Did you know that women have specific nutritional requirements during their 28-day cycle? No, me neither. Much of what we are taught about exercise and nutrition is based on the male physiology, but more and more, women are finding that this advice doesn’t work for them for very long, if at all. The long-term impact of this is to women’s mental and physical health and to human fertility. We have started the conversation about menopause, but there is a growing hormone health problem in younger women, so we need to understand ourselves better so we can tackle the ‘one size fits all’ approach to health.

We now know more about training for your cycle – a weekly schedule works for men, but not for women, so women should be working with their 28-day cycle so that exercise works with the physiology, not against it. In basic terms, the female body responds well to stress during the first half of her cycle, so you can max out on your training – HIIT sessions, big weights, long cardio – all good, as long as you fuel yourself correctly. In the second half of your cycle, your body gets very sensitive to cortisol (the stress hormone that makes your body cling onto fat), so doing shorter gentle sessions, medium weights, yoga and walking is more beneficial. But what about food?


Let’s start with some building blocks around eating. Our ancestral metabolism was built to cope with feast and famine eating. Until we started farming, we didn’t eat for several days at a time, so we have this amazing ketogenic (keto) energy system built in to deal with that. I’m not suggesting that you don’t eat for 2-3 days at a time, but most people can. Between about 16-20hrs into a fast, autophagy starts – your body will start to reset blood sugar, repair damaged cells and clear out toxins; autophagy peaks at around 48hrs. OMAD (one meal a day) is simple and manageable for most people, a couple of days per week, or for some serious system reset, an occasional 3 day fast can make you feel amazing (afterward)! But at the very least, make an effort to give your body a break from digesting for at least 15hrs a day. I’ve been playing with this recently (I tend to snack in the evening…), starting at 12/12hrs and I was surprised at how challenging that was initially! I’m moving closer to 16/8 now but it’s taken a while. Extended fasting isn’t suitable for everyone; if you have any thyroid or other long term health issues, it’s best to consult your doctor first, and start really slowly with fasting. Pregnant or nursing mothers should not fast for longer than 15hrs due to the release of toxins.


We are not built to eat loads of carbs either, and we certainly weren’t built to eat refined carbs (processed foods – cake, bread, pasta, sweets, alcohol), so keeping a lid on carb consumption most of the time, and preferably no refined carbs is the key place to start. A good rule of thumb is approx. 50g of net carbs per day. What I mean by that is:

Total carbs, minus fibre = Net Carbs.

We definitely DO need carbs, especially if you have a thyroid problem. The best way to get them though is from veg and fruit because they contain water and fibre, both great for digestion and also helps us excrete the potentially harmful metabolites our body produces. Fibre is also helpful for regulating hormone levels, so can relieve many symptoms felt by women of all ages due to fluctuating levels of oestrogen & progesterone.

So now we have a manageable fasting protocol and are managing our net carb intake most of the time, so let’s talk about the cycle.

Hormone Surges

While no two days are hormonally the same for women, there are 2 main phases in the 28 day cycle; the follicular & luteal. The follicular phase occurs during days 1-14 and it’s when the body is building oestrogen, preparing to release an egg at ovulation. In terms of eating, Days 1-10 is when we should be making sure we keep carbs lower to support the manufacture of oestrogen. Any of the fasts (15-72hrs) are well received by the body during Days 1-10 of the follicular phase. During Days 11-14, oestrogen peaks to release the egg; testosterone also surges – this is the time when you might feel you can almost conquer the world! During this surge phase, increase your healthy carbs and limit fasting too – 15hrs max.

The luteal phase is days 15-28 when oestrogen is dropping and the body is making progesterone, preparing to receive a fertilised egg. Eating for Days 15-20 can be the same as for 1-10 ie lower carbs and longer fasting are OK. We then have another surge around Days 21-28. This is when progesterone surges to support early pregnancy. During this phase, your body becomes less able to take glucose into the cells, so women can feel less energetic and need to eat slightly more (healthy) carbs. Slowing down and take a bit of a backseat from the chaos that is normal life is a good thing here. Fasting should be limited to a max of about 15hrs again.

Women need these hormones so that they can do their thing properly. If we don’t have enough, or we have an imbalance, weird stuff starts to happen (heavy or irregular periods, mood swings, disrupted sleep, weight gain, PCOS). An easy way to support our bodies is to eat hormone-making foods:

Oestrogen manufacture: days 11-14 eat flaxseeds, sesame seeds, soybeans, garlic, dried apricots, dates, prunes, peaches, berries and cruciferous veg (broccoli, cauliflower, brussels).

Progesterone manufacture: days 21-28 eat beans (kidney, soy, haricot etc), nuts, potatoes, squashes, quinoa, tropical & citrus fruits and a LITTLE bit of dark chocolate.

Now, you will have noticed that I said to try to keep your net carbs below 50g/day, and I’m now telling you to eat dried or tropical fruit and potatoes/squashes. Yes, these items are more sugary/starchy so you will eat more than 50g of net carbs per day. That is definitely OK during these surge days, and you still have fasting in your toolbox to keep your overall macro intake to a ‘reasonable’ level. However, as mentioned above, don’t go too mad with the fasting on these surge days – maybe just stick to 15/9hrs maximum during these hormone surge days.

In Summary

Do these top 3 things and you will go a significant way to helping your body manage hormone production, your weight and make balancing your life a little easier:

  1. Track your cycle
  2. 12-16hrs every day where you DON’T eat (FYI lattes count as food…)
  3. Track your net carbs (Carb Manager is a useful app). 50g net carbs on most days is good.

Then, add in:

Days 1-10 – control your carb intake, feel free to try the longer fasts (16/8 minimum) and go for it in terms of new projects & hard training.

Days 11-14 – don’t stress about your carb intake, just keep it healthy and eat the oestrogen foods mentioned above. Keep to a max of 15/9 fasting. You can still exercise hard here.

Days 15-20 – control your carb intake, feel free to try longer fasts (16/8 minimum) but start to choose yoga, Pilates & walking for your training.

Days 21-28 – don’t stress about your carb intake, just keep it healthy and eat the progesterone foods mentioned above. Gentle movement, keep stress low and prioritise yourself.

Give it a couple of months and see if you notice a reduction in any hormonal symptoms.

More info to come on what to do if you’re peri or menopausal. Acknowledgment to Dr Mindy Pelz – her book The Menopause Reset is a must read for women of any age.