How To Surf and Eat in Sync With Your Menstrual Cycle

How To Surf and Eat in Sync With Your Menstrual Cycle Ellie Brooks Dee Why

This information is designed for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, cure, or treat any hormonal imbalances. It applies to women who have a natural hormone cycle and are not using any type of hormonal contraceptive. 


Women’s menstrual cycles have become the punch line of jokes and are used to explain our “irrational” behaviours. Does the phrase, “what’s wrong with you, are you on your period or something”, sound familiar?

Unlike men, our bodies function around a 28-day menstrual cycle. Just like different seasons during the year bring a different energy, each phase has distinct characteristics that affect our physical and mental energy. This is also one reason why you might experience changes in your surfing over the month. If you didn’t know already, your sex hormones impact your surfing.

Instead of resisting and fighting these changes, we can adjust our diet depending on what phase of our menstrual cycle we’re in.

It is common to assume that if we eat right, exercise and sleep enough, we should have the same level of energy and strength each day. Some days we (almost) effortlessly wake up for a dawn patrol, surf for a couple of hours and work all day afterwards. Other times, we struggle to get out of bed in time to eat breakfast before work.

But because of our cyclical hormones, it is natural to feel different throughout the month. Instead of resisting and fighting these changes i.e. “powering through”, we can adjust our diet depending on the phase we’re in. We can adapt our mindset and accept that we may feel more energetic at times and need more rest during others, and that’s perfectly natural.

There are three keys to making your hormone cycle work with you instead of against you described below. It comes down to understanding each phase, observing your cycle, and accommodating your diet to support it. 

Step #1: Understand the natural changes over a 28-day cycle

There are four distinct stages in a natural menstrual cycle: the menstrual phase, the follicular phase, ovulation, and the luteal phase. The length of these phases can vary from person to person. It’s important to learn the different characteristics of each one to recognize where you are in your cycle. This way, you will know what you can expect in terms of energy, mood and potentially the outcome of your surf session. 

Here is an approximate timeline:

  • Menstrual phase: Day 1 to day 7 
  • Follicular phase: Day 1 to day 14 
  • Ovulation: 1-day event (around day 14)
  • Luteal phase: Day 15 to day 28 

Menstrual phase (approximately day 1 to day 7)

The menstrual phase starts on day one of your cycle. This is when you have your period. The uterine lining is shedding, which is considered an inflammatory response in the body. During this time, your body may crave rest and extra support. For the first two days, hormone levels are quite low, plus iron is lost in this phase. That combination can contribute to feeling more tired than usual. 

Depending on the level of inflammation, pain and energy you have, you may choose to surf during your menstrual phase. Being active can help with cramps, but you don’t want to overexert yourself, especially during those first couple of days if you’re not feeling your best. Honour the signals your body is sending you. 

Follicular phase (approximately day 1 to day 14)

The follicular and menstrual phases overlap. The follicular phase begins when you start your period. Even as you have your period, your body is preparing to release another egg. Estrogen and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) begin to rise. This is why your mood and energy start to rise soon after your period arrives.

During this stage of your menstrual cycle, you’ll probably be able to surf longer with less effort and less fear. 

Major improvement in energy can usually be felt on day 3. As this phase goes on, energy levels continue to increase. This is when many women feel their best. 

During this stage of your menstrual cycle, energy is most consistent, and early morning sessions will probably be easier to wake up for. You’ll probably be able to surf longer with less effort and less fear. 

Ovulation (around day 14)

Ovulation refers to the release of an egg triggered by a spike in luteinizing hormone (LH) and estrogen. This is when hormones are the highest, and women may feel an energy boost around this time. It’s also when endurance and stamina may be at an all-time high. So this would be a great time to push yourself to surf bigger waves if that’s something you’ve wanted to try. 

Luteal phase (approximately day 15 to day 28)

By now, your body has realized that it is not pregnant and knows that it will have to metabolize and eliminate the hormones from the follicular phase. Early in the luteal phase, just after ovulation, the body needs support to make sure its detox pathways are open. This means supporting the liver and digestive tract. Excess estrogen is eliminated in stool, so proper digestion and regular elimination (i.e. a bowel movement each day) are important. 

If you find yourself a little hungrier than usual, give yourself permission to eat more!

The week before menstruation can be challenging for the body and mind if hormones are not properly being eliminated and balanced. Problems that can arise here are cramps, issues with sleep, headaches, cravings, and an imbalance of mood.

