The female body is quite incredible. Every month (or so) there is a beautifully orchestrated dance between estrogen and progesterone to cause the release of an egg, and if there is no pregnancy, a bleed or period, which starts the cycle all over again. Of course, the purpose of this cycle syncing is for reproduction, but most months of a woman’s reproductive years, she is not actively trying to conceive.
As women, we know our menstrual cycle is a fact of life, but instead of dreading this monthly cycle, what if we could actually work with our hormonal fluctuations to improve our productivity, attention, mood, body composition, and more?
It is important for women to consider that these cyclical changes that regulate our menstrual cycles also have a significant influence on other physical and mental functions of the body. This means that the fluctuating levels of estrogen and progesterone throughout the month can have large impacts on a female’s day-to-day life. Our hormones play a role in our food cravings, brain function, energy levels, emotional status, skin health, weight gain/loss, and much more.
What is Cycle Syncing?
By appreciating the hormonal shifts that take place throughout the cycle, we gain insight into the “why” behind our energy, moods, and performance on a given day, but this also provides insight into how to work with the body’s natural rhythm. There is a relatively new trend called “Cycle Syncing” created by Alisa Vitti of Flo Living to bio-hack this system. The idea is that women can change their behaviours throughout their cycle to support the body through the hormonal rhythms to optimize their hormone function and well-being.
Cycle syncing involves adapting your diet, exercise routine, and lifestyle to the phases of your menstrual cycle. Using this tool can allow women to not only optimize their hormones and reproductive function, but also increase performance at work, lose stubborn weight, and live a happier life. What’s more, is that cycle syncing requires you to tune into your natural hormonal rhythm, and I believe every woman can benefit from a better understanding of their body.
Cycle Syncing Phases
You’ll usually hear the menstrual cycle discussed in 2 phases, the follicular phase and luteal phase, and some discuss ovulation as a separate ovulatory phase to make it 3 phases.
If you need a refresh on the basics on the menstrual cycle, read Menstrual Cycle 101 before moving on.
For cycle syncing purposes, we use 4 phases of the menstrual cycle and each phase comes with unique physiologic changes.
Menstrual Phase (Days 1-6)
This phase begins on the first day of the menstrual period and finishes when you stop bleeding (typically around 5-6 days long). At this point in the cycle, estrogen and progesterone are at their lowest, which is what triggers the period in the first place. During this phase, you are losing blood and iron, and most women feel more fatigued.
- Eat plenty of iron-rich foods that will support blood loss. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we say to eat nourishing and warming foods that help to build blood.
- Foods to include: organ meats like liver, beef, lamb, fish, poultry, bone broths, soups, stews, molasses, and dark leafy greens.
- Warming spices to incorporate include: turmeric, garlic, fresh ginger, parsley, cayenne, and cinnamon.
- Use herbs like: nettles and alfalfa to help improve iron absorption.
- Stay well hydrated. Aim for 2-3L of water each day.
- During this phase, focus on going easy in the gym. Instead of HIIT, which can leave your body feeling depleted during menstruation, swap in some gentle yoga, or opt for a long walk instead.
- Slow down and rest – listen to your body if you are feeling tired.
- A new cycle means new beginnings. Use this time to reflect on the past month and plan for the future month.
Follicular Phase (Days 7-13)
The follicular phase continues after your period and lasts until ovulation. At this phase of the cycle, your ovaries are growing many follicles, which contain eggs. Eventually, one lucky follicle will take over and the others will stop growing. While the follicles grow, estrogen and testosterone start to rise, with estrogen peaking right before ovulation. As your hormones increase, so does your energy and overall mood. Take advantage of this phase and plan to get sh*t done!
- This is the time to boost your nutrient intake to nourish the growing follicles. Increase overall protein consumption, especially if you are using your energy to hit the gym more often, and include loads of colourful veggies.
- Foods to include: free-range eggs, fatty fish, beef, and quality animal-based protein. If you are plant-based, be sure to calculate your protein intake to ensure you are eating enough!
- This is also the best time to consume complex carbohydrates. Higher estrogen means better insulin sensitivity – so don’t be afraid of adding in more sweet potatoes, beets, or grains – if you tolerate them.
- Since you’ll have the energy to make healthy meals at home, use this time to do some meal prep.
- The increase in testosterone during this phase means it is the best time to lift weights – and lift heavy, ladies.
- It is also a good time to use HIIT since energy and motivation are high.
- During the Follicular phase, women have the greatest access to their creative side.
- This is also the time associated with the most productivity.
