Ever feel you’re a slave to your hormones? It’s not just your imagination. Crying one minute, ecstatic the next, even off-the-walls horny at times — us women can sometimes be balls of ever-rotating energy, and we may have our menstrual cycle to point fingers to.
According to a study from the Archives of Gynaecology and Obstetrics, fluctuations of hormones over the monthly menstrual cycle play a crucial role in our emotional status, appetite, thought processes, and so much more. Women reported high levels of well-being and self-esteem during the middle of the cycle in the study. Increased feelings of anxiety, hostility, and depression were reported before their period.
This is where the concept of “cycle syncing” comes into play. Nicole Negron, a functional nutritionist and women’s health specialist tells us, “Once women understand these monthly hormonal shifts, they can avoid becoming casualties to their hormones and begin to maximize their hormonal power.”
When it comes to scientific research, there aren’t many studies to support cycle syncing. Many studies are old or weak, but advocates of this practice have said it changed their lives. If you’re interested in trying, here’s how to do it right.
While everyone can benefit from cycle syncing, there are certain groups who may benefit the most. These groups include women:
- with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
- who are overweight
- who are overly fatigued
- who want their libido back
- who want to conceive
You wouldn’t leave the house without checking the weather. So why live blindly without monitoring the flow of our hormones?
If you’re not feeling 100 percent yourself, especially around your period, cycle syncing may be for you. Matching your life with your cycle helps you avoid burnout and keeps you mindful, every single day, to your body’s needs.
As our hormones ebb and flow over the span of four weeks, our menstrual cycle biologically has three distinct eras: follicular, ovulatory, and luteal. When it comes to cycle syncing, your actual period is considered the fourth phase.
|Phase||Days (approx.)||What happens|
|Menstrual (part of follicular phase)||1-5||Estrogen and progesterone are low. The lining of the uterus, called the endometrium, is shed, causing bleeding.|
|Follicular||6-14||Estrogen and progesterone are on the rise.|
|Ovulatory||15-17||Estrogen peaks. Testosterone and progesterone rise.|
|Luteal||18-28||Estrogen and progesterone levels are high. If the egg isn’t fertilized, then hormones decrease and menstrual cycle starts again.|
The days listed above are an average time span for each phase. Each person is different.
“Once women have become comfortable tracking their cycle in calendar form, I then teach them to track what they’re feeling each week of their cycle in real time,” Negron says.
“We create a calendar together of phases and plan what projects to prioritize, what workouts, social engagements, self-care, and relationship activities to engage in,” she adds.
As women, we may be taught to fight pain, push harder through that extra workout, and avoid complaining. But are we really doing ourselves any favors when it comes to being fit?
As your hormones fluctuate, so can your energy and mood, which affects how your body may approach fitness. That’s why, according to the cycle syncing method, it may be beneficial to switch up your workouts based on your menstrual cycle and not focus on “pushing it” every step of the way.
Here’s a very general guideline of possible exercise intensities that may be beneficial during the hormone fluctuations around your cycle.
|Phase||What exercise to do|
|Menstrual||Light movements may be best during this stage.|
|Follicular||Try light cardio. Your hormones are still low, especially testosterone. This may cause low stamina.|
|Ovulation||Opt for circuit, high-intensity exercises, as energy may be higher.|
|Luteal||Your body is preparing for another period cycle. Energy levels may be low. Doing light to moderate exercise may be best.|
What workouts should you do?
Exercises according to your cycle
- Menstrual: Rest is key. Pamper yourself. Focus on yin and kundalini yoga and opt for meditative walks through nature rather than pushing yourself.
- Follicular: Keep exercises to hiking, light runs, or more flow-based yoga that works up a sweat.
- Ovulation: Your testosterone and estrogen are peaking, maximizing your potential. Try exercises such as high-intensity interval workouts or a spin class.
- Luteal: During this time, progesterone is on the rise as testosterone and estrogen deplete. Opt for strength training, Pilates, and more intense versions of yoga.
It’s always important to listen to your body and do what feels good. If you feel you can push yourself a little harder, or need to back off more during certain stages, this is OK. Listen to your body!
As a functional nutritionist, Negron leans on food as medicine to address menstrual symptoms. “Oftentimes, women tend to eat the same foods on a regular basis to save time and frustration. But the different ratios of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone throughout the month require different nutritional and detoxification needs. Shaking up what we eat on a week-to-week basis is imperative to support our cyclical body,” she explains.
According to Dr. Mark Hyman, “Imbalances in your hormones are triggered by bad food.” This means removing or limiting sugar, alcohol, and caffeine, especially during the menstrual phase.
