Should You Change Your Diet According to Your Cycle? - Women's Health

Should You Change Your Diet According to Your Cycle?

While eating chocolate by the fistful is a time-honoured PMS salve, nutritional science has a few other smart fixes. Dietitian Laura Tilt shares how you can temper the effects of your cycle – all month long.

by | Aug 17, 2021

OK, so the idea of syncing your nutrition with your cycle sounds like extra admin no woman needs. But given you’re probably already adapting your social life (duvet, Netflix) and workouts (a gentle yoga flow over HIIT) depending on your cycle, making simple upgrades to your nutrition mightn’t be the cognitive paperwork you initially thought. 

First, a quick refresh on the hormonal answer to your iCal. The average cycle lasts 28 days and is made up of two phases. The follicular phase begins on day one of your period; the pituitary gland produces a hormone known as follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which stimulates the growth of ovarian follicles in the ovary. In tandem, oestrogen levels rise, causing the lining of your womb to thicken until ovulation. About midway through your cycle, oestrogen peaks, causing a surge in luteinising hormone. This triggers the release of an egg from the ovary, and ovulation occurs. Post ovulation, the luteal phase begins. This is when progesterone levels rise, supporting early pregnancy if the egg is fertilised. If the egg isn’t fertilised, progesterone and oestrogen levels fall. This sets your period in motion, and the whole thing begins again.

The majority of research has focused on the impact of diet on premenstrual syndrome (PMS); a group of symptoms that includes tender boobs, bloating, headaches and low mood. PMS kicks in post-ovulation and is linked with rising progesterone levels. If you suffer with PMS, several nutrients may offer relief. In one study, women affected by PMS experienced fewer symptoms when consuming a daily supplement containing between 1g and 2g of essential fatty acids from day 15 to the end of their cycle. Calcium also appears to reduce the severity, with studies finding that combined calcium and vitamin D supplementation (the sunshine vitamin regulates absorption) can ease symptoms. 

As for your ability to sniff out Lindt within a 50-metre radius, hormonal fluctuations during the luteal phase are thought to be to blame for food cravings, with studies showing appetite and cravings for sweet and high-kilojoule foods increase post-ovulation. One (very pleasing) theory is that carb-rich foods give you a bump in serotonin, which can offset the dip in low mood that occurs around the same time. Eating plenty of high-fibre carbs (wholegrain and rye bread, pulses, brown rice and pasta) may help, by keeping blood sugars and mood on an even keel.

As for when your period is in full swing, two nutrients are worth considering. Iron is found in the blood, which means it’s lost when you lose blood, so levels are at their lowest post-menstruation, with heavy bleeding increasing the risk of anaemia. Red meat is the most readily absorbed source of iron, but non-haem iron (found in plant foods, such as green leafy veg, pulses, tofu and dried fruits) is worth topping up, too, as evidence suggests it can also help reduce PMS.

Suffer with cramps? Evidence shows the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 (found in things like oily fish, walnuts, linseeds and chia) can help dampen the effects of prostaglandins, tiny chemical messengers that cause your uterus to contract. While salmon and leafy greens may not have quite the appeal of a packet of Tim Tams, it might just be the thing to deliver sweet relief.

IRON LADY

Boost your levels post-menstruation with these heavy hitters:

  • 140g steak: 5.5mg (30% RDI*)
  • 200g Lentil bolognese with wholewheat pasta: 6.6mg (37% RDI)
  • 50g iron-fortified cereal: 4.8mg (27% RDI)

* Recommended dietary intake

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8 Of The Best Exercise Shorts That Will Power You Through A Summer Of Movement

It’s official: Shorts Season is officially here. While lockdown has seen many of us realise that activewear is less something to be worn for a workout and more a uniform we choose to do any and all daily activities in, when the warmer temperatures roll around, that favourite pair of sweatpants and leggings sometimes don’t cut it. Sure, they might be a staple in any wardrobe, but the Aussie sun doesn’t listen to reason, no matter how comfortable or cute it might be. And when it comes to summer, working out in leggings can feel like being trapped in a sauna, the sweat pooling at your ankles and around the waistband – as well as those other areas we won’t mention here. 

