Ever feel like your hormones have all of the control? It’s not just your imagination -crying one minute, ecstatic the next, even sometimes off-the-walls horny. We women can sometimes be combinations of ever-rotating energy, hormones and emotions, and we may well have our menstrual cycle to thank. Despite it occurring on repeat every month, we can still feel out of control of our own bodies and minds. We still have a long way to go to understand exactly how our menstrual cycles affect our overall wellbeing, but lately, experts have been taking what we do know and using that information to our advantage. From this research it seems cycle syncing could have some answers.
The idea behind cycle syncing is to work with our body and work with our flow, not against it. If we make changes to our diet and exercise routine and change other lifestyle factors like social calendar to suit different phases of our menstrual cycle it can support our hormones highs or lows in some phases.
By doing this we are in a stronger position to achieve results that work in our favour. Improved energy, better moods, reduced period symptoms and general better body alignment, by supporting the production of hormones at different stages of our cycle and working with each phase, instead of against it.
SOME SCIENCE BEHIND CYCLE SYNCING?
According to a study published in the journal Archives of Gynaecology and Obstetrics, hormone fluctuations over the monthly menstrual cycle play a crucial role in our body’s responses.
They can affect our emotional status, appetite, thought processes and so much more.
If as women we can understand these shifts within our monthly hormonal flow, we can avoid becoming casualties to our hormones and in fact, begin to work with our bodily changes and maximize our hormonal power.
When it comes to scientific research, there aren’t many studies to support cycle syncing, and the studies that do exist are old or relatively weak scientifically, however, many advocates of this syncing practice have said it changed their lives.
Being on the hormonal birth control pill is not ideal for cycle-syncing, as hormonal contraceptives alter the natural hormonal patterns at work in your body, however, always see your doctor regarding anything to do with medication.
According to Alisa Vitti, an integrative nutritionist and the founder of FLOLiving.com, most mainstream diet and fitness plans are tailored to men; but they don't experience the same hormonal ups and downs that women do over the course of the month. And since hormones affect the entire body so greatly, women may not be getting everything they can out of these male-centric eating plans and workouts.
Everyone's cycle is different. Consider tracking yours first, take note of your different symptoms, food cravings, your feelings towards exercise and your general mood. After a few months, you should start to see patterns that could help you tailor your schedule and take advantage of hormone-related pros and work the ups and downs to your benefit.
HOW DOES CYCLE SYNCING WORK?
So it all works based on the ebbs and flows of your hormones through each phase of your cycle. Learning your cycle is the best way to start and recognizing the shifts between each phase is the first step to being able to sync your behaviour and use your hormonal power.
DAY 1-4: Menstrual (Follicular) Phase
Our hormones (oestrogen & progesterone) are at their lowest right now and our iron levels are dropping so it’s normal to feel low in energy, feel more reclusive and introverted and at a slower pace.
Nutrition can have some seriously positive affects here to make some improvements on those low energy feelings.
Focus on foods that are warming and ‘comfort’ - soups, stews, slow cooked meals and even curries. Anti-inflammatory foods are important to reduce cramping and bloating; try some oily fish, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, berries and broccoli, as well as including iron rich foods such as red meat, chicken, fish and dark leafy greens to replenish our iron stores.
Add 1 tablespoon of flaxseed (freshly ground) and 1 tablespoon of pumpkin seeds daily into a smoothie or an oatmeal bowl. These seeds contain phytoestrogens which help improve the ratio of oestrogen metabolites.
(You can also check our article what to eat during your period for more insight on this topic.)
Moving your body is often important during your menstrual phase as it can help release tensions in your abdomen and ease cramping, as well as producing some much needed endorphins. However, don’t over-do it on the exercise at this time. Go with slow restoring exercise like walking, Pilates and yin yoga, or take a couple of days to rest and rejuvenate if that’s how you’re feeling.
DAY 4-14: Follicular Phase
Our hormone levels are starting to rise during this phase as our bodies are preparing to release an egg. Oestrogen, and very small amounts of testosterone, is on the rise so our energy begins to pick up and a feeling of more confidence too. Oestrogen is an anabolic hormone, which means it helps things grow, like our endometrial lining, so we are at our strongest during this phase.
It is thought that with the new beginning of a new cycle, we do our best brainstorming, creating and initiating during this phase. It’s the perfect time to set intentions, start a new project, and utilize your imagination.
