The landmark Nurses' Health Study found that women who ate a specific diet were indeed more fertile. Another recent study, from the University of Copenhagen, found that women who tailored their diets and exercise to their menstrual cycle lost weight.
No matter what your weight may be, foods can either increase or decrease inflammation which has an impact on your hormones and ovulation. By adopting a healthy diet, you may feel better, have more energy and yes, become more fertile. To top it off, you will have a healthier pregnancy.
Here is a guide for what you should eat during each phase of your cycle based on clinical studies.
Click here to download free sample meal plans from the study for each phase of your cycle
Phase One: Menstruation
Contrary to what many believe, once we start our periods, we start to feel relaxed and relief (it’s the phase before menstruation that doesn’t make us feel great). The hormonal shift from feeling pre-menstrual symptoms (PMS) to now feeling relaxed can leave you feeling tired and our metabolism decreases. This is the time to give your body a break.
- Exercise: Drink plenty of water, rest as needed and exercise lightly.
- Food: Replenish your body with foods rich in iron such as lean red meat, shellfish, dark leafy greens, sesame seeds and beans. Watch, however, that you don’t eat too much meat. The Nurses’ Health Study found that fertility increased in women who replaced a serving of meat each day with plant protein. Try adding more beans, peas, soybeans or nuts in place of meat for some meals.
We absorb iron best when eaten in conjunction with vitamin C, so add whole fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C such as oranges, grapefruit, and red pepper.
Also add B vitamins which you can find in eggs, spinach, parsley, beets, lentils, sunflower seeds, nuts, fish, beef, and avocados.
- Avoid: as hard as it may be, try and refrain from sugary and starchy foods (ie: white bread and pasta). You may feel like you crave these foods but you are probably feeling lethargic and those are easy go-to foods. When you aim for the cookies, try first going for fresh fruit, a piece of dark chocolate or a cup of tea.
Phase Two: Follicular
Ahh, the follicular phase. During this time our bodies are getting the eggs ready for release. This is the stage we tend to feel our best because our estrogen levels go up, increasing both our energy and libido. You may notice that during this time you have more energy to work out.
- Exercise: Get your move on! This is a great time to add intervals and go hard.
- Food: The Baum study recommends eating the same foods as during Phase 1, just a bit more. As always, listen to your body. If you feel more hungry, indulge. Continue to include B12 ( beans and/or red meat) to fuel your body and also add capsaicin (found in chiles) for circulation. Great snacks include nuts, seeds, fruit or nut butter.
Many resources will tell you women ovulate day 14, but that is simply based on averages. The truth is that ovulation can occur on any day between day 8 or 20. You may or may not notice an increase in your sex drive during ovulation, which lasts for 12 to 24 hours. Some women can feel when they ovulate.
- Exercise: Keep up the good work and keep moving.
- Food: Keep eating the same foods from phase I but add more foods rich in zinc such as fish, figs, and whole grains. Zinc is a key player in cell division.
Phase Three: Luteal Phase
A few days after ovulation you will still feel good but as your uterus prepares for pregnancy, your estrogen and testosterone levels decrease. You may notice that you feel extra calm during this time for your body is producing more progesterone which increases feelings of calmness.
Towards the end of the phase, if you are not pregnant, then comes the hardest part of the cycle: PMS. The good news about PMS symptoms, such as breast tenderness, bloating and cramping, is that they indicate that you are ovulating.
- Exercise: Keep your body moving regularly but feel free to go lighter during this phase. Try swimming, yoga or walking. Get plenty of rest. Movement is medicine and will help to reduce the painful symptoms.
- Food: Your metabolism may increase which may make you feel hungry- all the time. The study says to listen to your body if you are craving carbs, eat them. The caveat, however, is that you need to make sure they are slow carbs such as brown rice or sweet potatoes. If you are craving sweet foods, try dark chocolate, nut butter or fruit. To alleviate PMS symptoms, try eating foods rich in magnesium, omega 3, and dairy.