Harmony. Alignment. The perfect match. Being in sync is generally a wonderful thing, and the same goes for your menstrual cycle. Cycle syncing is a trending health and wellness practice that’s all about living in harmony with your menstrual cycle so that you can feel your best.
The idea behind cycle syncing is that female reproductive hormones fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle, and by adjusting your lifestyle habits to match, you can optimize your physical and mental health. Recommendations often include lifestyle adjustments to nutrition and type and intensity of physical activity.
While cycle syncing may be a supportive health practice, it should not take the place of seeking out professional health advice for those who are struggling with difficult cycle issues such as very heavy bleeding or regularly missed periods.
By aligning lifestyle habits with different phases of the menstrual cycle, some people report experiencing the following benefits:
A healthy menstrual cycle is generally discussed as a 28 day cycle. For some people, however, anywhere between 23-35 days may be a healthy normal range. Usually consistency in length from cycle to cycle is one baseline indicator of a healthy cycle. We’ll use 28 days as our reference point in the following discussion.
This phase begins the new menstrual cycle with the first day of period bleeds, which are called menses. This generally can last anywhere from 3-7 days and should include at least one day of medium to heavier bleeding. A healthy bleeding pattern is a sign of sufficient hormonal activity in your previous cycle. Too much or too little bleeding can be a sign of hormonal imbalance.
Following the end of bleeding, the follicular phase is underway as the ovaries are preparing a follicle with an egg inside to eventually be released at ovulation. Estrogen generally is on the rise during this phase and is the dominant hormone. Some people may experience increasing secretions of cervical mucus which can be a sign of upcoming fertility.
The ovulatory phase, which sometimes is just considered part of the follicular phase, is when ovulation occurs. Ovulation is the release of the unfertilized egg from the follicle into the fallopian tubes. In general, the egg is viable to be fertilized for about 24 hours. If fertilization does not occur, the egg is reabsorbed into the body. Estrogen reaches its peak during ovulation.
Signs that ovulation is imminent may include a positive LH test strip (LH stands for luteinizing hormone, which spikes before ovulation), a slight dip and then quick spike in basal body temperature, and slippery cervical mucus.
After ovulation occurs, the body moves into the luteal phase, where progesterone becomes the dominant hormone for a good portion of the phase. During this time, progesterone functions to thicken the endometrium to prepare for potential implantation of a fertilized egg. Since there is generally a 6-12 day gap in time between ovulation and implantation, the endometrial lining is thickened regardless of whether or not fertilization happened.
If fertilization and implantation does occur, then the endometrium will become the protective and nourishing environment for a developing fetus. If implantation does not occur, then progesterone and estrogen levels will drop near the end of the luteal phase, setting off a cascade of physiological processes that result in shedding of the endometrial lining and initiating the next cycle.
The following exercise tips may be beneficial, but remember to listen to your body to choose to move in a way that feels best for you in the different phases of your cycle.
The following exercises may help to align your movement with your level of energy and focus.
Nutrition may help to support balanced levels of the hormones that naturally change in each phase of the cycle.
Eating iron-rich foods such as red meat, poultry, fish, lentils, and dark leafy greens can help replenish iron lost through menstrual bleeding and reduce fatigue and weakness.
Foods rich in magnesium, such as pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, almonds, cashews, and spinach may help reduce period discomfort through managing prostaglandins, promoting relaxation of the uterus, and managing fluid retention that can be common during the menstrual phase also known as the period.
Higher levels of prostaglandins during the period may lead to loose stools in some people. Eating foods with soluble fiber such as fruit, oats, and ground flaxseeds during the period may help to add bulk to the stools.
During this phase, the metabolic rate is slower and cortisol levels are lower. Cravings may be at their lowest, which is a nice bonus. As estrogen levels rise during this phase, focus on foods that support estrogen metabolism (breakdown) in the liver and gut. These include cruciferous vegetables, especially broccoli sprouts, ground flaxseeds. Omega-3-rich fish, such as salmon and sardines, can also help support estrogen metabolism.
You can also eat to support healthy follicle formation. Foods rich in antioxidants, which include vitamins C and E, and phytochemicals (plant nutrients), can be a big help. Antioxidants are also associated with better progesterone levels during the luteal phase, which you can start preparing for in the follicular phase. Foods rich in vitamin C include citrus fruits, strawberries, broccoli, and peppers. Foods rich in vitamin E include sunflower seeds, almonds, and olive oil. Other foods rich in other antioxidants include dark leafy greens, berries, and herbs and spices.