Protein is really important to support the anabolic hormone, as well as cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts & cabbage, as they support detoxification of oestrogen. Foods high in vitamin E such as sweet potato, extra virgin olive oil, green leafy veg, and nuts and seeds help to nourish the growing follicles. We are also more insulin sensitive, so our bodies can tolerate more carbs and calories, particularly if there’s an increase in activity levels.
This is the time of the month to go for it if you want to build strength and gain muscle due to the extra small amount of testosterone and heightened oestrogen levels. This is a great time for heavier weights, HIIT and more intensive workouts. As you move towards the end of the follicular phase you can increase cardio workouts and push your stamina.
DAY 15 (avg): Ovulation
Your oestrogen levels are peaking right now so you should be feeling amazing! Our libido peaks around ovulation too; mother nature knew what she was doing! This also makes us feel at our best, most confident and attractive!
During ovulation, our hormones stimulate the social and verbal centres of the brain, so it may also be the time to plan a happy hour, dinner event or schedule an important presentation. This is the best time to put ourselves out there, work with others, and collaborate.
Right now your body is releasing the egg to be ready for fertilization. Some women do experience a little fluid retention around ovulation, and mild constipation. Even some cramps or nausea are not uncommon.
Hydration is key in this phase. Water and fibre are essential to reduce fluid retention. Parsley, celery and green tea can help. It can also be a benefit to avoid highly salty foods to avoid excess fluid retention. Fuelling up on vitamin B rich foods such as whole grains, meat, eggs, dairy, nuts and seeds are important to support the release of the egg.
At ovulation our oestrogen levels are at their highest and we’re full of confidence. This is a perfect time to maximize on your follicular phase workouts and peak with your most intense strength or cardio training. Your ovulation is the peak of the follicular phase, and your hormones are at their best, but it really only lasts for 24hours, so make the most of it if you can! With your energy & strength - hit the weights, HIIT, or spin classes and push for that PB!
DAY 16-28: Luteal Phase
Once ovulation is over we enter the longest phase of our cycle, the luteal phase. Our oestrogen levels plummet and progesterone is on the rise, this is the fat burning, temperature regulating, pro-gestational hormone. You’ll begin feeling relatively normal, however over the course of roughly the two weeks your mood may begin to drop and the familiar PMS symptoms begin. Starting to feel a little more introverted, sluggish and in need of some self love! This is due to the levels of oestrogen declining and with it, our serotonin levels drop.
A study found that feelings of anxiety, hostility and depression were increased in some women during the luteal phase, when oestrogen decreases and those low moods are all too familiar, so it’s more of a time for self-love and self-care routines, maybe fewer draining social engagements. Focus on solo administrative tasks, organize the kitchen cupboards, clean that messy closet, and check things off the to-do list.
We need nutrient dense, stabilizing foods during this phase. Lowering your carbohydrates and increasing some hormone supporting fats can help. Sunflower seeds and tahini are great as they contain lignin that help increase progesterone and get rid of excess oestrogen. Magnesium rich foods such as spinach, dark chocolate, avocado, banana, raspberries, salmon and tuna are also great to help alleviate PMS.
Our hormonal changes mean our metabolism actually speeds up and our calorific needs can increase by up to 16%, making our hunger levels higher, so it’s normal to crave more food. Just try to choose your favourite healthy comforting meals and snacks as hunger rises so you feel satisfied, and “bulk” out your meals with more fibrous veggies to promote feeling of fullness & satisfaction.
You can start this phase on the ride of the ovulation energy; however your energy levels will drop. If you’re still working with strength training, go for higher volume/reps and lower weight in this phase rather than heavy strength training. As energy levels decline, reducing exercise intensity will benefit your energy levels whilst still giving you additional endorphins from the exercise. Switch to relaxing movements like walking, yoga and Pilates.
Throughout our monthly cycle we can experience some alternate symptoms as well, including discharge, bladder weakness as well as some spotting.
Period underwear is perfect for exercising and all your daily events and nightly sleeps. It allows your body to breathe naturally as you raise your body temperature and sweat during exercise or run around your daily routine, both on and off your period.
You can wear a light flow pair in your Luteal phase if you’re unsure what day you might get your period and want to be protected, and can even wear them throughout your cycle for any discharge or leaks you might experience.
This article is intended for educational purposes only, and is not designed to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any condition. If you are experiencing any symptoms please seek help from a qualified healthcare professional.
PHOTO CREDIT: Cristina Gareau
The Cycle Syncing Method was created by Alisa Vitti. She is an author, integrative nutritionist, women’s hormone expert, and the founder of Flo Living