Nutrition and Physical Activity Recommendations Across the Menstrual Cycle

Published on: Oct 23 2023

With women’s health being an important focus for health and nutrition, one area of women’s health is that is sometimes overlooked is the menstrual cycle. Over the course of the menstrual cycle, those who menstruate have different calorie and nutrient requirements due to fluctuations in hormones. These hormones not only influence your monthly cycle, but also your body temperature, metabolism, hunger and food cravings.

Cycle syncing is a concept that has gained increasing attention in recent years but has been around for centuries. It’s the practice of aligning your lifestyle, nutrition, and self-care routines with the natural fluctuations of your menstrual cycle. Understanding the phases of your cycle and the specific needs associated with each one, can help to better manage your symptoms and optimize your well-being. Our needs evolve over the course of the menstrual cycle, and by being aware of these changes, you can take proactive steps to support your physical and emotional health. Tracking your cycle is the first step for people who are menstruating, to be more informed about their bodies and what is normal for them. Once you are informed about the changes in your body, you can make alterations to support your diet, tailor your exercise to suit your energy levels and make changes to support your mood and sleep.

The menstrual cycle is divided into four phases: menstruation, the follicular phase, ovulation, and the luteal phase. Each phase has unique hormonal changes, physical symptoms, nutrient requirements, and emotional states.

Click through the interactive infographic below to explore the nutritional and physical activity recommendations across the menstrual cycle:

The following information is summarized in the interactive infographic above.

Menstruation / Period (Typically days 1-7):

      • Oestrogen levels will be low
      • You may experience fatigue and PMS symptoms, such as cramps.
      • Lower Energy

Nutrition Focus: Iron deficiency anaemia is very common for those who menstruate, therefore increasing your intake of food sources of iron is important to replenish this iron lost as well as to combat fatigue. Increasing your iron intake is important as iron deficiency anaemia from blood loss is very common for those who menstruate.

Iron-rich foods include both animal (haem iron) sources, eg. liver and red meat, and plant based (non-haem iron) sources eg. leafy greens and legumes. Incorporating magnesium-rich foods, such as nuts and seeds can relieve migraines and mood swings, and incorporating foods rich in omega 3 such as salmon, flax seeds, and avocado, can alleviate cramps.

*Top tip: Prioritize Essential Tasks. Focus on completing essential but less demanding tasks that don’t require intense concentration.

Follicular Phase (Typically days 1-13):

      • Oestrogen levels start to rise
      • Energy levels increase and mood improves
      • You might feel more social and extroverted.

Nutrition Focus: As oestrogen levels increase, choose an overall healthy diet rich in fibre and micronutrients  like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables to support hormonal balance and provide sustained energy, and focus on hydration. Include sources of healthy fats such as avocados and fatty fish to enhance mood and cognitive function, and fermented foods such as yoghurt and kimchi for gut health

Exercise: This is a good time of the month to prioritize high intensity and strength training like group fitness classes.

*Top tip: Use this phase to plan and initiate important projects or tasks that require creativity and strategic thinking. Schedule meetings, brainstorming sessions, and collaborative activities during this phase when your energy levels are higher.

Ovulation (Around Day 14):

      • Oestrogen surges, and energy levels are at their peak
      • We feel our best, with heightened confidence and energy.

Nutrition Focus: Similarly to the follicular phase, during ovulation, focus on an overall healthy diet including nutrient-dense foods like eggs, lean proteins, and leafy greens that provide sustained energy to accommodate the surge in energy in the body. These support the surge in energy. Additionally, hydration is crucial as the body’s temperature rises.

Exercise: This is the best time for high intensity and strength focused exercise like bootcamp and kickboxing, as you reach peak energy due to a rise in testosterone.

*Top tip: Tackle high-impact tasks, presentations, or negotiations when you’re at your most sociable and persuasive. Attend corporate events, conferences, or networking functions to build relationships and expand your professional network.

Luteal Phase (Typically days 15-28):

      • Oestrogen drops and progesterone increases, which can affect digestion and appetite causing cravings.
      • Breast tenderness, bloating, and mood swings.
      • Energy levels can dip and we can feel more introverted
      • Sleep disruption can be common which can affect irritability and performance.

Nutrition Focus: Make sure you are getting enough protein and healthy fats to sustain you during this phase to avoid reaching for high energy foods. Prioritize complex carbohydrates and foods high in fibre like whole grains and sweet potatoes to stabilize blood sugar levels and support mood and energy levels. Incorporate foods rich in vitamin B6 and magnesium, such as bananas and chickpeas, to help alleviate PMS symptoms such as bloating, and support emotional balance. Increasing foods high in vitamin D and calcium can also benefit to reduce PMS symptoms.

Exercise Focus: Medium to light exercise and active recovery like yoga and walking are best for this time of the month.

*Top tip: Concentrate on detail-oriented tasks such as data analysis, report writing, and quality control. Use time management techniques to stay organized and efficient, as mood swings and PMS symptoms can be more pronounced during this phase.

Your needs can significantly shift over the course of the menstrual cycle, and being attuned to these changes can be a game-changer in managing various symptoms. By recognizing the change of hormones and their effects on physical and emotional well-being during different phases of the cycle, we can implement strategies to feel happier and healthier. Whether it’s adjusting dietary choices, exercise routines, or self-care practices, these small changes can have a huge positive impact. By practicing cycle syncing methods, we can have a deeper sense of well-being and harmony throughout the entire menstrual cycle.


This article was co-authored by experts from KHNI and Riley, an award-winning Irish, female founded period care brand.

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