The inner workings of the human body are closely attuned to different biological rhythms that are constantly flowing inside each of us. In fact, you’ve probably heard of your circadian rhythm, also known as your 24-hour internal clock, which is directly influenced by sunlight and helps guide when it’s time for you to sleep, wake, and eat.
There’s also a lesser-known type of rhythm, known as an infradian rhythm, or a biological cadence that operates on a cycle that’s greater than 24 hours. For women, there is a unique infradian rhythm that fluctuates in accordance with our monthly hormonal cycle. A woman’s infradian rhythm for menstruation can impact everything from her energy level and mood to her appetite and digestion—often the reason behind why you might feel more sluggish and bloated the week before your period and a sudden burst of energy when ovulating.
The good news? It turns out that adjusting your nutrition and lifestyle to support hormonal changes that occur in your body can actually make these shifts feel less drastic. So if you’re looking to optimize hormonal balance, energy, physical fitness, or just want to feel more consistency around these fluctuations, read on to find out how to work with your hormones so you feel your best during “that time of the month” and beyond.
What is cycle syncing?
A study published in The Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics found that hormone fluctuations that occur over the course of a woman’s monthly menstrual cycle play a key role in our body’s responses including things like our mood, energy levels, feelings of attractiveness, pain tolerance, and food cravings. To help work with these natural monthly fluctuations in hormones, functional nutrition and women’s hormone expert Alisa Vitti coined and developed the philosophy of cycle syncing.
Cycle syncing is a specific way of adapting your nutrition, physical activity, and even social plans to the different phases of your menstrual cycle so that your hormonal shifts are in alignment with and supported by the way you fuel and move your body.
Should you try cycle syncing?
At Parsley Health, we often support members in implementing cycle syncing when they are experiencing intense symptoms throughout their cycle such as mood swings, painful periods, or ovulatory pain or looking to optimize their body for fertility and pregnancy. Cycle syncing can help serve as a tool to rebalance hormones and optimize cycle length and fertility.
If you’re a woman in your childbearing years, cycle syncing is a safe practice you can try to develop a stronger awareness around hormonal shifts and learn how to mitigate their effects.
Those who might benefit most from cycle syncing, include people who:
- Have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Are actively trying to conceive or struggling to conceive
- Suffer from chronic fatigue
- Have low libido
- Identify with PMS symptoms such as bloating, cramping, constipation, anxiety, and weight fluctuations
- Experience painful or irregular periods
How does cycle syncing work?
There are four distinct phases of a woman’s cycle including menstrual, follicular, ovulatory, and luteal—with each phase lasting about a week in length. The entire cycle is regulated by the complex interaction of hormones including luteinizing hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone, and the female sex hormones of estrogen and progesterone which will surge and drop throughout the course of the month.
Cycle syncing works by looking at each phase of the cycle through the lens of internal hormonal shifts and extrapolates this into what nutrients should be consumed, what type of exercise may feel best, and what to expect in terms of your mindset and energy level. While the hormonal cascade throughout the menstrual cycle is well-understood, cycle syncing is not an exact science and there are individual hormonal considerations that need to be taken into account.
For Parsley members, your health coach might first recommend that you start tracking your monthly menstrual cycle with an app or by marking the first day of your period each month in your calendar. The goal is to get a clear idea of how many days your cycle is from beginning to end, with most women averaging about 21 to 35 days from period to period. You might need to track for a few months to gauge your personal average.
If you have irregular periods or unpredictable cycles, your Parsley Health provider may recommend hormone testing to help evaluate if and when you’re ovulating during the month. Once you get a clear idea of the length of your cycle, you can start to implement some of the below recommendations during the appropriate phase of the month. Here’s a taste of how we might work with a member to implement cycle syncing.
