compare these to the four seasons, with follicular being spring, ovulatory summer, luteal fall, and menses winter. There are significant fluctuations that occur during these four phases. Hormones rise and fall, our metabolism changes, cortisol levels shift, and this all comes together, when working effectively, to allow for the monthly release of an egg, which results in menses or pregnancy. So all to say, this infradian rhythm that menstruating bodies follow month after month is very different from the circadian rhythm that male-born humans follow. The key is the variance. So, it makes sense that honouring these fluctuations and different phases will support optimal well-being, and it’s not so surprising that our Western culture functions off of a circadian rhythm. Imagine a world where the infradian rhythm was considered at the office? Or University? Or marathon/competitive sport? That’s for another post….;)
For simplicity sake, we’ll label the menstrual phases as follows:
Follicular + ovulatory = First half of your cycle
Luteal + menstrual = Second half of your cycle
We’ll break these tools into three categories: nutrition and supplements, movement, and energy output.
During the first half of your cycle, the follicular phase into ovulation, our metabolism is running slightly slower, which you’ll notice if you take your temperature daily as part of your method of birth control or if you wear an Oura ring. This means that our caloric needs are slightly lower, on average 250 calories less per day. Or, put another way, you’ll likely notice you are more hungry or crave more calorie dense foods in your second half (luteal phase into menses) because your temperature is elevated and therefore metabolism is humming more. So given this difference in metabolism, honour your cravings for more food in the later half of your cycle, opting for snacks that boast a carbohydrate, fat and protein (also known as putting clothes on your carbs) to ensure you are managing your blood sugar and getting added nutrients.
We can also consume different types of foods during different phases of our cycle to support the hormonal changes.
Follicular phase (day 1 after your period finishes until ovulation): fresh, vibrant foods containing phytoestrogens, such as salads, kimchi and sauerkraut, zucchini, sprouted beans, dark leafy greens, pumpkin seeds, ground flax seeds, wild caught fish or a daily omega 3 supplement
TurF menu pick: Kale caesar with side of salmon
Ovulatory phase (typically lasts 3-4 days and includes ovulation): lots of vegetables and fruit, quinoa, high fibre foods to flush estrogen, tofu, hummus, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, evening primrose oil supplement if you experience hormonal acne
TurF menu pick: O.M.G.G Bowl with a side of tofu
Luteal phase (between ovulation and first day of menses): up your immunity with vitamin C rich foods, avocado, beans, broccoli, spinach, legumes, sulfur-containing vegetables like broccoli, brussels sprouts and cauliflower to help liver clear excess hormones, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds or tahini, evening primrose oil supplement
TurF menu pick: TurF energy ball, Burger Wrap from the grab + go
Menstruation (bleeding): warming foods including grass fed steak, turkey thighs, chicken, red kidney beans, nori, roasted squash, sweet potato, carrot, brown rice, ground flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, wild caught fish or omega 3 supplement
TurF menu pick: Veggie sausage hash
Consuming different seeds throughout your cycle is a simple, cost effective way to play with your hormones to promote a balanced cycle:
1 tbsp of raw pumpkin seeds and ground flax seed for the first half of your cycle (from the day after the end of your period until ovulation) and 1 tbsp of raw sunflower seeds and 1 tbsp of sesame seeds or tahini (which is made of sesame seeds) from the day after ovulation until the end of your period. Note you do not need to be exact here, so don’t stress!
You can sprinkle these onto your oats, yogurt, salads, add to smoothies, or add into an energy ball recipe and make batches so you can have a ball ready to go for each day of your cycle. I have also worked with clients who combine the seed combinations to a jar labelled “first half” and “second half” and they add 2 tbsp daily to their breakfast, lunch or dinner. Whatever works!
Your cortisol levels are lowest in the follicular and ovulatory phases (first half) of your cycle. This means that movement that is higher intensity – running, meta, spinning etc – is ideal during this time. After ovulation, cortisol levels increase, so this is a better time to take things down a notch with weight training, Pilates, yoga, and other low impact activities. With all this said, you know your body best. For example, I find I feel really energized during the menstrual phase of my cycle, and running feels great. For others, this time can feel more depleting, and yoga and gentle walks will suit you best. However if you have a high stress burden, where cortisol levels are already quite high, this could be a useful tool for you to implement.
This could look like:
- Taking Saturday meta in the first half of your cycle, then opting for meta + CORE during your luteal phase & menstruation
- Swapping a Monday meta for a 45 min walk during your luteal phase & menstruation
- Swapping your Sunday meta for Sunday strength during your luteal phase & menstruation
- Opting for CORE and strength Friday, Sat & Sun instead of meta during your luteal phase & menstruation
- Doubling down on RESTORE and Mobilization Nation during your luteal phase & menstruation
- Alternate between morning runs and long walks depending on the phase you are in
And, you’ll want to consider how you partake in breathwork and deliberate cold exposure depending on your cycle phase. The first half, when hormones are more “chill”, opt for the upregulating breathwork and cold plunges. For the second half, particularly during menstruation, you’ll want to opt for more grounding parasympathetic breathwork (eg box breath or in for 4, out for 8) and skip the deliberate cold exposure.
The key is to listen to your body. If you are feeling depleted or like a live wire and muscle through a meta class, your body will perceive this as more stress and this is where fat storage can become a tool the body turns to thinking it is under threat and resources could be slim, hence the storing for future. If, however, you’re feeling energized and stress levels are low, a meta class is a beautiful opportunity to sweat and strengthen the cardiovascular system and your body will experience it in a beneficial way.
Alissa Vitti, who wrote In The Flo and Women Code (both amazing reads), writes a lot about adjusting your work tasks or social calendar according to your cycle phase. This isn’t always doable for many of us, however I do think there is merit in planning more demanding tasks or taking on presentations, new projects etc. during the phase of your cycle where you’ll have less hormonal fluctuations, aka the first half. You can also consider planning more catch ups with pals or social gatherings during this time, and taking the second half of your cycle for more insular activities. You can also think of the first half of your cycle as a time for creativity, ideating, communication, socializing, and the second half of your cycle as a time for more reflection, boundary setting, and grounding activities such as meditation, calming breathwork, yoga nidra etc.
A final note: if you are reading this and thinking, I don’t have a clue where I am in my cycle nor do I know when I ovulate, my typical cycle length etc, there are many tools out there that are incredibly insightful and can help you get to know your cycle. Two that I highly recommend are Natural Cycle’s (which syncs with an Oura ring or you can purchase a thermometer), and MyFLO Period Tracker.
I hope these tools & techniques prove useful to you! If your cycle is currently irregular, it usually takes about 3 months to start to notice significant change, so invite in patience. That said, you may notice subtle differences within a cycle of practicing the above suggestions.
While I do work with clients one-on-one, my main focus is writing about nutrition, movement and wellness techniques on my Substack, which you can subscribe to here. I write weekly shorts every Sunday and monthly deep dives into topics that support longevity and joy. This is my way of supporting folks in feeling their best in a very accessible way, and I appreciate your support very much.
Any questions, feel free to send me a message on Instagram at @trilby_