Cycle Syncing: A Woman’s Guide to Health & Hormones
How to Align Your Workouts, Nutrition, and Lifestyle to Your Menstrual Cycle
As women, it’s amazing how little we are taught about our menstrual cycles, especially considering the massive impact they have on all dimensions of our wellbeing.
The term “cycle syncing” was introduced in the book ‘Woman Code’ by functional nutritionist Alisa Vitti, creator of the MyFlo app. Cycle syncing is the practice of adjusting your lifestyle, diet, exercise, and even work routines to match the current phase of your menstrual cycle. It helps those who menstruate create routines that are in tune with their biological rhythms.
“It turns out that having an infradian rhythm, also known as our monthly cycle, causes changes in our metabolism, brain, stress and other systems,” says Vitti. “Simply stated, we’re not the same throughout the 4 phases of our menstrual cycle. We have different calorie, fitness, and nutrient needs depending on which phase we are in,” she says.
Benefits of Cycle Syncing
When you live in sync with your menstrual cycle, you are working with your body, rather than against it. By living in tune with your natural rhythms, you will feel more balanced, energized, healthy, and productive.
According to experts, cycle syncing can also provide the following benefits:
- Hormonal balance
- Fewer PMS and period symptoms, including mood swings and anxiety
- More effective workouts
- Increased energy
- Fertility support
- Improved sex drive
- Healthy weight
- Better sleep
- Improved sense of wellbeing
A quick note about hormonal birth control: Hormonal contraceptives suppress your body’s natural hormonal phases, so you won’t experience a true cycle. As a result, cycle syncing may not have the same impact.
Understanding The Phases of Your Menstrual Cycle
In order to experience the benefits of cycle syncing, we must first understand the menstrual cycle, its unique phases, and the main hormones involved.
Your menstrual cycle — the cyclical shedding of the uterine lining — is a natural process that happens every month to prepare your body for pregnancy. If you are not pregnant, your hormones send a signal to your uterus to shed its lining (this becomes your period).
Your cycle, which has four distinct phases, begins on the first day of your period and ends on the first day of your next period. The average menstrual cycle lasts 28 days, but a cycle ranging from 21 to 35 days is still considered normal.
Menstrual Phase (Days 1-5)
Day one of your period, when you begin your bleed, is the start of a new hormonal cycle. Also known as menstruation, this phase takes place when you are actively bleeding (as your body sheds its uterine lining) and usually lasts 3-7 days.
Progesterone and estrogen are at the lowest levels during this phase, taking energy down with them, and also potentially affecting your mood. Pain or abdominal cramping can occur due to contractions of the womb as the uterus lining sheds. Some people may also experience headaches, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.
Follicular Phase (Days 6-14)
Your follicular phase begins after you finish your bleed, and usually lasts between 7 and 10 days. During this phase, your body starts to release the hormones needed to stimulate the release of an egg (which happens during ovulation) and also build the lining of your uterus, which you shed during menstruation.
Hormones start out low, but estrogen and progesterone continue to rise, providing you with more energy and helping to elevate your mood. Cramping and other symptoms are typically not present in the follicular phase.
Ovulatory Phase (Days 15-17)
During the ovulatory phase (3-5 days), your body releases an egg into the fallopian tubes to be fertilized. This phase of your cycle is also referred to as the “fertile window”, since it’s the only time when pregnancy can occur.
Although ovulation normally lasts between 16 and 32 hours (24 on average), it is possible to get pregnant in the five days leading up to ovulation. Since sperm can live inside a person’s body for up to five days, it could potentially fertilize an egg five days after sex has occurred.
In this phase, estrogen peaks and progesterone levels rise. This results in the highest libido, highest energy, and most power as your body gets ready to potentially have a baby.
If pregnancy doesn’t occur within 24 hours after ovulation, the unfertilized egg disintegrates and estrogen levels fall, signaling a return to menstruation within about 14 days.
Luteal Phase (Days 18-28)
The luteal phase lasts, on average, 10-14 days. After releasing an egg during ovulation, our bodies release progesterone, which helps to prepare the uterus for a potential pregnancy as it continues to its peak in the middle of the phase. As a result, you may still feel the energy from your ovulatory phase continuing into the first part of your luteal phase.
Then, if pregnancy has not occurred, both estrogen and progesterone decrease as the body gets ready to move into the menstrual phase once again.
Usually, your energy levels will drop significantly in the second half of your luteal phase. You may feel more irritable, less sociable and more introspective. PMS also occurs during this phase and can result in various symptoms.
Tracking Your Menstrual Cycle:
To begin tracking your cycle, start keeping a record of how long your cycle lasts (from the first day of your period to the first day of your next period). This will give you an idea of which phase you are in on any given day. You can also track symptoms such as cervical fluid, energy and mood changes, as well as temperature. There are many apps available to help with tracking this information, including Clue, Flo, Ovia Fertility, Eve by Glow, MyFlo, and more.
