Cycle Syncing: How to Optimise your food & exercise during different menstrual cycle phases
CYCLE SYNCING IS A PRACTICE WHEREBY YOU ALTER YOUR DIET AND EXERCISE ROUTINE (AND EVEN OTHER LIFESTYLE FACTORS LIKE YOUR SOCIAL CALENDAR) AROUND DIFFERENT PHASES OF YOUR MENSTRUAL CYCLE TO SUPPORT AND OPTIMISE HOW YOU FEEL.
As a woman, we are constantly in a dynamic state of change with fluctuating hormones day by day and throughout our menstrual cycle that changes the way we feel. Our energy is affected, our moods change, our body changes, even our strength and flexibility changes. Yet with all this change occurring daily, as women we often expect to feel the same and to be able to perform the same daily. For a lot of women this can feel frustrating, like their body is working against them (something I used to feel).
The idea behind cycle syncing is to work with our body, work with our flow, not against it. And by doing this we are in a better position to achieve the results we are after - improved energy, better moods, improved body composition, reduced period problems - by supporting the production (or metabolism and detoxification) of hormones at different stages of our cycle.
Curious? Go on girl, read more…
Note: I have explained this going by a “typical” 28 day cycle. Some women have shorter or longer cycles and some women with 28 day cycles may ovulate slightly later in her cycle. Either way your follicular phase is prior to ovulation, and luteal phase is post ovulation and ends at your period. Tracking your cycle to predict ovulation can help if you are unsure when you ovulate.
Day 1-4: Menstrual (Follicular) Phase
Hormones (oestrogen & progesterone) are at their lowest right now and iron levels are dropping so it’s normal to feel low in energy, feel more inward and slow.
Focus on warming foods – soups, stews, slow cooked meals and curries; anti-inflammatory foods (oily fish, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, berries, broccoli) to reduce any cramping; and iron rich foods (red meat, chicken, fish, dark leafy greens) to begin replenishing iron stores. Pair iron foods with vitamin C rich foods (citrus, capsicum, tomatoes, berries) to increase iron absorption. Add 1 tablespoon of flaxseed (freshly ground) and 1 tablespoon of pumpkin seeds daily - these seeds contain phytoestrogens which help improve the ratio of oestrogen metabolites to the favourable 2-hydroxyestrone (the protective estrogen), instead of the 16a- & 4-hydroxyestrone (associated with an increased risk of oestrogen dominance disorders and some cancers such as breast cancer).
Slow rejuvenating exercise like walking, pilates and yin yoga is great here, or take a couple of days to rest and rejuvenate.
Day 4-14: Follicular Phase
Your hormone levels are starting to rise during this phase as your body is preparing a egg to be released. Oestrogen (and testosterone in smaller amounts) is on the rise so energy begins to pick up and you’ll feel more confident. Oestrogen is an anabolic hormone (meaning it helps things grow, like our endometrial lining), so we are at our strongest during this phase.
Protein and cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, cabbage) are important during this time 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 nourish growing follicles. We are also more insulin sensitive, so our bodies can tolerate more carbs and calories, particularly if you’re increasing your strength training.
Heavy weights, HIIT, high volume and more intense workouts are great right now!
Day 15: Ovulation
Oestrogen is peaking right now so you should be feeling amazing! Libido peaks around ovulation too! Right now your body is releasing an egg to be ready for fertilisation. Some women experience a little fluid retention around ovulation, and mild constipation, crampiness, or nausea are not uncommon.
Water and fibre are essential to reduce fluid retention. Parsley, celery, nigella seeds, green tea can also help, as can avoiding highly salty foods. Vitamin B rich foods (whole grains, meat, eggs, dairy, nuts and seeds) support the release of an egg.
Energy & strength is high - hit the weights, HIIT, or spin classes and aim for a PB!
Day 16-28: Luteal Phase
Progesterone is on the rise - our fat burning, temperature regulating, pro-gestational hormone. You’ll start off feeling normal, however over the 2 weeks mood may begin to decline and PMS symptoms may begin. You may start to feel a little more introverted, sluggish and cuddly. This is because oestrogen is declining and with it, serotonin levels drop. Progesterone increases metabolic rate, so hunger levels go up and we tend to crave salty, fatty and carb rich foods.
You are less insulin sensitive in this phase, so it’s a great time to lower the carbohydrates and increase hormone loving fats. Sunflower seeds and tahini (aim for 1 tablespoon each daily) are great as they contain lignans that help increase progesterone and get rid of excess oestrogen. Magnesium rich foods such as spinach, dark chocolate (or cacao powder), legumes, avocado, banana, raspberries, salmon and tuna are also great to help alleviate PMS. Hunger levels are super high so it’s normal to crave more food, don’t feel guilty for reaching for that extra snack. Choose your favourite healthy comforting meals as hunger rises so you feel satisfied, and “bulk” out your meals with more fibrous veggies to promote satiety (feeling of fullness).
Higher volume/reps and lower weights are best in this phase rather than heavy strength training - for those who weight train, a deload week is a good idea the week prior to your period when strength and energy are low. As energy levels decline, reduce exercise intensity and switch to relaxing movements like walking, yoga and pilates.
Please use this as a guide only and always listen to how your body is feeling. Be kind and gentle to your body! 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.
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