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Nutrition and the menstrual cycle

What the latest research says about coordinating your diet with your menstrual cycle.

by Caitlin Beale, MS, RDN , and Alice McGee, MD, MSc
Medically reviewed by Cornelia Hainer, PhD
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Disclaimer: This article has been written in collaboration with FitOn. This collaboration was not sponsored.

Please note that if you are using hormonal birth control, you may experience different hormonal changes than the ones described in this article. 

Top things to know: 

  • There is a relationship between what you eat and your hormones, but both cycles and nutrition are too complex and individual to recommend a single approach for everyone. 

  • There is no scientific evidence to support "estrogen detoxing" before ovulation.

  • It's important for women and people with cycles to eat healthily and get enough calories and nutrients throughout their cycles.

Cycle syncing is the practice of organizing your daily routines around the different phases of your menstrual cycle. Cycle syncers claim that coordinating what you eat with the phases of your cycle can help you feel more energized and lead to fewer mood changes (1). 

And while there is some evidence that the fluctuation of hormones during your menstrual cycle can influence things like your food preferences and how many calories you burn (2,3), current research is limited and oftentimes conflicting. Plus, not everyone experiences the same hormonal patterns each cycle (4). And, your cycle may vary each month, because of external factors like stress, exercise, and lifestyle (4). 

Finally, nutritional requirements are also complex and influenced by various factors like your genetics, your metabolism and your overall health. So while your cycle plays a role in your diet and nutrition needs, it is only one factor of many.

Below, we'll answer the commonly asked questions about cycle syncing and nutrition and offer the latest research on nutrition for a healthy cycle. 

Commonly asked questions about cycle syncing and nutrition

Do my hormones influence how many calories I burn? 

Yes, but not significantly. Some evidence suggests that your metabolic rate (calories burned at rest) slightly increases during the luteal phase (the second part of your cycle, and is the time between ovulation and someone's period, lasting approximately two weeks in a typical menstrual cycle) (3). But, the increase is small and is unlikely to affect your nutritional needs (5).

Can my hormones influence my food preferences? 

Yes, hormone fluctuations during the luteal phase may lead some women and people with cycles to crave fat, sugar, salt, carbohydrates, proteins and fiber, especially before menstruation (6,7). 

There is also some evidence that appetites shift with the phases of the menstrual cycle. Estrogen can suppress appetite while progesterone can stimulate it (8). A research study has shown that women have more cravings and consume more calories and more protein in the luteal phase compared to the follicular phase (6). The follicular phase is the first part of your cycle, from the first period day until ovulation, lasting approximately two weeks in a typical menstrual cycle (although this may be longer or shorter and varies between people). More research is needed to understand this relationship better and why they occur.

That being said, cravings may also be affected by other factors like your mood, exercise and stress. So while hormones may play a small part of the picture, they don’t appear to be significant enough to consider when planning one's diet. 

Should I diet or take supplements to "estrogen detox" before ovulation?

No. There is no science-based evidence that supports "estrogen detoxing" before ovulation. Recommendations to take supplements or eat specific foods, like kale or broccoli, in order to "remove" extra estrogen from the body, are not backed by science. 

While cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, cauliflower, and kale, contain compounds that do help with the body’s natural detoxification process, eating these vegetables before ovulation does not have an effect on hormones or menstrual symptoms (9).

In fact, detox programs and diets are not necessary because the liver removes toxins or extra nutrients from our body, on its own. Estrogen detoxification naturally happens when the liver breaks down excess estrogen into smaller substances that are then passed through your body as waste (10).

Nutrition and the menstrual cycle is a complex topic

Tracking your cycle experiences and noting any patterns in your cravings or food choices can be helpful for gaining insight into which foods work for you and which don't. For example, if you notice changing energy levels throughout your cycle, it may be helpful to examine other factors in your life like your overall nutrient intake, external stressors, or your sleep pattern. 

While the practice of syncing one's nutrition and menstrual cycle phases may not be based in science, plenty of guidance about nutrition for one’s general health is. It's important for women and people with cycles to eat healthily and have a balanced diet throughout the cycle. For instance, this includes getting enough iron, and fiber, and consuming adequate calories, throughout the month (11). If you experience heavy periods or menstrual cramps, the following research-backed tips may be interesting for you:

  • People with heavy periods may become low in iron due to blood loss, which can lead to anemia (12). Foods like meat, poultry, fish, legumes, leafy greens, and fortified grains are rich in iron and can help increase iron intake (13).

  • People who experience menstrual cramps might benefit from taking magnesium (14). Magnesium helps relax the uterus muscles that cause period cramps while also reducing pain (15). Foods rich in magnesium include nuts, seeds, beans, avocados, and leafy greens (13,14).

Download Clue to track your energy levels, cravings, cycle length, and other menstrual experiences to understand your body’s unique patterns.To optimize your healthy eating journey, download the FitOn app and get access to hundreds of nutrition articles. In addition, FitOn offers thousands of workouts to help enhance your fitness routine and further support overall health.

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Live in sync with your cycle and download the Clue app today.

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Live in sync with your cycle and download the Clue app today.