Cycle Syncing: Fitness, Nutrition and Lifestyle
Now that you have a better understanding of the different phases of your cycle, let’s discuss how you can adjust your fitness, nutrition, and lifestyle habits to best support each phase.
Fitness: Walking, stretching, mat pilates, gentle yoga, hiking
Your menstrual phase is the time to slow down your workouts and move in a way that isn’t too taxing on your body and your hormones. This isn’t the time to push yourself with intense workouts. In fact, intense workouts during this phase can be counterproductive – putting stress on the adrenals, increasing fat storage, and resulting in muscle wasting.
Nutrition: During your menstrual phase, it’s important to replenish your body with iron, zinc, and mineral-rich foods. High quality protein and healthy fats will help stabilize your energy and moods, and magnesium and potassium rich foods can help with cramps and fluid retention. It’s also incredibly important to stay well hydrated during this phase of your cycle.
What to include during this phase:
- Veggies: dark leafy greens, spinach, kale, broccoli, beets, arugula, sweet potatoes, root vegetables, mushrooms, sea vegetables (dulse, kelp and nori)
- Fruits: blueberries, blackberries, avocado, watermelon, pomegranate, bananas
- Grains: buckwheat, wild rice, quinoa, brown rice, lentil or chickpea pasta
- Healthy Fats: flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, peanut butter, cashews, chia seeds, hemp seeds, almonds, coconut yogurt or kefir
- High Quality Protein: salmon, lentils, kidney beans, adzuki beans, oysters, duck, grass-fed beef, eggs, organ meats
- Herbs & Spices: turmeric, garlic, ginger, parsley, cayenne, cinnamon, nettle
- Teas: red raspberry leaf, chamomile, peppermint, dandelion, nettle
- Extras: dark chocolate, nourishing soups and stews, bone broth, molasses, miso, tamari/liquid aminos, himalayan salt, trace minerals
Lifestyle: Focus on rest, self-care, reflection, compassion, and nourishment.
- Your menstrual phase is considered the “winter” of your cycle – a time to rest, go inward, and prioritize self-care. Give yourself permission to truly slow down, focusing on activities that nourish and calm you.
- Clarity and intuition are at an all-time high, so this is the best time to evaluate your life, make informed decisions, and determine the best path forward.
- This may also be a good time to work from home and avoid social gatherings.
Fitness: Low impact cardio, sculpt, pilates, light runs, hiking, vinyasa yoga
During the follicular phase, after menstruation, your hormone levels start to rise. You will have more energy and feel stronger, so it’s the perfect time for workouts that feel energizing and up lifting.
Focus on low impact cardio, and keep your exercise in the light to moderate zone (you can build up a sweat, but you shouldn’t be dripping). This will result in lean muscle gain and better usage of stored fat for fuel.
Nutrition: Your follicular phase is a great time to increase lighter sources of protein, fuel your body with whole foods, and consume complex carbohydrates. It’s important to have adequate fiber and cruciferous veggies to support your body’s metabolism of estrogen. Furthermore, pre- and probiotic rich foods will support your gut health.
What to include during this phase:
- Veggies: brussel sprouts, kale, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, leafy greens, artichoke, zucchini, carrots, green peas, green beans, asparagus, onions
- Fruits: lemons and limes, grapefruit, oranges, cherries, avocado, pomegranate, plums, tomatoes, bananas
- Grains: oats, barley, rye, wheat
- Healthy Fats: flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, olives and olive oil, brazil nuts, cashews, coconut yogurt, ghee, grass-fed butter
- High Quality Protein: organic tofu, legumes, lentils, split peas, black eyed peas, hemp protein, pea protein, salmon and other fatty fish, free-range chicken and eggs, shellfish
- Herbs & Spices: ginger, garlic, chili pepper, parsley
- Teas: nettle, holy basil
- Extras: fermented foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut, vinegar, sprouts
Lifestyle: Focus on creativity, problem solving, brainstorming, and intention-setting.
- Your follicular phase is known as the “spring” of your cycle, and the rise in estrogen and progesterone has you feeling more like your best self – with a more positive mood, high energy, and an increasing sex drive.
- At this time, women have the greatest access to creativity and problem solving. Tackle big projects, explore new ideas, brainstorm, and schedule important meetings during this phase of your cycle.
- You’ll likely feel more social during this time too, so make time for friends and family, and put yourself out there to meet new people.
Fitness: HIIT, circuit training, bootcamp, spin, power yoga, weight training
During ovulation, your testosterone and estrogen are peaking, maximizing your power and potential. Leverage your high energy with high intensity exercises.
