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The Female Athlete - Menstruation & Nutrition

Cramps, mood swings, food cravings, headaches … just some of the symptoms women can experience at various stage of the menstrual cycle.

What if your diet could curb some of these symptoms?

Nutrition can help:

• Reduce symptoms of menstruation

• Regulate menstrual function

• Enhance performance

• Improve wellness and mood

The Follicular Phase (Day 1-12)

The follicular / menstrual phase starts on the first day of your period. Throughout the follicular phase, your brain releases hormones that both stimulate the production of eggs in your ovaries while also increasing estrogen production.

With period-related blood loss, it is important to increase your iron, vitamin C and B vitamins to help promote blood cell production and prevent anemia. Low levels of vitamin B12 can contribute to fatigue, dizziness and nervousness. If you take oral contraceptives, it is recommend taking a Vit B complex daily, as these contraceptives can deplete vitamins B1, B2 & B6.

Eat more:

Iron – beef, chicken, turkey, dried beans, leafy greens, egg yolks.

Vitamin C – citrus fruits, broccoli, kiwi, pineapple, kale, yellow peppers.

B12 – salmon, tuna, fortified plant-milks.

B6 – turkey, fish, potatoes, starchy vegetables.

Anti-inflammatory foods, (such as ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, cilantro, garlic, and parsley) have been shown to reduce bloating and ease menstrual discomfort, cramps and pains.

The Ovulatory Phase (day 12-14)

Hormone shifts around ovulation (when eggs are released) may increase sugar cravings, so you can prepare yourself and keep plenty of healthy, possibly homemade sweet snacks at hand.

Ensure you are getting plenty of fibre to prevent bloating and ensure bowel regularity.

Fermented foods can also help promote gut health, bowel regularity and fluid balance, so you could consider incorporating kombucha, kefir, yogurt or raw apple cider vinegar into your daily diet.

Eat more:

Fibre – fresh fruits and veg, whole grains, seeds, nuts, beans.

Healthy snacks – dark chocolate, fresh, in-season fruits, greek yogurt, dates, homemade treats.

The Luteal Phase (day 14-28)

This phase begins right after ovulation. Estrogen and progesterone levels increase which prepare the egg for implantation. A non-fertilized egg will pass through the uterus until the uterine lining sheds (your period).

Research indicates that women who experience greater pain during periods have higher levels of prostaglandins (a chemical released to stimulate contraction and breakdown of the uterine lining). This prostaglandin production is directly related to the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in one’s body—in other words, the more omega-3 rich foods you eat (in conjunction with a decrease in omega-6 rich foods) will theoretically lower prostaglandin production, in turn, improving period cramps.

You may want to consider taking a fish oil supplement if you consistently battle PMS-related cramping (aim for at least 1500 mg DHA/EPA per day).

Eat more:

Omega-3 fatty acids – coconut oils, olive oils, grass-fed butter and beef, salmon, leafy greens, avocados, walnuts.

Eat less:

Omega-6 fatty acids – vegetable oils, processed foods, mayonnaise, salad dressings.

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