Did you know that our body’s needs change throughout the month based on where we are in our menstrual cycle? Unfortunately, this is one way we differentiate from men. Our bodies are NOT meant to slam out an intense workout every single day and guess what, SHOCKER, we NEED carbs!
Sure, I am all about bio-individuality but we can all agree that women have a menstrual cycle and therefore science can guide us (a little bit) on how to train and proper food choices based on our cycle. Once we understand our bodies we can learn to work with them instead of against them at the gym or when our appetite changes. (I assure you, there is a reason for those cravings and why some days you could eat enough for an army).
There are 4 phases during a typical 28-32 day cycle; the menstrual phase, the follicular phase, ovulation, and the luteal phase. I will be going in-depth on each phase and how we, as women, should be eating and moving based on where we are at in our cycle in order to balance our hormones and feel our absolute best. And maybe it will give you a little insight into why some days you are motivated and energized and why others you’re just not feelin’ it!
If you are someone dealing with hormonal imbalances, thyroid issues, infertility, PCOS, endometriosis, irregular periods, fatigue and low libido, this is especially for you!
First let’s discuss seed cycling for hormone imbalance.
What is seed cycling?
Seed cycling is an easy form of nutritional therapy to help balance out hormones. Seed cycling is a protocol that involves rotating different types of seeds throughout your menstrual cycle helping to balance progesterone and estrogen. Estrogen levels are higher in the first half of your cycle (days 1-14) and progesterone rises during your second half (days 15-28).
So how do you seed cycle?
On days 1-14 consume:
1 tablespoon each: ground flax seeds & pumpkin seeds
On days 15-28 consume:
1 tablespoon each: ground sesame seeds & sunflower seeds
Yup, it’s that easy!
Why does it work? Fats are absolutely necessary for hormone production specifically omega-3’s and omega-6’s found in flax, pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds.
Flax seeds are high in omega 3 fatty acids which maintain cell membrane integrity and they also help to bind to excess estrogen to rid it from the body which is super important for those dealing with estrogen dominance. Zinc is found in pumpkin and sesame seeds which is responsible for producing progesterone and stimulates the uterus to thicken in preparation for potential implantation (helping decrease chances of infertility). The super important trace mineral selenium is present in sunflower seeds, and supports detoxification in the liver of female hormones, helping to create that nice ratio between the two.
- Buy raw, organic seeds and store in the refrigerator so they don’t go rancid.
- Grinding the seeds increases absorption.
- Be consistent, you can skip a day here or there but consistency is key.
Add to smoothies, salads, dressings, granola, yogurt, oats, or just eat them straight up!
THE MENSTRUAL PHASE
The first phase is the the menstrual phase! During this phase estrogen and progesterone are low and the lining of the endometrium sheds, causing bleeding. This is the phase most of us dread which is understandable but symptoms during this time can be managed by eating and moving properly.
Here is the DL on the Menstrual Phase:
DAYS: 1-7 of cycle (each person is different)
MOOD: We tend to be more emotional, have more cravings and experience fatigue. This is time to rest, relax, and slow down.
MOVEMENT: Skip the gym all together, really tho. But if you must, this is the best time to do light movements like yoga or walking rather than pushing yourself. Expect higher heart rates to be more of a challenge to reach during your menstrual phase. You might also see decreased endurance, so if you’re training for (or racing) an endurance event, try to opt for shorter workouts during your menstrual phase.
- Consume relaxing, nourishing warm foods, teas and broths.
- Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, iron, magnesium and iodine (fish, kale, kelp, mushrooms, beets, hemp, flax and pumpkin seeds, nuts, eggs, dark chocolate).
- Listen to your body if you are having cravings. Rather than thinking cravings are bad and avoiding it, embrace it and work on eating mindfully.
- Avoid sugar, alcohol and caffeine as imbalances in hormones are triggered by these foods, especially during this phase.
- Supplements: bump up your magnesium intake to help ease cramping or try cramp bark. Turmeric to reduce inflammation and fennel for nausea and weakness.
- Eat a balanced meal (consisting of a carb, protein and fat at every meal) every 3-4 hours to avoid blood sugar dips and mood swings.
HORMONE IMBALANCE CLUES: headaches, migraines, digestive issues, heavy bleeding, acne and super painful cramps.
SEED CYCLING: flax seeds & pumpkin seeds
THE FOLLICULAR PHASE
Well now that we have relaxed, maybe cried a little and felt a bit uncomfortable for a week we can now take a deep breath and a sigh of relief that we are now heading into the follicular phase! During this phase estrogen and progesterone are on the rise! This is great news as we start to get our energy back both mentally and physically and our mood stabilizes.
Here is the DL on the Follicular Phase:
DAYS: 6-14 of cycle
MOOD: During this time your energy, mood and focus are increasing. You may find yourself more social at this time of your cycle, take advantage and meet up with friends or network! Since your hormones are still a bit low, initially your sex drive may may also be lower than usual.
