Much like fresh produce changes with the seasons in a year our body’s energy intakes differ during the course of a monthly menstrual cycle. Menstruators would be familiar with these shifts in energy, and certain cravings or hunger levels felt throughout the month.

These changing energy requirements are very much influenced by female sex hormones – estrogen (estradiol), progesterone, follicular stimulating and luteinizing hormones - that fluctuate and change throughout a cycle having a certain control on energy balance. As hormone levels change every day so does our energy and our metabolism, therefore becoming aware of this will benefit outcomes of conditions such as PMS through proper nutritional support.

So, what is actually happening? Let’s recap on a bit of menstrual cycle 101 before looking at how this changes our nutritional needs throughout our whole cycle.


Quick Menstrual Cycle 101

The first half of the menstrual cycle comprises of two phases: menstrual & follicular. Estrogen levels are low during menstruation and begin to rise during the follicular phase although progesterone remains low. Approaching ovulation – known as the periovulatory phase – follicular stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone both peak.


The second half comprises of the luteal phase. Here estrogen levels continue rising and progesterone peaks in the first half of this phase. Approaching menstruation – known as the pre-menstrual phase – estrogen and progesterone fall. It is this time of the month when women may notice the most energy changes due to both of the major hormones being at an all-time low.


Energy Intakes

The average energy intake during our cycle has been studied to be lowest during the periovulatory phase when estrogen is high, whereas intakes are higher during the luteal phase when progesterone is increasing and peaks. These observations suggest that progesterone has appetite increasing effects causing a higher energy intake compared to estrogen, which may have appetite suppressing effects and therefore cause lower energy intakes.


Another factor that can have a knowing effect on energy intakes is food cravings, most notably those during the pre-menstrual phase. These include cravings for sweet, high carbohydrate and fatty foods. These cravings are strongly shown in those women who suffer from premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). Over time, an overconsumption of these foods can have the negative consequence of unnecessary weight gain and worsened period symptoms if experienced every cycle.



Metabolic Changes

Our metabolism – and metabolic rates – also have a significant impact on changing nutritional needs throughout our cycle. A study on a group of women over 3 months suggested that resting metabolic rates (RMR) are lowest during the follicular phase and rise during the luteal phase highlighting that menstruating women require greater caloric intake during this time. However, this amount varies between individuals when activity levels are taken into consideration.


Interestingly, a biomarker of this increased RMR during the luteal phase can be recognised through higher body temperatures. Following the post-ovulatory rise in progesterone, basal body temperatures (BBT) have been shown to increase, exceeding those seen during the follicular phase. An increased BBT is directly associated with increased metabolic rate, so much as one degree will cause around a 13% higher RMR. This rise in BBT is also used as a biomarker for reaching ovulation.  


There has also been a link between fluctuations in female sex hormones and insulin sensitivity. During the follicular phase, as estrogen rises, it has been noted that the body has improved insulin tolerance therefore complex carbohydrates are used effectively. As opposed to the luteal phase where progesterone has a negative association with insulin sensitivity. Carbohydrates should be eaten alongside healthy fats and protein to avoid unstable blood sugar levels which often lead to bingeing on those craving foods – though eating naked carbs should be avoided in general!


Meeting these extra energy requirements is not only important for daily energy levels but is vital for maintaining hormonal functions for menstruation such as ovulation, which we know is a measure of female health.


Nutrition to Support Your Hormones 

Supporting your cycle with the right nutrition is one of the most powerful ways you can achieve a healthy cycle. Not only by giving your body the right energy it needs but also the right nutrients for hormones to function optimally.



Estrogen - for a lot of women - is often in excess. Therefore, prioritising its detoxification is important. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts produce 3,3’-diindolymethane or DIM, a phytonutrient naturally made by the body. DIM has now shown to support healthy estrogen levels and lower risk of estrogenic cancers, like breast cancer, through its actions on the hepatic detoxification of estrogen. Add cruciferous vegetables to your shopping list to reap the benefits.  



Low progesterone levels are commonly associated with a luteal phase defect - abnormal corpus luteum function – that can cause negative reproductive outcomes. Although, antioxidants such as vitamin C (ascorbic acid) are associated with increasing progesterone levels and fertility. Foods such as tomatoes, citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, capsicum and berries are all fabulous sources of whole food vitamin C for boosting progesterone.


Without highlighting hormones individually, it should be noted that female sex hormones have a strong affiliation with vitamin D. Vitamin D’s active metabolite is a part of sex hormone production and signalling, and deficiencies have been associated with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Although getting vitamin D through food is a bit limited, sources include fatty fish – like tuna and salmon – dairy and eggs. Of course, getting enough unfiltered sunlight is also an easy solution.


A diet that is balanced with quality fats, dietary fibre and adequate protein is always a good place to start – especially if PMS cravings are a common occurrence. Prioritizing eating a balanced diet that is rich in macro- and micronutrients may be the shift you need for benefitting your energy, metabolism and hormones in 2023.


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