Focus on eating whole foods throughout your cycle to help balance your hormones. Eating every three or four hours can also help you manage blood sugar levels and avoid cortisol spikes or mood swings.
|Menstrual||During this phase, your estrogen is on the rise. Drink soothing tea, like chamomile, to combat cramps. Avoid or limit fatty foods, alcohol, caffeine, and salty foods.|
|Follicular||Try to incorporate foods that will metabolize estrogen. Focus on sprouted and fermented foods like broccoli sprouts, kimchi, and sauerkraut.|
|Ovulatory||With your estrogen at an all-time high, you should eat foods that support your liver. Focus on anti-inflammatory foods like whole fruits, vegetables, and almonds. They pack incredible health benefits, including anti-aging properties and protection from environmental toxins, which are known to have an impact on your hormones.|
|Luteal||Estrogen and progesterone both surge and then wane during this period. Eat foods that will produce serotonin, like leafy greens, quinoa, and buckwheat. You’ll also want to focus on magnesium-rich foods that fight fatigue and low libido, like dark chocolate, spinach, and pumpkin seeds.|
Since the luteal phase is before your period, you’ll want to really focus on eating healthy and avoiding any foods that may trigger discomfort or cramps, like caffeine.
Luteal phase don'ts
- carbonated drinks and artificial sweeteners
- red meat
- added salt
Remember, each person’s nutritional requirements are different. One menu plan may not meet all your needs. Nutritional recommendations should be individualized by a professional.
Menstruation is about as taboo as women’s sexuality, but it’s as important.
“I strongly believe normalizing menstruation is a feminist issue. Despite all the social and professional advancement women have made, talking about menstruation is still taboo,” says Negron.
Sara Gottfried, MD, speaks of the “general feeling of ‘meh’” toward sex as having a root cause in hormones. Hormones are always in a balance within the body, so when one increases, it means it’s taking up space of another.
Estrogen dominance and high testosterone (common for PCOS) can rob you of libido. Cortisol, the main stress hormone (known as the “fight-or-flight” hormone) can rob you of sex hormones.
|Menstrual||Cramping? Over 3,500 women who took our survey said orgasms relieve their cramps. But the choice is yours during this restful week. Listen to your body, eat according to cycle-syncing nutrition, and gear up for the month ahead.|
|Follicular||Your sex drive is naturally low, which means you’ll want to increase massaging and touching, rather than penetration. Creative foreplay is key.|
|Ovulatory||During this phase, your estrogen and testosterone are peaking, which makes you most interested in sex (and prime for baby making). Spontaneity can spice things up during this week and keep things exciting and frisky.|
|Luteal||In the bedroom, you’ll need a bit more stimulation to climax. So try out sex toys and fun, brand-new positions.|
In combination with exercising and eating right in time with your cycle, work with your body to fight stress and get creative with sex. You may also want to incorporate aphrodisiac foods regularly into your diet, such as maca and pistachio.
Nutrition is inextricably linked to fertility. An enormous study, conducted by Harvard University, followed 17,544 married nurses, with no history of infertility, for eight years. When the researchers changed five or more aspects of the women’s diet and exercise habits, the women with absent or irregular menstrual cycles boosted their rate of fertility by 80 percent.
The women participating in the study were asked to eat:
- complex carbohydrates, like fiber-filled fruits
- whole grains
- full-fat dairy products (instead of low-fat or nonfat)
- plant proteins, like beans and nuts
|Menstrual||During your period, your body isn’t primed for baby making. (This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t practice safe sex, if you do not want to procreate.) Keep your focus on rest and nutrition, prepping for the month ahead.|
|Follicular||During the week after your period, estrogen and testosterone rise. This triggers the growth of your endometrium lining, which is where an egg will ultimately implant itself, if fertilized.|
|Ovulatory||Your matured egg is released from an ovary and falls into a fallopian tube. It waits there for sperm. If no sperm arrives in 24-36 hours, your egg will disintegrate, and estrogen and testosterone deplete.|
|Luteal||If your egg isn’t fertilized, your body begins to make more progesterone, creating a thicker uterine lining. Near the end of this phase, all hormones decrease. This leads to the breaking down of the endometrium.|
Altering your lifestyle habits around your cycle has been around for centuries, predating modern medicine. As Negron tells us, “Opening up dialogue around menstruation allows us to break down shame and misinformation. If women can’t talk about menstruation, it can be challenging long term for women to be advocates for their own health.”
Remember, everyone’s body is different. Before you begin making lifestyle changes, track your cycle and learn your personal pattern. There are several apps available for this, including Glow, Clue, and Kindara.
It can take up to three months before you can identify approximately how long each phase lasts. By altering your lifestyle to match your hormonal changes, you may be able to eliminate those “hormonal curveballs” for good.
Give yourself the power to know what’s going on in your body. Pay attention to how your body is responding as you practice cycle syncing or any new lifestyle change. In turn, your body will thank you with the attention and care you’re giving it.
Allison Krupp is an American writer, editor, and ghostwriting novelist. Between wild, multi-continental adventures, she resides in Berlin, Germany. Check out her website here.