What to expect: This phase is the easiest to spot (pun intended)—it begins as soon as your period officially arrives. The menstrual phase signifies the shedding of the uterine lining at the end of the cycle. During this phase, hormones are at their lowest and therefore, your energy probably is too. You’ll likely feel a bit more introverted and less likely to want to engage in social interactions. This is the time for looking inward, slowing down, focusing on at-home projects, and giving your body the time it needs to relax and rejuvenate.
What to eat: As you’re shedding your uterine lining and passing blood, nourishing your body with iron-rich foods can help to stabilize energy during this phase including well-sourced red meat, lentils, and dark chocolate (a treat we tend to crave anyways during this time!). Because your energy levels are lower and digestion is an energy-intensive process, we’ll work with you to find easy to digest and energizing foods during this time.
What to focus on for movement: The theme for exercise during menstruation is keeping it restorative. Because your period can leave you feeling lethargic and rundown, your health coach will help you find rejuvenating workouts that leave you feeling energized, without depleting your energetic tank further.
What to expect: Following menstruation, follicle-stimulating hormone levels increase, setting the stage for the development of multiple follicles on the ovary—each of which contains an egg. During the follicular phase, both estrogen and testosterone are rising which directly correlates to an increase in both physical and mental energy levels post-period—likely leaving you to feel more vibrant than the week prior.
What to eat: Match your renewed energy with light, fresh, and colorful foods and living probiotic-rich foods like sauerkraut and yogurt. Your health coach can recommend specific ideas based on your dietary needs and preferences. Boosting vitamin E rich foods like pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, sweet potatoes, and leafy greens can also help to support your growing follicles—especially if you’re hoping to get pregnant!
What to focus on for movement: With this increasing energy, mirroring your workouts to match in increasing intensity works well in the follicular phase. Shift to more heart-rate raising cardiovascular activities as you’ll be better to take on the additional physical strain and recover quickly during this time.
What to expect: Ovulation is the hormonal and energetic peak of your cycle. You might notice a clear, egg-white like discharge that occurs during this phase. This discharge is your cervical mucus which is accumulating to help support the sperm in successfully making its way to meet the egg. With estrogen and testosterone at their highest and progesterone continuing to rise, you’ll notice a boost in your sex drive as the body prepares for fertilization.
What to eat: With natural energy at an all-time high, you might notice a dip in your appetite and less of a need for additional carbs. Increase portions of cruciferous vegetables such as brussels sprouts and broccoli which can support the detoxification of elevated hormones in the liver. Sesame and sunflower seeds are ideal during this phase to snack on, sprinkle in salads, or mix into smoothies during this phase.
What to focus on for movement: During ovulation, you’ll be able to take your workouts up a notch to match your peaking energy levels. Your health coach can work with you to find higher intensity workouts during this time to increase your physical output.
What to expect: This dreaded “week before your period” is marked by the start of common premenstrual symptoms such as bloating, constipation, and lethargy. Oftentimes women will start to become a bit more irritable in the luteal phase as peaking hormone levels quickly drop. You’ll notice a desire to start slowing down—your body’s natural winding down of energy in preparation for your upcoming period.
What to eat: Sugar cravings are common during the luteal phase as energy levels are low. To refrain from overindulging on sweets, include foods rich in B-vitamins, calcium, magnesium, and fiber that can all help to curb cravings for refined sugar. Swap refined carbs with more fiber-rich, complex choices. Your health coach can work with you to figure out an eating schedule that better serves your cravings and reduces bloating during this time.
What to focus on for movement: Energy goes from high to low in this phase so stay attuned to how you feel throughout this week—adjusting your workouts accordingly with the help of your health coach.
Everybody is different, and despite expected patterns in energy and mood based on hormones, your specific system might operate differently.
Cycle syncing is just one method Parsley Health doctors and health coaches may use to help members resolve hormonal imbalances. In-depth testing, personalized medical plans, and targeted diet, supplements, and lifestyle changes are all important components in getting to the root of a hormonal issue and bringing the body back into balance.