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Not everyone’s menstrual cycle is mayhem. But if your hormonal waves make life feel like a roller coaster, cycle syncing may help you learn the rhythms of your body to take back control.
Cycle syncing is the practice of adjusting your lifestyle, diet, and exercise routines to match the current phase of your menstrual cycle.
And optimizing your life around your cycle may help you work with your hormone fluctuations instead of gritting your teeth through them.
“The idea is, in essence, an attempt to schedule your activities [by] taking your menstrual cycle into account,” says Dr. Luis Murrain, a board certified specialist in gynecology and fertility at Dreams Fertility in Palm Springs, California.
Vitti coined and trademarked her specific protocol, “The Cycle Syncing Method,” and helps people who menstruate create self-care and work routines that are in tune with their biological rhythms.
“The Cycle Syncing Method shows you how to eat, exercise, and work to optimize each phase and your hormones and health overall,” says Vitti. “… Simply stated, we’re not the same throughout the four phases of our menstrual cycle. We have different calorie, fitness, and nutrient needs depending on which phase we are in.”
TBH, there’s not a lot of research on cycle syncing. But the authors of a 2008 research review point out that the hormones progesterone and estrogen also influence thinking ability, emotional status, sensory processing, and appetite. So, in theory, knowing which hormones are flowing — and when — might help you optimize meals and workouts.
A 2014 review also suggested that emotional changes are more connected to progesterone during the luteal phase, but more research is needed.
Still, various healthcare professionals support the concept of cycle syncing and use it to help their patients feel their best. Other folks see cycle syncing more as a means of self-care.
Mary Kate Keyes, registered dietitian and director of nutritional sciences for holistic health and fitness app MindFirst, says that tuning in to your endocrine and reproductive systems with cycling syncing is like tuning in to your respiratory system with deep breathing exercises. It’s a step toward mindful living.
Cycle syncing can also be pretty darn empowering, according to functional medicine practitioner and powerlifter Dr. Laura DeCesaris.
According to DeCesaris, other potential benefits of cycle syncing include:
- A greater connection to your feelings. “Whether you’re dealing with PMS, PCOS, low libido, or fatigue, it’s common to feel frustrated when you don’t feel good for days at a time every month. With cycle syncing, you can start to reconnect to your body,” she says.
- Better workouts. Knowing exactly when your energy will soar — when you can push yourself to the max — could help you smash personal records more easily.
- PMS management. Cycle syncing may help you take steps to reduce hormone-related symptoms like PMS and anxiety.
- More stable energy levels. Cycle syncing could help you decode cravings and learn how to nourish your body with the types of food you need when you need them.
- Fertility support. We’re not saying that doing a high intensity interval training (HIIT) workout and eating a bowl of berries will suddenly make you fertile AF. But period syncing requires awareness of your cycle, which can also help you time your babymaking sessions.
To figure out when it’s time to change up your routine, you first have to understand your menstrual cycle. While not everyone has a perfect 28-day cycle, you can expect these general time frames and hormone fluctuations:
So, once you know your cycle, what do you actually do?
“The most important thing to remember is that instead of asking WHAT is the perfect diet or workout plan for me to do every day, you must start asking WHEN is the right time to do the correct diet and workout plan for me each phase of the cycle,” says Vitti.
Here’s how our experts suggest optimizing your lifestyle based on each phase of the menstrual cycle.
Menstrual phase: Slow during the flow
Nutrition: Load up on iron and reach for vitamin C
“Your body gives you a bright red sign every 4 weeks to remind you that it needs iron,” says Keyes. During your period, nosh on iron-loaded foods like red meat, leafy greens, fortified cereals, and dark chocolate.
Supercharge your iron absorption by chasing it down with vitamin C via red peppers, guava, broccoli, or oranges.
Exercise: Cut yourself some slack and aim for low impact workouts
Heavy periods can be exhausting. Estrogen is low. Iron is low. Energy is low. “If you just need to chill out, then chill out,” says Keyes.
But there’s no reason you can’t exercise on your period (if you feel up to it). DeCesaris suggests a brisk walk, hike, or mobility class on fatigue-filled days.
Sex: Get frisky if it feels good
Yep, period sex is a thing. And while those looooow hormones decrease your flow fertility, there’s still 👏 a 👏 chance 👏. #SafetyFirst
Follicular phase: Feeling yourself
“During the follicular phase, our hormones are rising, we have better energy levels, and our metabolism is slightly slower,” explains DeCesaris.
In other words, your period ends and the rise in estrogen and progesterone starts make you feel more like your best self (time to host that dinner party!).
Nutrition: Enjoy cruciferous veggies and heap on the healthy fats
Brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower, broccoli, and bok choy all support estrogen metabolism, according to Keyes. To make a long story short, there’s a link between lipids and hormones. Keyes suggests fueling estrogen production with healthy fats from foods like fatty fish and avocados.
Exercise: Dial up workout intensity
“Heavy strength training or HIIT workouts make sense not only because we have the energy to do it, but they also offset the slightly lower metabolism at this point of our cycle,” says DeCesaris.
Sex: Have fun with foreplay
Libido starts low and then revs up as the follicular phase unfolds. Try enjoying the buildup with more foreplay during your romps.
Your 7ish-day fertility window also starts here, so use condoms if you’re having sex that could lead to a pregnancy and you’re not looking to put a bun in the oven.
Ovulation: Frisky and full of energy
During ovulation, your estrogen and luteinizing hormone peak. This is prime babymaking time, when an egg is released and waits to be fertilized by a lucky sperm.
This surge often makes you feel freaking fantastic. “And for most people, up until ovulation, you’re going to feel badass,” says Keyes.
