You’ve probably heard of the Circadian Rhythm, which in the most simplistic of terms regulates our internal wake/sleep cycles. Now if you read my Sleep Now...Live Better, Longer? post, you’ll also know that when sleep is an issue, things can get out of whack very quickly.
What you may not have heard of is the Infradian Rhythm as it’s fairly new in the spotlight and is specific to females…though guys it could help you navigate us monthly! Brought to the mainstream by Alisa Vitti , this new look at how women's cycles are more unique than we thought will have you trying to bio-hack yourself in no time.
While Circadian measures time throughout the day. Infradian rhythm measures the course of a woman’s monthly cycle. This second cycle can affect a woman's brain, metabolism, immune system, microbiome, stress response, and reproduction...and while this is going on the men and others in our lives often are well aware of it!
Having blamed 2 weeks of poor diet and bad moods each month on pms for the past decade due to PCOS, I am now very aware of how what I eat, and how I move impacts me and those around me, whom I love and who should not have to suffer my wrath monthly. I am happy to report I am now only a bit sharp for a day or two but I am also aware of it and really sometime we don't need a reason, do we!
According to Vitti, Infradian Rhythms, along with the aforementioned, also creates a 25% change in a woman’s brain chemistry over the month. We also have to take into account our metabolism fluctuates throughout our cycles as do cortisol levels.
So what can we do, is the million dollar question? Well, it’s hypothesized by many great minds that eating, exercising, productivity and stress can all be tailored to be used to their best potential throughout the month.
Now let's look at the foods and exercises that may help you on your way to a more stable month (at least where your cycle is concerned) , but please remember this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a lot involved in what is going on with you and your cycle. So if you want to delve deeper to get to the root of your pms, pcos, or whatever issues you may be facing then please get in contact to discuss further.
First you’ll have to ditch the idea that eating the same foods at the same time is good for you, it’s not, and neither is exercising on repeat. Your body likes variety and requires it, so change it up and give your metabolism and muscles a bit of a challenge.
Phase 1 - Menstruation (bleeding) usually lasts 1-5 days and is where estrogen and progesterone are low and the body is shedding the lining of the endometrium. Limit or avoid sugar, fatty or salty foods, caffeine and alcohol if possible. Focus on nutrient dense foods with the healthy carbs your body will be craving. Sweet potato, brown rices, bulgar wheat, quinoa, edamame, and some lentils are all good choices that will fill you up and give you vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Exercise - During this time may be the last thing on your mind but it can make you feel a lot better if you stay doing light to moderate workouts. Walking, LIIT, and yoga can all keep you feeling better during this phase and won’t drain you like spin, HIIT, or running.
Phase 2 - Follicular roughly 6 to 14 days where estrogen and progesterone begin to rise again and your metabolism slows down. Because of this you’ll want to try and eat foods that metabolise estrogen, while aiming for lower calories and more nutrient rich foods. Fiber is essential here, as it binds to estrogen and helps move it out of the body. Cruciferous veg like cabbage, broccoli, sprouts and fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi are also great during this phase. Lean proteins, nuts, seeds, and good quality fats from the likes of avocados should also be incorporated.
Exercise - At this stage it should be easier, as you are likely starting to feel more motivated and energized, but your hormones are still low, especially testosterone so don’t overdo it. Light cardio like; runs, hikes, hot yoga, or HIIT training for 15-20 min max. Just remember to warm up and cool down as it will help keep you feeling balanced.
Phase 3 - Ovulatory day 15 to 17 approx. Estrogen is peaking and progesterone and testosterone are high. This is where you are feeling your best and it’s likely even visible. So this is also where you want to eat your best. Stick to the same guidelines as in the Follicular phase with an extra emphasis on anti-inflammatory and liver supporting foods like salmon, flax, almonds, fresh vegetables and fruits.
Exercise - Your energy will likely be increased even more during this phase and while it is a short phase you can ride the feeling for as long as it lasts over the 3 days and possibly up to 5. Try HIIT, running, circuit training, spin or whatever gets your heart rate up and puts a smile on your face.
Phase 4 - Luteal roughly days 18-28, at this point both estrogen and progesterone tend to rise and fall a bit more than previously, and if the egg isn’t fertilized the menstrual phase starts all over again. You’ll likely start to feel sluggish and less motivated the closer you get to the last week of your cycle but hang in there! Focus on the good whole foods you’ve been eating because the misconception that you crave sweets and chocolate at this time are just one of many PMS myths. PMS in itself shouldn’t even have a place in our cycle as we know it, but alas we’ve been told it exists and we’ve been set up by marketing, doctors, and environmental factors to believe it’s “normal”, it’s not, but I’m not going to jump down that rabbit hole here!
Stick to foods that boost serotonin; leafy greens, complex carbs (sweet potato, whole grains, quinoa), eggs, tofu, salmon, nuts and seeds. They will also help with magnesium levels, as will Epsom salt baths, and CHOCOLATE, yes it’s never off limits, just aim for good quality 70-80% dark chocolate.
Try to keep red meat, alcohol, sugar, and fatty or salty foods to a minimum here as hormone imbalances are often triggered by poor food choices, sad but true.
Exercise - OK, by the last 4-5 days leading back up to the menstrual phase you may not want to do anything, but like where we started it’s best to keep to some form of exercise. As progesterone rises and testosterone and estrogen deplete, light to moderate exercise depending on how you feel would be best. Walking, strength training, yoga, bike rides, or even pilates are all great options here.
**Please note this is base on roughly 28 day cycle guide line and can and will vary from woman to woman. Nothing here is meant to be taken as medical advice and if you have underlying issues that cause you to have abnormally painful or irregular periods further investigations or consultation may be needed.**