But as we transition from leggings to shorts, it becomes clear pretty quickly that not all shorts are created equal, and certainly not all shorts are fit for a workout. Take it from us at Women’s Health HQ, we’ve been there, tried it and lived to see the consequences. From the shorts that look cute but ride up to show your undies on the run, to those that feel like being strapped into a harness that’s digging into your hip bones. Then there are the fabrics that can cause chafing – a big no – and those that basically shine a spotlight on any area you might be sweating. 

Thankfully, a number of brands are here to cater to your exercise needs with innovative materials, fabrics and sustainable options to see you through a summer of movement. Regardless of your workout preferences or daily activity, we’ve selected the best shorts that will ensure you feel good in your body, shorts that get you excited to embrace the day and attack it with energy, that make you want to get outside and enjoy the outdoors, whether it be walking, running, or socialising in the park. Here are our pick of the best bike shorts below. 

Nagnata

Uptown Biker, $240

What says summer more than a pop of orange and the sleek shape of these Nagnata biker shorts? With its mid-length and horizontal raised rib side detail, these are shorts you can wear both for a workout and out to meet the girls. Made in Australia with a technical knit fabrication, the double-layer jacquard provides gentle sculpting qualities for the body, making it an excellent choice for light to moderate fitness activities like yoga, pilates or barre. 

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New Balance

Q Speed Fuel Short, $70

We love the colour of these shorts from New Balance which are cut with a sleek, speedy look that also helps to elongate the legs. Featuring NB DRY moisture wicking fabric, these are the shorts you want for high intensity exercise or long runs, keeping you comfortable and dry. There’s also an interior brief for added comfort and a stash pocket to keep your essentials. 

All Access

Ultra High Rise Zip Front Biker Short, $78

Yes, the colour is amazing but the fit is equally sensational on these All Access shorts. For those who love a high-rise fit and wide waistband that holds you in at the waist, look no further. The sleek, shiny look offers mid-compression and the fabric is moisture-wicking, so you can stay comfortable even during your sweatiest workouts. 

Nike

Nike x Naomi Osaka Utility Short, $90

Few things are worse than heading out the door for a run and realising your shorts offer no pockets for those essentials you need. You’re left to hold your iPhone, keys, and anything else you might need in your sweaty palm. Thankfully, Naomi Osaka knows what we need when it comes to exercise shorts and these utility shorts from her collaboration with Nike offer all that and more with a relaxed fit and elastic waistband. 

Tracksmith

Session short Tights, $72

When it comes to bike shorts, you want to feel supported and held in but you also want to be able to breathe. These Tracksmith session short tights are exceptional in offering support while still ensuring comfort remains a priority. Forget about chafing, these shorts won’t ride up and down and the fabric offers more coverage and support against the body. 

Outdoor Voices

Relay 3” Short, $48

Who said summer shorts have to be boring? Outdoor Voices brings fashion-forward style and playfulness to their collections with fun prints and exciting colours. We love the relay 3” shorts for their ultralight, quick-drying fabric that also happens to be made from recycled polyester. But more importantly, we love the print and Poppy Swirl is as good as it gets. There’s even a hidden pocket for your valuables, too. 

Lululemon

Align High-Rise Short 6”, $69

If you’re familiar with the buttery-soft feel of Lululemon’s tights, you’ll want to get your hands on a pair of their shorts, too. Made with the same Nulu fabric that their tights are known for, these shorts feel weightless and super soft. They might be our go-to staple for any workout, but the feel is so second-skin that it’s hard to not wear them for every other activity, too. 

Spiritual Gangster

Seamless Biker Short, $112

These biker shorts from Spiritual Gangster move with you, thanks to a three-tiered compressive waistband that offers a flattering high waist that hugs you in all the right places, without proving constrictive. They offer medium compression but are built for all day comfort, and the colour is a true summer staple because, let’s face it, who doesn’t love tie-dye?