Cycle syncing is an ideal way of balancing hormones through nutrition and lifestyle to create balance during each stage of the menstrual cycle.
Have you ever noticed how sometimes you can't quite figure out why one week you are in the greatest mood and energetic, only to find yourself the next, completely miserable, sad, and depleted? Hormones. This is often most notably observed in the luteal phase, or in the phase shortly after ovulation, when moods shift, cramps creep in, and cravings are monumental.
We as women cycle for a good portion of our lives, and the food we eat and activities we perform have to align with our hormones or we feel frazzled and out of control.
This is mostly because the wrong foods and activities will put the brain/body in stress mode and the brain will understand that stress as a threat. When the brain senses that threat, it prioritizes survival, focusing on stress hormones, not sex hormones.
So in this post, I wanted to introduce the concept of cycle-syncing food and exercise to balance hormones throughout the month. When we honor what our bodies are capable of during each phase of our cycle we reduce stress hormones, improve sex hormone function and we become much more in tune with the body's natural rhythm and therefore a lot happier in our everyday life. A simple concept that took me years to figure out.
What Is Cycle Syncing?
In a nutshell, cycle syncing means adjusting nutrition and lifestyle routines around the menstrual cycle. Now, I'm a realist and know that life cannot be helped and we can't put off work meetings or family parties due to them falling at the wrong time of our cycle. But we can utilize what we do have control over such as diet and exercise. And by eating foods that support the hormones being utilized in each phase we are nourishing the body and encouraging proper hormonal balance.
How Does Cycle Syncing Work?
Practicing cycle syncing means adjusting nutrition and physical activities based on the rise and fall of sex hormones throughout the month.
What Are The Benefits Of Cycle Syncing?
As I mentioned above, the benefits of cycle syncing come in the form of true alignment of the external and internal. When we eat and move according to what our body is going through in each of the monthly cycles, we are aligned with our internal state. Benefits include:
- More energy throughout the month
- Fewer mood swings
- Reduced PMS symptoms
- A better chance of getting pregnant (for those who are trying to conceive)
- Improved workouts
- Better hormone balance
- Improved sleep
Understanding Hormones In Each Phase Of Menstruation
I've spent my life fighting the current instead of flowing with it. That's sort of how it feels to push through some phases of the month when we can't and have nothing to give. And understanding why pushing through a hard workout when you're bleeding is misaligned, helps us make better decisions.
Menstrual phase (Day 0-5)
Estrogen and progesterone are at their lowest during this time when the uterine lining is shedding. This leads to cramping, fatigue, bloating, and an overall unwell feeling. During this phase, estrogen also starts to creep up which can cause anxiety in some women.
Follicular phase (Day 6 - 13)
This is when estrogen rises, which improves mood and energy levels. Most women tend to feel pretty good during this phase. However, some women who struggle with anxiety may experience antsiness and some restlessness during this phase.
Ovulation Phase (Day 14-15)
During this phase, estrogen progesterone, and testosterone are at their highest, making women most energetic, outgoing, and fertile.
Luteal Phase (Day 16-28)
Estrogen and Progesterone start high in the luteal phase and if the egg is not fertilized, the body prepares for the menstrual phase. Estrogen will drop, and progesterone will increase, thickening the wall of the uterus. If no pregnancy occurs, hormones will drop causing some women to experience mood swings, bloating, PMS symptoms, weight gain, headaches, fatigue, insomnia, and more. So it's essential to support progesterone during this time.
With that in mind, I wanted to share how to properly support each phase of the cycle with nutrition. And in addition (since this also impacts hormones) the types of workouts that can support each phase.
Foods To Eat During Each Phase Of Your Cycle
Menstrual Phase Foods
Since bleeding means loss of iron, it's important to focus on plenty of magnesium and iron-rich foods as well as those to help build and support rising estrogen. Focusing specifically on dark leafy greens, nuts, pumpkin and flax seeds, bananas, sea-weed, kelp, beets, kale, sweet potato, butternut squash, root vegetables, sardines, grass-fed beef, shellfish, clams, dark chocolate.
Menstrual Phase Recipes
Menstrual Phase Exercise
Sticking to low-impact exercise and activities like walking, yoga, pilates, or anything else that's gentle on an already hard-working body.
Follicular Phase Foods
The follicular phase is often the phase which most women thrive in. Energy is climbing back up thanks to estrogen, so eating estrogen-supporting foods is very beneficial in this phase. These foods will ensure that estrogen is balanced if you're estrogen dominant or you need more estrogen in your body. Foods for the follicular phase include broccoli sprouts, which are the ultimate foods to eat for healthy estrogen function. Then there are flax seeds, broccoli, artichokes, bok choi, peas, fennel, carrots, zucchini, non-starchy vegetables, green beans, avocados, peaches, pumpkin seeds (see my seed cycling post), eggs, lentils, chickpeas, chicken, fish, shellfish, fermented foods.
Follicular Phase Recipes
Follicular Phase Exercise
The follicular phase is a great time to increase your exercise and it's also a time when starting intermittent fasting is ideal. Basically, the body can handle more stress, so if you like more intense exercise, doing HIIT, cardio-based workouts, weight training, and swimming.
Ovulation Phase Foods
During the ovulation phase, estrogen and testosterone peak, and most women have the most energy and feel at their best. Granted that this phase is quite short, the best foods to eat during ovulation are non-starchy vegetables, berries, cantaloupe, sunflower, flax seeds (again, check out seed cycling), quinoa, sardines, ginger, pumpkin, kidney beans, mushrooms, pasture-raised red meat, eggs, salmon and dark chocolate. This is important to prepare the body for the next phase of the cycle.
Ovulation Phase Recipes
Ovulation Phase Exercise
Since energy is very high during this short phase, spinning, running, weight training, and HIIT are all great. If you have the energy, go for it.
Luteal Phase Foods
Now we enter the more introspective phase of the cycle. Estrogen starts dropping and progesterone starts to increase. This is a phase where most women start to struggle with PMS symptoms and emotional symptoms, so it's important to ensure that we are eating progesterone-rich foods to keep progesterone from plummeting. Remember, for most women who are not trying to get pregnant, once ovulation passes and no egg is attached to the uterus, hormones will start to drop. The best foods to eat during the luteal phase include sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, squash, sweet potatoes, and most root vegetables (think complex carbohydrates). With a big focus on magnesium-rich foods and foods that help to ease water retention. Also citrus, bananas, mangoes, papaya, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, wild-caught fish, turkey, chickpeas, brown rice, quinoa, dark chocolate. Focus on drinking lots of water to reduce bloating and reduce salty foods.
Luteal Phase Recipes
Luteal Phase Exercise
This is the time to start slowing exercise down a little as your body is preparing for menstruation. In the early luteal phase, you may still have energy but focus on turning things down a little with zone 2 cardio, strength training, walking, pilates-yoga combo but as you get closer to your period, focus on walking, pilates, and yoga (but skip the hot yoga) or if you feel absolutely awful, nothing.
Cycle Syncing In Menopause
If you are already in menopause you can still observe the ebbs and flows of your natural rhythm. Within a month (say a lunar cycle), observe your energy levels and see when you feel most motivated and most introspective. Without the evident cycle of bleeding and hormone fluctuations, women can still live in a cyclical way, paying attention to their internal states and aligning lifestyles accordingly. This can easily happen by keeping a journal and noticing the changes throughout a month and taking note of the patterns.
Cycle Syncing is one of the best things we could do as women. By paying attention to what we eat and how we move, we can truly live in alignment with our bodies and minds and live happier, more fulfilled lives.