- Throughout your menstrual cycle, your hormones shift, causing you to feel and act differently depending on the time of the month.
- Cycle syncing is when you adapt your diet, exercise routine, social calendar, and even important work engagements to the different phases of your monthly menstrual cycle.
- There are four phases of the menstrual cycle: menstruation, follicular, ovulatory, and luteal.
- Research shows that fluctuating female sex hormones influence mood, energy levels, attractiveness, pain tolerance, and food cravings.
You may have noticed that immediately following your period, you start to feel a surge of energy. Suddenly that spinning class seems pretty appealing. Or halfway through your cycle, you’re feeling especially confident and your social calendar is jam-packed. These patterns aren’t random. Throughout your menstrual cycle, your hormones shift, causing you to feel and act differently depending on the time of the month. So it figures that adjusting your behavior to support your body as it navigates these changes could help you feel your best. That’s where a relatively new biohacking trend called cycle syncing comes in. The concept was invented by functional nutritionist Alisa Vitti in WomanCode, her seminal work on the topic (Vitti is also the creator of the MyFLO period tracking app.) Download this handy cycle syncing chart to get started.
RELATED: Get free guides, ebooks, recipes and more to supercharge your health
What is cycle syncing?
Cycle syncing is when you adapt your diet, exercise routine, social calendar, and even important work engagements to the different phases of your monthly menstrual cycle. That way, you give your body the support it needs, rather than pushing it to perform at the same high level at all times.
“During a woman’s menstrual cycle, awareness of how our hormones and brainwaves shift can support us to harness the cyclical energy and power of our fertility for greater health, creativity, and manifestation,” says Kara Maria Ananda, a women’s health educator and founder of Maia University, an online holistic wellness program for women.
If syncing your cycle sounds a bit hokey, research shows that fluctuating female sex hormones — primarily estrogen and progesterone — during a woman’s menstrual cycle influence her mood, energy levels, attractiveness, pain tolerance, and the types of foods she wants to eat.  Some studies suggest that switching up what you eat and how you exercise during the different phases could even help you lose weight.
“I like to think of it as menstrual cycle self-care or leveraging your hormonal energy through your cycle,” says Jolene Brighten, a functional medicine naturopathic doctor and the founder of Rubus Health — a women’s medicine clinic that specializes in the treatment of hormone disorders.
Related: Listen to Brighten chat with Dave about women’s health on a Bulletproof Radio (iTunes) episode
Should you do it?
The short answer is yes, every woman can benefit from syncing their cycle. It can be especially helpful if you:
- are trying to conceive
- have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal disorder that can affect your fertility
- struggle with PMS symptoms such as anxiety, bloating, cramping, and weight gain
- experience heavy, painful, or irregular periods
- are struggling to get pregnant
- have low libido
Women have been conditioned to think they’re meant to be the same all the time — active, productive, and ready for sex at any point during their cycle, says Katinka Locascio, founder of Earth & Sky Healing Arts, a wellness center focusing on women’s health and natural fertility.
Cycle syncing is about “reteaching people to be in their body and accepting that women are cyclical in nature, and there’s real power to that and you can harness it,” she says. “When your cycle is all out of whack, you can tie yourself into certain cyclical rhythms and use that as a tool to rebalance.”
If you’re on hormonal contraception like the birth control pill, you’re not going to experience the same phases as you would on a natural cycle. Hormonal contraceptives release synthetic forms of estrogen and progesterone that alter your natural hormone levels — this stops your body ovulating. You can still monitor how you feel throughout the month and make adjustments, but your symptoms won’t always mirror those felt during a natural cycle.
How to get started
The first step is to get in touch with your body, says Locascio, especially if you’ve recently come off hormonal birth control, which puts you out of touch with your natural rhythms. Take note of what foods you’re craving or what your energy levels are like at different times of the month.
“It’s such a big step for people to even get into their bodies,” says Locascio. “Start with observation, then begin to track your cycle.”