Your hormones are primed to power you through, so this is the time to go for personal records and work up a good sweat. You can push yourself during this time and get great results.
Nutrition: Your hormones are at their peak, so you’ll want to focus on anti-inflammatory foods that support your body in maintaining balanced estrogen levels. Chow down on vitamin-rich foods, raw vegetables, and lots of cruciferous vegetables to assist the liver in detoxing excess estrogen. Support muscle growth with protein and high-fiber, carb rich meals.
What to include during this phase:
- Veggies: brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, red bell pepper, eggplant, spinach, carrots, cucumber, swiss chard, asparagus, fennel
- Fruits: coconut, figs, strawberries, raspberries, apricots, cantaloupe, guava, persimmon, tomatoes, pineapple
- Grains: quinoa, amaranth
- Healthy Fats: pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, pistachios, pecans, almonds, hemp seeds, coconut yogurt, olives, olive oil
- High Quality Protein: lentils, salmon, eggs, tuna, pea protein, hemp protein
- Herbs & Spices: dandelion, burdock root, turmeric
- Teas: dandelion
- Extras: maca, kimchi, sauerkraut, apple cider vinegar, bone broth
Lifestyle: Focus on having fun, being social, communicating your needs, and putting yourself out there!
- The ovulatory phase is considered your inner “summer” – your hormone levels are at their peak, your energy is high, and your moods are stable.
- This surge often makes you feel more focused, magnetic, confident, sexy, and social. This is the time to ask for a raise, launch new offers, network, negotiate deals, or attend public speaking engagements.
- You are most fertile during this phase. If you’re trying to conceive, it’s go time! If you aren’t looking to get pregnant, make sure to use protection.
Fitness: Strength training, light circuit training, pilates, yoga, walks
The luteal phase takes place after ovulation and up until your period, and during this time your hormone levels fluctuate a lot. In the first half of your luteal phase, while your energy is still high, incorporate strength training, low impact cardio, vinyasa yoga and mat pilates. Avoid higher intensity cardio workouts.
Once you notice that your energy is shifting and you’re coming down from the estrogen high, tweak your workouts accordingly. Focus on more restorative movements as you near your next menstrual cycle, such as walking and more gentle forms of yoga and pilates.
Nutrition: Nourish yourself with whole foods and blood sugar balancing meals. You may feel an increase in hunger this time of the month, since your metabolic rate is increasing. It’s important to reduce carbohydrates in this phase – the body is most insulin resistant and has more trouble using carbs.
Make sure you consume B-vitamins for sustained mood and energy. Anti-inflammatory foods, calcium, magnesium, and potassium rich foods will help combat fluid retention, reduce cramping, and ease other PMS symptoms.
Drink lots of water and avoid foods and beverages that will trigger PMS symptoms, such as alcohol, caffeine, artificial sweeteners, red meat, and dairy.
What to include during this phase:
- Veggies: cabbage, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, collard greens, mustard greens, onion, parsnip, pumpkin, radish, squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes
- Fruits: apples, dates, raisins, pears, peaches, papaya, bananas
- Grains: brown rice, millet
- Healthy Fats: sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pine nuts, walnuts, coconut, almonds, chia seeds, coconut oil
- High Quality Protein: lentils, chickpeas, navy beans, salmon, cod, flounder
- Herbs & Spices: burdock root, dandelion, ginger, garlic, turmeric, cinnamon
- Teas: red raspberry leaf, dandelion, ginger, peppermint
- Extras: dark chocolate, spirulina, coconut water
A note on fasting: Avoid fasts (including intermittent fasting) during your luteal phase. Fasting during this time may lead to the depletion of nutrients and hormones necessary in the days leading up to your menstrual cycle.
Lifestyle: Focus on self-love, self-care, administrative tasks, finishing tasks, honoring your body, and setting personal boundaries.
- After riding the high of ovulation, you enter the luteal phase, aka your inner “fall”. Energy starts to dwindle, and you may find yourself becoming more inward-focused.
- This is when PMS occurs, so it’s important to support your body with proper rest, recovery, and relaxation.
- Focus on administrative tasks, creating routines, organization, planning, research, and finishing projects.
- If you notice yourself feeling more introverted, give yourself permission to set boundaries and say “no” to social gatherings.
One of the most beautiful things about living in tune with your cycle is that you can begin to honor your natural ebbs and flows – truly embracing the changes your body goes through each month.
Remember, everyone is different. Above all else, it’s important to listen to and honor your own body. Be patient, don’t expect perfection, and allow yourself grace. Cycle syncing aims to make your life easier, not more stressful. Start small, and over time it will become more intuitive to live in tune with your natural rhythms. It's all about welcoming and embracing the flow, and there is nothing more empowering than living in alignment with yourself and your body.
*We are not medical professionals. Consult with your physician for medical advice.*