The main difference between women of reproductive age and men is that women are cyclical beings. While it can be tempting to want to force the female body to perform like a man, ie. with consistency each day this is simply not the case for cycling women. The hormones of the menstrual cycle work very tightly with our neurotransmitters and can affect nearly all aspects of how a woman feels from day to day. A study published in the archives of gynecology and obstetrics confirmed that a woman’s fluctuating menstrual cycle hormones play a crucial role in how the female body responds to stimuli (1). Fluctuating hormones can change responses to overall energy, appetite, mood and thought processes. In fact, the female brain even changes structure every month in response to the different phases of the menstrual cycle.
Cycle syncing is essentially the process of syncing different factors of life to fall more in line with hormones in the menstrual cycle. It involves adjusting foods, exercise workouts, socialising, work commitments and schedules etc. The idea is that the more women learn to work with their hormones and menstrual cycles instead of against them, the less symptomatic their cycles can be leading to more balanced hormones. Although we have a fair amount of evidence outlining the very different physiological and psychological changes of the woman each month, there is very little available evidence to suggest that cycle syncing works. This does not mean that it doesn’t work, it just means that no one has studied this idea adequately enough. In my opinion, cycle syncing works mainly in two different ways: by reducing stress and giving the body the nourishment it needs and desires at different times.
To understand how to cycle sync, a general understanding of how the menstrual cycle works must come first. Please read my article on understanding the menstrual cycle here: https://hazelandcacao.com/understanding-the-menstrual-cycle/
The menstrual cycle can be divided into four distinct phases. Each phase is governed by differing levels of hormones. Feeling unwell in any of the phases may offer valuable insight into hormonal imbalances. The following is a rough guideline of the type of changes that can be seen in most women, however, each woman is different and can respond differently. Eg. some women have the most energy during their bleed while many others will feel their energy is at its lowest during the bleed. Some women feel happy and energetic in the follicular phase while others can feel low in energy, sad and have intrusive thoughts. Sometimes these differences can point to different imbalances but sometimes it’s just a normal variation between women.
Menstrual phase: Day 1-7
Food: food during the menstrual phase should be focused on warming comforting calorie sufficient meals. During the beginning of the bleed, the body requires extra calories. Near the end of the bleed appetite will start to decrease. The focus should be on iron-rich food to replenish iron lost in menstrual blood as well as electrolyte-rich foods to help replenish the mineral balance in the body. If there is period pain a focus on anti-inflammatory pain-relieving foods should also be considered. For a more in-depth look at the best foods to eat in the menstrual phase read this blog post: https://hazelandcacao.com/how-to-eat-plant-based-for-your-cycle-menstrual-phase/ Here is another post on the best foods for period pain: https://hazelandcacao.com/the-best-plant-based-foods-to-help-with-period-pain/
Mood & energy: Mood during the menstrual phase is usually more introverted and introspective. Women will likely crave more alone time. During the menstrual phase, hormones are flatlined, many women will feel an immediate sense of relief following the tension of PMS and moods become more stable, however as hormones are low having healthy neurotransmitters is crucial. Low serotonin (which is sometimes caused by low estrogen) can show up near the end of the bleeding phase which can manifest as depression and anxiety and intrusive thoughts. Overall energy is usually at the lowest it will be all month at the beginning of the menstrual cycle before gradually starting to pick up again, usually around day 3-5.
Exercise: Exercise during the bleeding phase should be kept at a minimum. Rest should be prioritised. Gentle walks and stretches can be beneficial but any exercise that heats the body up can actually increase period flow leading to heavier periods. Exercise that is too strenuous for the body during the bleed can exhaust energy leading to fatigue and irritability.
Work: If possible slower-paced jobs are preferable at this time of the month. During menstruation, the left and right hemispheres of the brain are more aligned making it the perfect time to plan for the month ahead.
Socialising and relationships: During the first part of the bleed the desire to socialise is low. Most women crave more alone time and rest during this period.
Follicular phase: Day 7-12
Food: appetite in the follicular phase is lower than in other parts of the month. The focus should be on light fresh foods, more raw foods and salads. Blood sugar is naturally more stable and the body has an increased ability to deal with carbohydrates during this phase. The focus should be on light fresh and vibrant foods that focus on metabolising estrogen well. Leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables as well as foods rich in phytoestrogens are great in assisting the liver in processing rising estrogen and helping the gut microbiome manage estrogen excretion and reabsorption. For a more in-depth look at the best foods to eat in the follicular phase read my article here:https://hazelandcacao.com/how-to-eat-plant-based-for-your-cycle-follicular-phase/
Mood & energy: As estrogen begins to rise in the follicular phase so does serotonin and dopamine. This generally leads to increased feelings of motivation and a more steady happy mood. Energy is also slowly increasing during this phase.