Just note: Though this short-lived phase is typical of most menstrual cycles, it’s not a given! Some folks with fertility issues don’t ovulate. Same goes for those using certain hormonal birth control methods.
Nutrition: Eat the rainbow
There are no specific dietary recommendations for the ovulatory phase, so nosh on whatever vitamin-packed foods you love.
Murrain does suggest a daily 400-microgram folic acid supplement for folks attempting to conceive. But you should start supplementing weeks before your life-changing sexcapade.
Exercise: Push yourself in the gym
This is the time to go for personal records, says DeCesaris. Leverage your high energy in the weight room or with an intense HIIT workout.
But make sure you warm up first. High estrogen *might* make you more prone to injury, so always warm up properly before intense exercise.
Sex: Get it on
If you’re trying to make a baby, it’s go time! If you *don’t* want to become pregnant, get extra vigilant about protection. Your peaked testosterone and estrogen levels are going to make you feel extra frisky at this time.
Luteal phase: Slow it back down
Goodbye, sky-high energy and libido. Hello, PMS. Estrogen is still high in the luteal phase, but it’s progesterone’s time to shine. The result? You might start feeling a little melancholy or meditative.
“Less energy, more fatigue, and a need for more recovery are all hallmarks of this phase,” adds DeCesaris. That might be because progesterone has a calming effect.
Nutrition: Tune in to your cravings and skip the booze
Feeling a PMS snack attack coming on? First, know that it’s OK to embrace your hunger. But second, ask yourself what your body *really* wants. If your stomach’s screaming for ice cream, does your body need more carbs? Healthy fats?
“Fuel yourself with whole foods that will make you feel great,” says Keyes.
If you’re already feeling sluggish, a nightcap won’t help. You’ll feel like your best self during the luteal phase if you dial down your consumption of alcohol and highly processed foods.
Exercise: Embrace the pace and focus on balance, not “the burn”
If your body’s still buzzing during the luteal phase, keep going hard in the gym. But when you come down off that estrogen high, tweak your workouts accordingly. Walks, Pilates, yoga, and lightweight circuit training play nice with progesterone’s chill vibes.
Most folks eat a little more during the luteal phase. For some, that triggers an urge to “work off” the extra calories. But that might be counterproductive.
“Slowing down the workouts to match the drop in hormones is what helps with balanced energy and good workout performance and recovery,” DeCesaris says.
Sex: Time to experiment
Sex might be a little meh in this stage and require more stimulation. Try spicing things up with toys or new positions.
Remember, there’s no hard evidence that one food or food group will make or break a phase of your cycle. And stressing or obsessing over your diet can have a *negative* effect on your health and fertility, according to Keyes and Murrain.
Here are some suggestions if you wanna make simple dietary tweaks that play to your cycle’s strengths:
The relationship between your hormones and exercise is twofold: Hormones can influence your energy during a workout, *and* exercise can impact your hormone secretion.
“There aren’t many studies that have evaluated the use of cycle syncing for workouts,” DeCesaris says. “If anything, [women] have often been left out of exercise studies because our menstrual cycle impacts our metabolism to the point where researchers have felt it would skew the data. So — we need to be better about designing studies specifically for women!”
Here’s a handy-dandy chart for planning workouts based on hormone fluctuations:
Wanna start syncing with your cycle? There are a few questions to answer first:
- Are you on birth control? Whether it’s the pill, the patch, or an IUD, hormonal birth control suppresses your body’s natural hormonal phases, says Keyes. So while none of the above food and fitness suggestions will hurt you if you’re on birth control, they might not make a difference.
- Do you have a hormonal disorder? Folks with adrenal gland or endocrine disorders might have atypical hormonal fluctuations. Cycle syncing is unlikely to cause harm, but you might be trying to sync up with a rhythm that’s just not there.
- Will it add stress to your life? This is important, especially if you’re trying to get pregnant. Murrain says that if you have a busy schedule, focusing on the basics — a balanced diet and regular exercise — might be more helpful than cycling syncing. Added stress “can have a detrimental effect on fertility,” he says.
Still on board? Here are some tips.
1. Start tracking your cycle
Yes, you can totally mark up your calendar or keep a journal of your symptoms (bleeding, spotting, feeling moody AF). But you can also turn to some pretty nifty tech options.
“A tracking app can be your best friend,” says DeCesaris, who recommends the OG MyFlo app, created by Vitti.
Other options include:
2. Pinpoint your phases
It can take two or three cycles before you get a feel for your phases, according to DeCesaris. The important thing is to diligently track your flow and symptoms so that you can pinpoint each phase as accurately as possible.
3. Make helpful lifestyle changes
Now that you’ve figured out your menstrual, follicular, ovulatory, and luteal timing, it’s time to sync up your diet and exercise.
But just as it takes time to pinpoint your phases, it can take time to notice a difference. Shifting your food, workouts, and even sex life to match your hormonal fluctuations is not a quick fix.
“We’re all different and have different stressors, biochemistry, and schedules to take into consideration. It’s a lot of fun learning how to work with your body,” says DeCesaris.
- Cycle syncing is a method of hormone tracking and health optimization also known as “The Cycle Syncing Method,” created by functional nutritionist Alisa Vitti.
- Cycle syncing involves fine-tuning your lifestyle (diet, exercise, etc.) according to the current phase of your menstrual cycle.
- While many people report experiencing health improvements from aligning their lifestyle with their cycles, there is little scientific research to back up the benefits.
- Hormones are complex. Think of cycle syncing as a method of self-care rather than a treatment for hormonal imbalances.
- Some health experts, including Murrain, suggest a more generalized approach to good health. He suggests that the best way to optimize health and fertility is to focus on a eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise, developing supportive relationships, managing stress, and attending to spiritual needs.