MOVEMENT: As our hormones rise more blood and oxygen are sent to the muscles which means you can start adding in higher intensity workouts such as lifting and faster movements. But nothing too intense as your hormones are still lower, testosterone in particular won’t reach peak until the following week during ovulation. Hot yoga, hiking, shorter runs, long walks, bike rides are all great options! You can begin upping the intensity day by day as your hormones rise. Take advantage of this increase in energy and get your booty movin’!
- Eating light and fresh foods during this time is key!
- Focus on increasing iron rich foods and vitamin B12 such as grass-fed beef, wild caught fish like salmon, pasture-raised eggs, dark leafy greens with lemon (to increase absorption of iron), beans, nuts, seeds and organic chicken to boost energy.
- Consume balanced meals (carb, protein and fat) to keep blood sugar stable.
- Boost your gut health with probiotic rich foods such as fermented vegetables, sauerkraut, kombucha, and kimchi.
- Increase foods that help to metabolize estrogen: broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts
- Supplements: Probiotics and if you are finding your energy is still a bit low L-Theanine and lemon balm are great options.
HORMONE IMBALANCE CLUES: Extreme fatigue and still having menstrual phase symptoms
SEED CYCLING: flax seeds & pumpkin seeds
THE OVULATORY PHASE
The third phase of the menstrual cycle is the Ovulatory Phase! During this phase a mature egg is released from the ovary, pushed down the fallopian tube, and is made available to be fertilized. Estrogen peaks and begins to decline while testosterone and progesterone rise.Energy levels and body temperature increases while also lowering your appetite.
Here is the DL on the Ovulatory phase:
DAYS: 14-17 of cycle
MOOD: During this time you may notice an increase in your libido and sexual energy. You may also be more positive, body confident and wanting deeper social connection.
MOVEMENT: Estrogen and Testosterone are peaking maximizing your potential. Your energy will be much higher than previous cycles. Take advantage! This is time to do more intense workouts such as high intensity interval training, spin class, sprints, and boot camp style exercises. This is time to push your intensity and duration. But as always listen to your body and if upping your intensity does not feel right don’t push it!
- Focus on consuming fat and protein. Estrogen has appetite-suppressing effects causing us to be less hungry, having less of a need to rely on carbohydrates for quick energy.
- Eat small quantities of complex carbohydrates such as quinoa, sweet potato, rice and potato.
- Liver support is crucial during this phase due to estrogen being at an all time high and the need to detoxify. Eat a lot of fiber rich foods that support detoxification such as brussel sprouts, cauliflower, spinach, broccoli and asparagus.
- Consume antioxidant-rich foods to help increase glutathione to support rising hormones in the liver such as berries, kale, tomatoes, dark chocolate, onions, and beets.
HORMONE IMBALANCE CLUES: cramping, pain, and spotting (unless due to implantation)
SEED CYCLING: sesame seeds & sunflower seeds
THE LUTEAL PHASE
The fourth and last phase of the menstrual cycle is the luteal phase! This is the week right before you get your period. During this phase, estrogen and progesterone levels are high and then decrease. PMS symptoms may develop and you may notice an increase in appetite and cravings for comfort food while also feeling a bit bloated due to increased water retention. All of which can be managed with proper food choices.
Here is the DL on the luteal phase:
Days: 18-28 of cycle
Mood: During this time, your body is more sensitive to changes in blood sugar, therefore eating too little during this phase can cause dramatic shifts in mood, increased anxiety, likelihood for constipation and leave you more emotional. Eat girl, eat! Your libido might be low and you may start to experience some fatigue.
Movement: During this phase we still have a considerable amount of energy until a few days before our menstrual phase. Opt for strength training, spin class, pilates and more intense versions of yoga. Listen to your body as your hormones start to plummet and lower the intensity as you see fit.
- Stay away from processed foods high in salt and steer clear of table salt. If you experience water retention in the form of swollen breasts and bloating consuming a lot of salt can make these symptoms worse.
- Eat all the carbs! As estrogen and progesterone peak your need for carbs also increases.
- Increase your water intake as fluids redistribute throughout your body during this phase reducing sweat rate and increasing body temperature.
- If you are prone to cravings, steer clear of sugar. Consume complex carbohydrates such as brown rice and starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkin and parsnips.
- Cut down on alcohol and caffeine as these stimulates can aggravate PMS anxiety and mood shifts. Coffee and alcohol can also interfere with the absorption of vitamins and minerals necessary to have a healthy menstrual cycle.
- Opt for foods rich in B-vitamins, calcium, magnesium and fiber to help lower the effects of fluid retention and lower the chances of constipation.
Hormone Imbalance Clues: very early and intense PMS symptoms such as painful bloating, cramping, intense fatigue, and constipation.
Seed Cycling: sesame seeds & sunflower seeds
As you can see, women’s bodies are very complicated (if you didn’t already know) lol I hope this shed some light on why you may be feeling a certain way during each phase of your cycle. Cycle syncing can be intimidating but once you get the hang of it, it can be life changing! Take it one step at a time.
If you have any questions at all about balancing your hormones feel free to send me an email. If you are interested in becoming a Nutritional Therapy client, check out my packages here and set up a free 15-minute consultation.
Happy hormone balancing!
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