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Unfortunately, many women experience frustrating PMS symptoms every single month. “You know what I’m talking about—that week where you feel like your head will explode, your stomach is in knots and you don’t know if you feel like crying, yelling, or laughing,” says registered dietician Natalie Rizzo. When you have your period, being active can be tough, and eating healthy can feel even tougher, especially when you’re craving a diet of M&Ms and fries. But, like anything else in life, having a solid plan can help you avoid eating foods that won’t make you feel great afterward. Here’s your guide to what to eat on your period that will help you feel your best.
Keep Your Macros Balanced
“You’re likely to feel more tired than normal, so it’s important to fuel properly,” says Rizzo. While everyone’s exact macronutrient breakdown will be a little different based on a number of factors, you should be mindful that you’re not totally cutting one of them out or focusing solely on your favorite macro.
Carbs: “Opt for whole grains, which have plenty of fiber to keep you full and provide long-lasting energy,” Rizzo says. “Whole wheat bread is a simple and easy choice, but so are oats, quinoa, brown rice, farro, sorghum, freekeh, popcorn, barley…the list goes on.” Starchy root vegetables, like sweet potatoes, carrots, and beets, can also count towards your daily carb totals. And since they’re all high in vitamin A, eating them during your period could be extra smart: “As you start shedding the lining of your uterine wall, your ovaries are producing more estrogen,” Rizzo explains. “That change in hormones can cause cramps and other uncomfortable symptoms, but vitamin A helps your liver process estrogen.”
Healthy fats: “Your hormone levels are out of whack the week before your period (during the PMS phase),” says Rizzo. “Luckily, those hormone levels recede when your period finally arrives, which can cause a shift in mood.” Incorporating healthy fats into your diet, via olive oil, avocado, and nuts, for example, can help stabilize those mood swings. (As an added bonus, avocados have magnesium, which helps relieve headaches, Rizzo notes.)
Molly Kimball, RD, CSSD, registered dietitian with Ochsner Fitness Center in New Orleans, says there’s one good fat in particular that can help: omega-3s. “Research shows a correlation of omega-3s to a lower incidence of depression and also anxiety.” You can get the nutrient from foods like wild salmon, walnuts, and chia seeds.
Protein: This macro helps your muscles rebuild after exercise so it should definitely be a part of every meal. In addition to your go-to lean meat, fish, and vegetarian sources like lentils and tofu, consider dairy products like Greek yogurt. “Not only does calcium help with your mood (in fact, research has found that calcium supplements help ease irritability during PMS), but the protein in dairy aids in satiety,” Rizzo says.
Eat Iron-Rich Foods Throughout the Month
“When you’re bleeding for days at a time, your body is naturally losing iron,” Rizzo says. “Loss of this vital nutrient can cause severe fatigue.” And while most women with a light period aren’t going to become actually deficient as a result, Kimball says it doesn’t hurt to be a little more iron-focused—no matter the time of the month. “It’s something that’s longer-term, not so reactionary like, ‘I’m on my period. Let me eat a lot of iron right now.’”
Signs you may need to up your iron consumption include craving the mineral via foods like red meat. If that’s you, Kimball says to choose lean beef, pair it with a whole grain bun, and bump up the nutrition with a bunch of veggies. “That would be a fantastic post-run meal,” she notes. Vegan or vegetarian? The Impossible Burger is enriched with heme iron, which is the same iron that’s in beef and the kind that the body absorbs best, Kimball says. If you go for a non-heme iron source—spinach, red beans, oats, or Beyond Meat, for example—include a source of vitamin C (think: red bell pepper strips or a squeeze of lemon juice), to enhance that absorption, per Kimball.
We also like this Granola Bar recipe from Elyse Kopecky, which checks lots of boxes for what to eat on your period: it’s iron-rich, carb-dense, and delivers on some good fats and chocolate.
Indulge Your Cravings
Speaking of cravings, your body is a smart machine and oftentimes, cravings are a sign for a nutrient it truly needs. For instance, as mentioned, craving that double cheeseburger could mean you need iron. Craving chocolate could mean you’re low in magnesium. And craving carbs could mean, well, simply that you need carbs for energy! Trying to ride out those cravings could backfire, leading to you going overboard on them later. Instead of trying to “starve them out” or outrun them (literally or figuratively), Kimball says you should honor that craving in a mindful way.
Indulging in salty carbs after an asana flow, via something healthy-ish like blue corn or whole grain chips, or Mary’s Gone Crackers, can be a good thing, Kimball says, since salt and carbs are two things you need to replenish after activity.
Many women crave chocolate during this time of the month. “Don’t deny yourself to only binge on an entire bag of Hershey kisses while watching a sappy movie late at night,” Rizzo says. Instead, make 70% dark chocolate part of your post-yoga meal or snack. You could simply eat a couple of squares, or add cacao powder to a recovery smoothie that also includes a frozen banana, protein powder (you could even go for a chocolate one for double the flavor), and a handful of spinach. (Bonus points for adding a tablespoon of chia seeds.)
Diversify Your Fluid Sources
“As if the headaches and cramps weren’t enough, the incessant bloating many women experience can be even more uncomfortable,” Rizzo says. The best way to combat bloat is to stay hydrated. “When you don’t drink enough fluid, and you are chronically in a state of low-level dehydration, your body will up your production of a hormone called antidiuretic hormone (ADH), which makes you hold more fluid,” Kimball explains.
A quick fix for bloat: “I love a little bit of apple cider vinegar and water,” Kimball says. Longer term, and to beat the bloat in the first place, simply amping up your fluid intake can help. “I would look at fluids from all sources, whether it’s herbal tea, sparkling water, or even coffee.” And don’t forget: water-rich fruits and vegetables can count towards your daily hydration totals, says Rizzo. “Add foods like watermelon, celery, cucumbers, kiwis and peppers to your meal plan to increase your water intake and fight the bloat.”
Do a Self-Assessment
“Listen to your body and honor it,” Kimball says. If you’re feeling PMS symptoms, run through a checklist to make sure you’re supporting your body’s needs.
- Am I hydrated?
- Is my sleep okay?
- Have I been eating regularly throughout the day?
- Have I gotten the protein, carbs, and fat that I need?
Dietitian-Approved Sample Daily Period Meal Plan
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with ¼ avocado, oatmeal, and fresh berries
Snack: Greek-yogurt-based ranch dip with whole grain or blue corn chips
Lunch: Wild salmon with sweet potato and spinach with squeeze of lemon juice
Dinner: Lean beef or Impossible burger on a whole grain bun with a side of green veggies (Remember: If you go for the Beyond Burger, add a source of vitamin C like red bell pepper.)
Dessert: A couple squares of dark chocolate or a smoothie made with cacao, protein powder, spinach, frozen banana, and chia seeds