Since estrogen levels hit their peak during this phase, nutrition to support estrogen metabolism in the follicular phase continues to be important here. Get enough fiber in any phase – but also in the ovulatory phase – to help excrete estrogen metabolites through healthy bowel movements.
Metabolic rate is at its highest during this period, which you can tell by rising basal body temperature and increased appetite. Be sure to eat enough calories each day, including adequate amounts of protein and healthy fats.
When estrogen and progesterone hormone levels drop near the end of the luteal phase prior to the next period, serotonin levels drop, which can lead to PMS related symptoms such as mood swings and cravings. Consuming foods with complex carbohydrates with a low glycemic index, such as whole grains, may be helpful to boost mood and energy and healthily satisfy cravings. Bananas and dark chocolate both contain the amino acid tryptophan, which is the precursor to serotonin.
Foods rich in magnesium mentioned for the menstrual phase can also help in the luteal phase, as well to promote menstrual cycle comfort.
Cycle syncing can support hormone balance, which can help optimize fertility. Healthier estrogen levels, estrogen metabolism, and nutrient sufficiency in the first half of the cycle can support healthy follicle formation and a strong ovulation. A strong ovulation, in turn, is what sets off progesterone production, which is needed for managing PMS and supporting a healthy pregnancy.
Libido shifts throughout the cycle with the highest sex drive occurring during the ovulatory phase. This makes sense that a higher sex drive occurs during the most fertile time – it gives you the best opportunity for achieving pregnancy. During the end of the cycle, when female reproductive hormones drop, libido takes a dip as well. Of course, arousal during sex is still possible during the luteal phase, but it may just require a bit more effort in stimulation.
Maca is a native Peruvian root that has been used traditionally to support fertility and libido. One study found that daily supplementation with 3 grams of maca daily boosted sexual desire in both men and women. Maca is a powerful adaptogen and may work its magic through promoting a more optimal functioning of the HPA axis (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis). Adaptogenic herbs like Ashwagandha can also help manage cravings while also supporting sexual wellness.
In addition to syncing your food intake with your cycle, supplements can further help sync your cycle to promote hormone balance.
Anyone who experiences menstruation can benefit from cycle syncing, regardless of age or reproductive status. It's especially helpful for people who want to optimize their physical and mental health and improve their overall wellbeing.
People with irregular menstrual cycles may especially benefit, since cycle syncing can help you better understand and track your cycle and may provide insights into potential hormonal imbalances or health issues.
If you experience symptoms of PMS – such as mood swings, bloating, or fatigue – cycle syncing may help you reduce the severity of these symptoms by making adjustments to your lifestyle habits.
Athletes and fitness enthusiasts may get a leg up with cycle syncing. Syncing your exercise routine with your menstrual cycle may help to optimize your performance and reduce the risk of injury.
A good rule of thumb is to give yourself at least three months of consistently committing to cycle syncing strategies in order to see results. The great news is that you can start cycle syncing at any time.
If you cycle sync, you should track your cycle. Cycle tracking apps can be a helpful tool to keep your tracking data all in one place and easily analyze patterns over time.
Some helpful data to track your cycle can include:
While apps are a great way to get started, there are also excellent Fertility Awareness Methods (FAMs) and fertility care practitioners (FCPs) that can help you further understand your menstrual health and how to track your cycle. This can be helpful for all people to gain self-knowledge even when not desiring to get pregnant, as well as those who want to naturally plan for family life by being able to intentionally choose when or when not to try for pregnancy.
There’s currently no research that has distinctly studied cycle syncing as a whole. Rather, cycle syncing is based on a vast amount of evidence on the many nutrition and lifestyle factors that affect the menstrual cycle and how these factors can be best harnessed to optimize menstrual health.
Many of the popular lifestyle adjustments related to cycle syncing, such as supporting sleep and doing physical activity that feels best given your energy levels, are generally good practice anyway, so cycle syncing can be supportive and effective.
At the heart of cycle syncing is aligning your lifestyle with what your body needs to be nourished, which is undeniably good practice. Cycle syncing’s overarching goal is to promote hormone balance, which may show up as more regular periods, less severe PMS symptoms, better libido, and steadier energy. Understanding how your hormones and other health parameters naturally fluctuate throughout your cycle can help you pay attention to your body’s needs and sync your exercise and nutrition accordingly, with perhaps the greatest outcome being greater self-awareness.