Exercise: rising energy means an increased ability to exercise. A variety of different workouts can be enjoyed during the follicular phase including cardio and strength training and everything in between. The follicular phase is a good time to build muscle as estrogen is helpful for this. Strength training could be prioritised in this phase. While some women feel great during high-intensity exercises during this phase it’s important to remember that too much exercise can raise cortisol levels which can delay ovulation and cause fatigue, especially for women that have lower estrogen levels.
Work: The follicular phase is a time when women start to feel motivation rise, estrogen also makes the brain more creative and relaxed meaning the follicular phase can be a good time to experiment with new ideas at work, start new projects and put in some good hours of work.
Socialising & relationships: estrogen makes women crave and need more socialising, this is a good time to hang out with friends and go out with others in groups or different gatherings. Rising estrogen also leads to an increase in libido, however, it is also the beginning of the fertile period where pregnancy is possible so women need to be mindful of this if they do not wish to get pregnant.
Ovulatory phase: day 12-19
Food: foods in the ovulatory phase are similar to foods in the follicular phase, however a slow increase in appetite will usually be noticed around ovulation which will continue to rise. At this point estrogen is reaching its highest point so a large focus on estrogen-metabolising foods during this phase is a good idea, this will ensure fewer PMS symptoms in the following phase. Some women can also become more sensitive to different allergies and intolerances at ovulation because estrogen increases histamine in the body. It may be helpful for some women to consume immune-boosting antihistamine foods during this phase. This is a particularly important time to avoid alcohol as alcohol can double estrogen levels and lead to more severe PMS symptoms in the next phase. For a more in-depth look at the best foods to eat for the ovulatory phase, you can read my article here: https://hazelandcacao.com/how-to-eat-plant-based-for-the-menstrual-cycle-ovulatory-phase/
Mood & energy: If hormones are balanced ovulation should be the best part of the menstrual cycle for most women. At this point energy is the highest, the mood is most happy and stable and anxiety is low. It is also possible that impulsive decisions can be made during this phase as women are more likely to act on feelings rather than logic. Some women can feel a distinct and severe shift in their body during ovulation which may come with PMS type symptoms for about 24 hours. Although ovulation itself only lasts for 12-24 hours, the ovulation phase usually encompasses a few days prior to ovulation and a few days after usually about days 12-19 of the menstrual cycle. This will be entirely dependent on when ovulation actually occurs in the cycle as the timing of ovulation is not fixed and can change from month to month. Similarly, some women that have more intense PMS may notice a much shorter time when they feel well during the ovulatory phase.
Exercise: This is a time of peak performance for most women as energy is the highest. Exercise can be similar to follicular phase exercises but can be performed at a higher intensity. The body is also more adept at cardio exercise in this phase.
Work: ovulation is the most confident part of the cycle so it can be a time to speak up or make bold decisions with work. As the ovaries start producing progesterone the mind slowly becomes more task-orientated and goal-motivated. It’s generally a good time to push at work and get things done but careful attention should be taken not to overcommit during this time as ovulation energy doesn’t last forever.
Socialising and relationships: Ovulation is the most social time of the month. It is the time when women most like to spend with others and is the time when women are most self-sacrificing. Communication skills are enhanced during this phase. At this point, libido is the highest and pregnancy is the most possible especially leading up to and during ovulation. A few days post ovulation itself, libido begins to drop under the influence of progesterone.
Luteal: day 20-30
Food: progesterone increases appetite. Most women need about 200-300 calories more during the luteal phase. A special emphasis should be placed on warming and comforting food rich in magnesium and vitamin b6 to help minimise PMS. This is usually the time when PMS cravings can occur. Paying attention to what the cravings are can give valuable insight into different hormonal imbalances. Blood sugar becomes less steady during this time and more emphasis should be put on protein and fat to help stabliased blood sugar and control mood. For a more in-depth look into the best foods for the luteal phase, read my blog article here:https://hazelandcacao.com/how-to-eat-plant-based-for-the-menstrual-cycle-luteal-phase/
Mood & Energy: energy slowly starts to drop off in the luteal phase. PMS is common but not normal. Moods can become more unsteady and erratic, irritability, anxiety and depression are more common during this phase especially if hormones are not well balanced. If hormones are well balanced minimal PMS symptoms should be felt and the mood will be calm but slower.
Exercise: as energy starts to decrease, the intensity of exercise should also decrease. This is a good time for more restorative exercises like gentle pilates, yoga, walking etc especially a few days before the period is due.
Work: during the luteal phase the brain becomes much more detail orientated. It becomes more sensitive to flaws and takes on a perfectionist role. This is a good time to finish up projects and add the finishing touches or review work and perfect the work you have already completed throughout the month.
Socialising and relationships: women generally become more introverted during the luteal phase of the month and desire less activity and less communication with others. While some social interaction can still be desirable it’s usually less high energy and more deep and meaningful. Libido drops off significantly under the influence of progesterone although a slight increase in libido may be noticed with the small increase of estrogen right before the arrival of the next period.