The Luteal Phase is all about upping your steady state sessions, supporting your digestion and enjoying the anxiety relieving properties of progesterone. But, how can our diet help? Dr Emma Ross, Jennis Physiologist, sits us down with a spinach smoothie...
Reviewed by: Dr Emma Ross
During the third phase of our menstrual cycles there’s a lot of interesting things taking place, which affect how we feel, how we fuel and the fitness we map in for you. Here’s how your food choices can support both your hormonal balance and fitness goals…
Curb the cravings
Do you feel more hungry at some points in your cycle than others? Then you may well be right. During the second half of our cycles (the Luteal and Pre-menstrual Phases), blood sugar is less stable , which can lead to food cravings and energy dips. To stop yourself reaching for junk, eat every three hours, but make sure you’re eating the right things. “The goal is to get a good blend of protein and slow release carbs,” says Emma, “such as cottage cheese on oatcakes, apple slices topped with peanut butter or hummus with carrots.”
Keep your gut healthy
The big menstrual cycle hormones, oestrogen and progesterone , are both elevated during the Luteal Phase, and it stands to reason that if you can keep these in balance, you’ll feel better, too. One of the big things that can help is paying attention to our gut microbiome (the trillions of tiny living things in our digestive tract), including our gut bacteria.
“Bad gut bacteria can put our hormone balance out of whack,” says Emma. “The reason for this is that it can reactivate the oestrogen released in our bodies and send it back into our blood circulation,” says Emma. “In contrast, good gut bacteria helps you metabolise oestrogen and get rid of it.”
To help you promote the good stuff and minimise the bad, try introducing fermented foods that are high in probiotics. Natural yoghurt, sourdough bread and pickled veg like kimchi and sauerkraut can all do wonders for your gut.
Bring on the B vitamins
B vitamins are great at regulating hormones and can help to promote both a healthy Luteal phase length and a healthy, recurring menstrual cycle. “B6 and B12 are the big ones,” says Emma, “and these can be found in foods such as oats, chicken, bananas, soya beans, eggs and tuna fish.”
Love it or hate it, a 5g serving of Marmite provides a whopping 25% of the RDA of B12 too, so slather it on toast or top your oat or rice cakes with it.
"To really notice the benefits,” explains Emma, “it’s important to introduce these foods throughout your whole cycle, as opposed to just your Luteal Phase.”
Fat is a really important energy source to fuel your exercise, but it’s also vital for maintaining good hormonal balance and a healthy menstrual cycle.
Get with the good fats
Fat is a really important energy source to fuel your exercise, but it’s also vital for maintaining good hormonal balance and a healthy menstrual cycle. “Because of this, it really worries me when people promote low or no fat diets,” says Emma. “More often than not, when you eat a deliberately ‘low fat’ bar or meal, they will have replaced fats with carbs like starch and sugar, or worse, synthetic forms of sugar, like artificial sweeteners.”
“Simply put, we need good fats for energy, hormone health and immune function,” she urges, “so make sure you consciously include these in your diet, as opposed to ‘low fat’ alternatives.
Here are a few healthy fat options to give you inspiration...
100g or roughly half an avocado has an impressive 23% of your RDA of healthy fat.
A tablespoon of olive oil has 20% of your healthy fat RDA. Opt for extra virgin and drizzle over salads.
100g baked salmon has 7% of your healthy fat RDA , most of which are omega-3’s that are amazing for hormone health.
One serving (or 1 oz) of chia seeds will give you 13% of your healthy fat RDA .
100g coconut milk will give you an amazing 33% of your healthy fat RDA . Use it as a creamy base for curries.
2 poached eggs has 15% of your healthy fat RDA and is a great source of protein too.
A handful of almonds will provide you with a huge 21% of your RDA of healthy fat.
Keep things moving
Last but not least, it’s important to keep things moving as you progress through this phase. “Progesterone slows things down, making it an amazing time to reap the benefits of longer, steady state exercise, but as well as slowing the pace of our fitness and minds, it also slows down our digestion too, which can lead to constipation or bloating,” says Emma. “To help combat these symptoms, stay well hydrated; eat little and often and chew your food well (10 to 20 chews per mouthful).
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