Nutrition and Herbs to Support a Healthy Menstrual Cycle

What to eat at each phase, why your needs for various macros go up and down, exercise/movement needs and herbs to support

You’re standing in front of the refrigerator berating the version of yourself that went to the grocery store and didn’t buy more chocolate. You get a ping on your phone and let out an irritated groan, knowing it’s probably one of your annoying relatives saying something irrelevant. Why am I so moody, you wonder… A few days later, the answer arrives in the form of your period. 

Irritability, for many women, is just one of many symptoms associated with the menstrual cycle. There are headaches, nausea, cramps, sore breasts, slowed or accelerated digestion, and sometimes painful ovulation. But, how many of these symptoms are just “part of the package” and how many could be minimized with proper whole-body care?

Here are some ways to maximize comfort throughout your cycle:

Your body has different needs depending on where you are in your cycle. Have you ever noticed that right before your period, you start to crave a little more sugar or just a little more of everything? This is your body’s way of asking for more overall calories in the luteal (post-ovulation) phase in case you need to support a pregnancy! Try to meet the need with healthy fats and proteins. Also, that chocolate craving? Could be our body’s way of asking for more magnesium, so GO FOR IT! Opt for a dark chocolate, low on sugar.

Here’s a run down of the basic needs your body has during each phase of your cycle:

Menstrual phase (On your period) – During this phase, you should try to avoid foods that add to inflammation or could upset your digestion. Skip alcohol and fried foods. Focus on nourishing your body with plenty of liquids, warming foods and fiber. Magnesium can help ease cramps. Go for dark chocolate, seeds and avocados. 

Follicular phase (after your period, getting ready to ovulate) – This is when your estrogen is highest, so focus on fibrous fruits and vegetables to help metabolize it. You may have been taking it a little easy while on your period, so if you are starting to feel more energized and want to get active, go for it! 

Ovulation: You’ll probably feel the most energized during this phase. Keep up the greens and fruits to help escort out estrogen. If you’re really kicking butt at the gym thanks to that boost in energy, make sure to hydrate and fuel up adequately.

Luteal phase (getting ready for your period, or a baby!): You’ll want to increase calories, particularly protein and fats to make sure your body is satisfied and the sugar cravings don’t drive you crazy. You’re preparing to bleed (or be pregnant), so get ready to get cozy. 

Herbal Supports

Ginger can help with pain due to cramps. Some studies show that ginger is almost as effective as NSAIDs pain relievers. 

Maca is renowned for its sexual wellness benefits. It has been shown to support libido and sexual function. 

Vitex agnus-castus
Also sometimes called Chasteberry or Chaste tree, Vitex agnus-castus is used to ease breast pain and discomfort due to PMS

As always, stress management, exercise, time in nature and connection to community are important components of whole-body health. Adding herbal supports and cycle-specific nutrition are great ways to start to tune into your body’s needs and minimize discomfort throughout your menstrual cycle.