- Plan your projects, brainstorming, and important meetings for this phase of your cycle.
- You’ll likely feel more social during this time too, so make time for friends and family
Ovulatory Phase (Days 14-17)
During the ovulatory phase, your body is releasing an egg into the fallopian tubes to be fertilized. Estrogen is still high, and testosterone peaks meaning you feel the most confident at this time in the cycle.
- During this phase, include 1-2 servings of cruciferous vegetables each day to help metabolize estrogen levels. Cruciferous vegetables contain a substance called DIM that can help to breakdown and balance your high estrogen levels.
- Foods to include: broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussel sprouts
- Energy continues to be high during this phase – use it to get moving.
- Since you feel most confident now, it’s a great time to try something new. Get out of your comfort zone – join a class you’ve always wanted to try, or push yourself a little harder than usual.
- Because testosterone is high, your sex drive will also increase during this phase. Just remember that this is your peak fertile window, so if you aren’t trying to conceive, protection is the most important at this time of the month.
- This is the time of the cycle that you feel the most attractive, confident and flirtatious.
- That confidence will also transfer to your work – this is the time to ask for a raise, negotiate deals, or plan your public speaking engagements.
Luteal Phase (Days 18-28)
After ovulation, the follicle that contained the egg remains in the ovary and becomes a structure known as the corpus luteum. This starts to produce and secrete progesterone – initiating the luteal phase. Progesterone and estrogen are highest during the beginning of the luteal phase. If there is no pregnancy, in the late luteal phase, estrogen and progesterone both fall, reaching low baseline levels right before menstruation begins again.
This phase of the cycle starts with normal energy levels and a balanced mood, ending with cravings, increased appetite, bloating, acne, cramping, and other premenstrual symptoms. Everyone may experience this phase differently, so always listen to your body.
- In the luteal phase, women experience more frequent cravings for foods, particularly for foods that are high in carbohydrates and fat. Although you may want to give in to these cravings, reducing carbohydrates in this phase is important because this is when the body is most insulin resistant and can’t utilize carbs the same way – try a square of 80% dark chocolate to satisfy cravings without a huge insulin spike.
- During this phase, we again want to include many blood-building foods, as menstruation is near. See foods from the menstrual phase.
- Continue eating cruciferous vegetables, especially if you experience intense PMS. Also, incorporate anti-inflammatory foods to reduce cramping and make your menstrual period less painful.
- Foods to include: fatty fish, extra virgin olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds, organic berries, and turmeric.
- This is also the time to limit or avoid caffeine and ensure optimal hydration.
- At the beginning of the luteal phase when you still feel energetic, continue to exercise at a high to moderate intensity.
- As energy levels decline closer to menstruation, consider restorative yoga and gentle walking instead.
- Movement during this phase is very important, to keep your mood elevated and reduce symptoms of PMS.
- As you start to notice your mood changing, turn your attention to self-care and rest.
- If you are feeling your introvert energy spiking, give yourself permission to say “no” to social gatherings and spend more time at home instead.
- Be kind to yourself and listen to your body’s cues.
Who is Cycle Syncing for?
Cycle syncing can be used by any woman who desires to try it! However, it is especially useful for women with a regular cycle (consistent, about 21-35 days long), who is not using hormonal birth control.
It can also be used as a treatment strategy for women:
- trying to get pregnant
- to reduce PMS
- with heavy or painful periods
- to lose stubborn weight gain
- who are feeling burnt out and fatigued
If you are on the pill, cycle syncing may not be necessary. When you are on the pill it shuts off your own hormonal rhythms and there are no clear phases like in a natural cycle. But, you can start thinking about cycle syncing so that when you are ready to come off the pill you’ve already got it down pat!
If you have irregular cycles or no cycles at all, it is best to be evaluated by a naturopathic doctor or functional medicine provider first. Once the cause of your menstrual abnormalities is determined, cycle syncing may be a tool you can use to regulate cycles.
Do you have irregular cycles or no period? Learn more about the reasons behind hormone imbalances here.
How to Get Started
The first thing you need to do: Start tracking your menstrual cycle. There are many free apps now available that make this very easy! Some of my favourites include Clue, Flo, and Ovia. To get a deep understanding of your cycle, you must track more than just the days of your period.
Keep track of your energy levels, your mood, your discharge, pain or cramping, and cravings. This is the best way to start becoming familiar with your monthly rhythms. From there, you can apply cycle syncing to optimize not only your hormones but your productivity, moods, weight loss and so much more!
To learn even more about your menstrual cycle and fertility awareness, read our article here.