You’ll also want to figure out the length of your menstrual cycle. You can do this by using a period tracking app like MyFLO or Period Calendar, or simply mark the first day of your period on a calendar, and count the days from there until your next period begins. Do this for a couple of months and you should get a good idea of the length of your cycle.
Cycle syncing phases
Next up, you’ll want to get familiar with the different phases of your cycle. Doctors divide a woman’s cycle up into three phases: follicular (which includes menstruation and the week or so following it), ovulatory, and luteal. But for the purposes of cycle syncing, menstruation is viewed as its own phase, since how women feel then is different from the later portion of the follicular phase. Read on to find out what’s happening in your body throughout the month, and the best foods, exercise, and mental activities for each phase.
Menstrual phase (Days 1 to 7)
The menstrual phase starts the first day that you see blood. During your monthly cycle, your uterus (aka your womb) lining gets thicker and thicker with blood, tissue, and nutrients. If you don’t get pregnant that month, your estrogen and progesterone levels start to drop. This causes your uterus to shed the built-up lining — the blood known as your period.
How you feel: During your period, you’re naturally drawn inward. Take the time to slow down and tune in so you can store up energy for the rest of your cycle, says Ananda.
“We have higher levels of delta brainwave activity during menstruation, which increases our desire for rest providing rejuvenation, and can lead to increased creativity and flow states,” she says.
This phase is also about letting go, so examine things that are no longer serving you and release them. “This is a good time for some serious self-reflection and strategizing as both lobes of your brain are highly engaged with one another,” says Brighten. Try journaling or creating a vision board of your goals for the coming month or year.
What to eat: Focus on warm and nourishing foods like stews, soups, lightly cooked dark leafy greens, and iron-rich foods like grass-fed meat. “Now is a good time to be eating iron and B-vitamin-rich foods to support blood loss and energy,” says Brighten.
Make sure you’re getting plenty of omega-3 fatty acids — research shows that healthy fats reduce common PMS symptoms including depression, tender breasts, and bloating. Load up on wild salmon and take a high-quality omega-3 supplement. Krill oil is a great choice — it’s more effective than omega-3 fish oil at treating PMS symptoms because the fats found in krill oil are more easily absorbed by the body.
Try: Homemade Collagen Bone Broth Recipe; Paleo Steak Bowl; Wild Baked Salmon With Asparagus & Fennel
How to exercise: Your energy is at its lowest at the start of your period. “Your hormones drop in order to trigger menstruation, which can leave you fatigued and feeling the need to take it slow,” says Brighten.
Honor your body’s needs by carving out time for some self-care or pampering, like a massage or a nap. If you do exercise, “aim for gentle yoga, pilates, walking, and save the high-intensity interval training (HIIT) for later in your cycle,” add Brighten. It’s best to avoid high-impact workouts since they can stress uterine ligaments. You’re also more sensitive to pain during this phase.
Follicular phase (Days 8 to 13)
During this phase, your hormone levels slowly start to rise. The pituitary gland in the brain releases follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), which helps grow up to 30 follicles (small sacs of fluid in the ovaries). Each follicle holds an egg. Later in the phase, only one of these follicles keeps growing. It starts to produce estrogen, which thickens the uterine lining to prepare for implantation of the fertilized egg.
As hormones start to increase during this phase, so too will your energy levels and mental alertness. “In this phase we grow, expand and kick ass,” says Brighten.
How you feel: Your brain is sharp and you’re ready to problem solve. You’re also feeling social and ready to mingle. “This is the prime time to plot your world domination, so if you’ve been procrastinating on your next goal then now is the time to make your move,” says Brighten. Try new activities — join that hiking club or take a cooking class. If possible, schedule work strategy meetings during this time.
What to eat: Fill your plate with protein and vegetables to keep your estrogen levels in check. Opt for pasture-raised eggs and wild-caught fish. You also want to eat foods high in vitamin E like sweet potatoes and leafy greens — these nourish the growing follicles.