During the luteal phase, calorie requirements also increase by about 5-10%, so if you find yourself a little hungrier than usual, give yourself permission to eat more! 

Step #2: Evaluate how you feel in each phase 

Now that you know the different changes to expect for each phase of the cycle, it’s time to observe yours. The easiest way to do this is cycle tracking. Use a designated journal, or even a piece of blank paper will do. Start on the first day of your menstrual cycle; that will be Day 1. Take a couple of notes for each day. You can describe your mood and energy level or rate them on a scale of 1-5. Whatever you relate to best. Track the length of your period as well as any changes in vaginal discharge (this can help you identify which phase of the cycle you’re in)

Here are some additional prompts once you can identify which phase you’re in:

  • How does my mood, energy and surfing change with each phase of my cycle?
  • What changes are the most difficult?
  • When do I feel most out of alignment with myself? 
  • Where can I use extra support? 
  • When do I have the most fun surfing?

Step #3: Accommodate your diet to support your cycle 

Once you observe your cycle and identify where you need a little extra support, use these tips to get you started. 

Menstrual Phase 

As mentioned earlier, menstruation is an inflammatory response. To support your body during this phase, consider including healthy anti-inflammatory foods. Whole plant foods are all great options to help support your body during menstruation.

To combat the extra loss of iron, consider eating more beans, greens (like spinach) and vitamin C rich foods to help with iron absorption.

Dark leafy greens, pineapple, garlic, ginger, turmeric, hemp hearts, chia seeds, and berries are excellent anti-inflammatory foods. 

To combat the extra loss of iron, consider eating more beans, greens (like spinach) and vitamin C rich foods to help with iron absorption. Use a squeeze of lime on your beans, or have a small glass or orange juice with your meal. 

Avoid or reduce inflammatory foods, including added sugar, dairy, vegetable oils, processed flours, refined grains, and processed snack foods high in sugar.

Follicular Phase & Ovulation 

During these phases, a balanced diet containing whole foods, protein and healthy fat is what the body needs to help the developing follicle.

The higher levels of hormones may contribute to dehydration at this time during the cycle. Therefore, take extra care to drink water and consume hydrating foods such as fruits and vegetables. 

Luteal & Premenstrual

To support the liver in detoxification, incorporate cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage into your diet. Fibre from whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables help keep your bowels regular, which is especially important during this phase as we’re detoxing excess estrogen. 

Make sure to have healthy snacks on hand after a surf session to keep your blood sugar balanced.

To further support the body and avoid potential symptoms, consider including magnesium-rich foods such as nuts, seeds, bananas, dark leafy greens and dark chocolate. 

This is an important time to tune into your body. Your energy levels will start to drop, plus you’ll feel hungrier than usual. Make sure to have healthy snacks on hand after a surf session to keep your blood sugar balanced and take care of those extra caloric needs. Take care of your energy as you don’t want to burn out right before you get your period, which can make period pain worse. 

Eating well is key for a healthy menstrual cycle

The first step is understanding the changes happening to your body within each phase of your cycle. As women, we are cyclical beings – we’re supposed to experience fluctuations. Keep in mind these fluctuations are not meant to be debilitating. If they are, you may want to seek professional support. 

Overall, having a healthy menstrual cycle relies on eating a healthy surfer girl diet. Including an abundance of plant foods will help check all the nutrition requirements. Remember that the term “plant foods” doesn’t just mean vegetables. It includes everything from whole grains, beans, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Proper digestion, absorption and elimination are essential for a healthy cycle, and plant foods contain all of the essentials we need throughout the month. 

When you start to work with your cycle instead of against it, you can appreciate the different energies each phase has to offer instead of constantly fighting against them.

Want to learn more about how to manage your diet during the different phases of your menstrual cycle or simply improve your overall health? Book a 20-minute online mini-consult with Leah Donatiello from Her Surf Nutrition. It’s free and only for Joyce readers. Spots are limited, so book now!

Leah Donatiello


Leah is a Holistic Nutritionist for women who surf. She created the Her Surf Nutrition Method™ to help women overcome a lack of energy, problems with digestion, and food restriction using a non-diet approach. She runs the annual virtual conference Share the Stoke Summit where women surfers share tips for surf health and performance. The rest of the time, Leah enjoys spending time with her dogs, second-hand shopping and watching reruns of Gilmore Girls.

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