Try: Wild Salmon With Buttered Kale; Zoodle Nests With Baked Eggs; Sweet Potato Salmon Avocado Toast
How to exercise: More intense workouts will start to feel good. “As testosterone and estrogen rise, you’ll find that heavy weights, HIIT, and challenging exercise feels revitalizing,” says Brighten. Try something you’ve never done before like dance or acroyoga.
Ovulatory phase (Days 14 to 21)
Ovulation begins with a surge of luteinizing hormone, which causes the follicle to rupture and release the mature egg from the ovary. Once released, the egg travels down the fallopian tube, where it may meet with passing sperm and become fertilized.
You know you’re ovulating — and therefore fertile — when you notice a change in your vaginal discharge. It becomes clear and stretchy, like raw egg whites — that’s your cervical mucus. Rising estrogen levels cause your cervix to release more mucus, which helps protect the sperm as it travels to meet the egg. Testosterone also starts to increase, putting you in the mood for sex.
How you feel: This is the time to have that difficult conversation you’ve been avoiding. “During ovulation, your beta brainwave activity is high, increasing alertness and enhancing learning,” says Ananda. “It’s an ideal time in your cycle for networking, public speaking, and starting new projects.” You’re also in the mood for love. “This is a time when you’ll be feeling frisky, so consider scheduling a date night during this phase,” says Brighten.
What to eat: Load up on cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, and bok choy. They’re rich in glutathione, an antioxidant that can help your body flush out toxins, including excess estrogen. Or take oral glutathione that’s been encapsulated in medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) -based lipids — this makes it easier for the antioxidant to penetrate the gut lining. Take two a day plus vitamin C to aid absorption. Try: Glutathione Force
Also reach for magnesium-rich foods like spinach and dark chocolate, since a good supply of magnesium helps balance estrogen and progesterone, says Brighten. Foods high in vitamin B like eggs and pasture-raised meat are also a good idea — these help support the release of your egg and aid implantation, if you’re trying to get pregnant.
Try: Bacon Mashed Cauliflower; Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad With Lemon Thyme Vinaigrette
How to exercise: You’ll be revved up and ready to go. Choose high-impact workouts and group settings like a spinning class. “You’ll likely find yourself wanting to connect with community more, which can make a group fitness class a great choice at this time,” says Brighten.
Luteal phase (Days 22 to 28)
If a sperm has fertilized an egg (known as conception), the fertilized egg will travel through the fallopian tube to the uterus, where it will implant in the uterine lining. Progesterone and estrogen levels are at their peak during most of this phase — they help thicken the uterine lining to prepare for implantation. If the egg isn’t fertilized, progesterone and estrogen levels drop, and your uterus will shed the lining (aka your period).
How you feel: Your attention is starting to turn inward and you’re feeling a desire to nest and spend time at home. This is a good time to take care of administrative tasks. “You’re thinking a bit more out of the box here and wanting to get things done,” says Brighten. “Let those creative juices flow and leverage this phase for some major manifesting.”
What to eat: Choose earthy, grounding foods like soups and root vegetables, such as sweet potatoes and yams. Organic blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries are rich in bioflavonoids and vitamin C, “which supports health progesterone production, estrogen elimination and can help curb cravings without spiking your blood sugar,” says Brighten.
Continue eating pasture-raised meat, healthy fats, and foods like kale, carrots, and broccoli that “are essential in helping keep neurotransmitters balanced and ward off PMS symptoms,” adds Brighten.
Try: Strawberries and Cream Rice Pudding; Sweet Potato Skins With Rosemary Ground Beef and Avocado
How to exercise: You’ll want to start winding down your exercise during this phase, but keep moving if you can, since working out boosts your mood and reduces bloating. “You might find yourself having moments of high energy followed by dips,” says Brighten. “Individualize your exercise for how you feel that day and honor what your body needs.”
Aim for more restorative exercise like stretching and yoga right before your period begins. “Your womb doubles in weight and size by end of the cycle,” says Locascio. “If you’re doing a massive jog right before your period, you’re jostling that around.”