Being a woman is inherently and beautifully dynamic. Because of that, waking up feeling different during every phase of our cycle is totally justified. Your hormone levels change and shift all throughout your cycle. As a result, you’re never in the same hormonal state twice in a month. Women define flexibility, change, and going with the flow. That’s why understanding cycle syncing—and practicing it for yourself—is so key for experiencing optimal well-being.
Cycle syncing is founded on this idea of an ever-changing cascade of hormones. By tracking your cycle, you can tune in to the hormonal fluctuations that take place over the month. From there, you can structure everything in your life accordingly—your eating habits, movement routines, and even skin care practices—to promote optimum function. The result is an increased sense of balance in your everyday life.
Curious to learn more about cycle syncing? Ahead, learn how to track your cycle, plus get tips to feel your best throughout every phase.
Featured image from our interview with Jules Acree by Michelle Nash.
Before Diving In
In current medicine, women’s health and hormones are consistently moving target. What we know changes often, and there are many pieces to women’s health that simply have not yet been well researched. The practice of cycle syncing feels innate and promotes supportive nutrition and the practice of tuning in to your body.
All women can benefit from better understanding our bodies. Additionally, how I’m teaching cycle syncing in this article only works for women who do not use hormonal birth control.
In this article, we’re focusing primarily on what to eat throughout each phase of your cycle. However, it’s important to also pay attention to how you move your body and support your skin. For deeper dives into both topics, read more about cycle syncing workouts and cycle syncing for skin.
Cycle Syncing: What to Know
By now, you’ve probably heard of cycle or period tracking apps. I recommend CLUE, but almost any will do. You just need to know what your cycle looks like over a month.
Compare your cycle to the information below and start to figure out where and when you are in which phase. The most accurate results in regard to timing will come once you have three to four months of data.
Editor’s note: This article is not meant to be used in place of medical care. Please consult your medical provider before beginning any treatment.
The Menstrual Phase (Day 1-5)
The lining of the uterus is shedding during the menstrual phase. Hormones are at an all-time low at the beginning of your cycle and begin to increase to more stable levels at the end of your period. You are losing blood and iron and prostaglandins (which cause cramping) are peaking. You typically feel more inward, slow, and restful.
What to Eat
Focus on nourishing foods that build iron, assist in iron absorption, and are anti-inflammatory to fight cramps. Drink the most water compared to the rest of your month here as you are losing hydration when you’re bleeding.
Hydration: Two liters-plus of water a day and lots of hydration through non-caffeinated teas. Add kombucha to help with your gut which can go haywire during menstruation.
Animal Sources: Beef, fish, and poultry. (Liver is also a fantastic source of iron if you’re into it!)
Anti-Inflammatory Spices & Herbs: Turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, cayenne, cardamom, cumin, garlic, parsley, curry.
Plant Sources: Spinach, chard, kale, collard greens, broccoli, mushrooms, beets bell peppers, lentils, pinto beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, citrus fruits, strawberries, cherries, pineapple, mango, papaya.
Tips for Exercise
Explore low-impact workouts like walking, yoga, or pilates. If you’re wanting more intense workouts, strength training and HIIT are recommended.
The Follicular Phase (Day 6-13)
During the follicular phase, your body prepares an egg to be released. Estrogen and testosterone are peaking. You typically feel the most confident and full of energy as well as think and move quickly here.
What to Eat
Support your body with energy-building foods. Foods that pack plenty of vitamins, nutrients, and pop for the punch are the best here. Drink plenty of water to keep up with your lifestyle.
Hydration: At least two liters per day. Add frozen fruit as ice cubes to your water, lemon or lime juice to increase energy and give you an extra boost.
Animal Sources: Beef, fish and poultry, lamb, eggs, dairy products (if you can).
Plant Sources: Chia seeds, quinoa, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, almonds, walnuts, hemp seeds, banana, apple, apricot, kiwi, blueberries, sugar snap peas, kale, green beans, green peas, carrots, sprouts, artichoke, parsley, sweet potato, brown rice.
Tips for Exercise
Use your increased energy to work out your hardest and stay the most active. Any and all types of movement are encouraged. If building muscle is your goal, focus on weight training and HIIT.
The Ovulation Phase (Day 14)
During this phase, your body releases an egg into your fallopian tubes for fertilization. This phase begins with high levels of estrogen and testosterone giving you lots of flirty, outgoing, and social feelings. Directly after ovulation, progesterone is on the rise which causes you to feel a bit more sluggish, introverted, snuggly, and protective than normal. Water weight is easy to put on and constipation, cramps, or nausea is not uncommon with ovulation.
Listen to your body and track your cycle. When you know ovulation is coming, go out, have fun, and take advantage of these positive extroverted feelings. After ovulation, if you begin to feel less energetic, stay home, rest, and cozy up.
What to Eat
Avoid salty foods to eliminate bloating, boost your intake of fiber-rich foods, and prioritize hydration. Eating foods with high water content can help.
Hydration: Drink at least two liters per day, adding a greens powder to your water to increase fiber. (Check your local health food store, they often have ones that taste delicious!)
Animal Sources: Beef, fish, eggs, shellfish.
Plant Sources: Cauliflower, broccoli, all greens, tomatoes, potato, bell pepper, eggplant, zucchini, squash, lettuce, cucumber, radish, watermelon, cantaloupe, grapes, grapefruit, plums, pears, peaches, berries, goji berry, maca, micro-greens, spirulina, sunflower seeds, macadamia nuts, pistachios.
Tips for Exercise
Take advantage of the dichotomy of this phase by doing things to boost the energy you do have in preparation for lower energy levels as well as to stave off constipation, bloating, and low energy. Running, spinning, weight-lifting, and high-impact exercises are all great ways to move during this phase. Note that prioritizing movement can help decrease constipation.
The Luteal Phase (Day 15-28)
In the case of a pregnancy, the luteal phase is when the egg is fertilized and prepares for attachment to the uterus. If a pregnancy is absent, the egg disintegrates and your body prepares to cycle again.
For the first four to seven days, you typically experience stable energy and mood that will slowly decline over the rest of the two weeks. If pregnancy doesn’t occur during this phase, your hormones take a big drop, often leading toward the most challenging feelings of the month. Think PMS symptoms. As estrogen drops, serotonin follows, causing you to feel a little bluer. With high levels of progesterone, you may experience cravings for fatty, high-carb foods and an increased appetite in general.
What to Eat
Again, listen to your body here. Enjoy the time you have in this phase before the hormonal swing hits. Give your body what it needs by indulging a little more than you normally would. Your body has these cravings for a reason—you’re preparing for menstruation. High iron, ultra-nourishing, and the most nutrient-dense indulgent foods are good. Warm, soft, and comforting foods are key.
Hydration: Drink two liters of water per day. Avoid caffeine and dehydrating yourself as this will make you feel worse.
Animal Sources: Bone broth, beef, tuna, salmon, poultry, shellfish.
Plant Sources: Veggie broth, kale, chard, arugula, cabbage, avocado, figs, raspberry, sweet potato, carrots, banana, plantain, brown rice, almonds, sunflower seeds, black beans, chickpeas, whole wheat grains, and pasta. (And dark chocolate!)
Tips for Exercise
Different types of movement align best with the early and late periods of the luteal phase. During the former, prioritize moderate intensity, cardio (kickboxing, running, and spinning), and longer workouts due to increased endurance during this phase. Continue to exercise during the late luteal phase, but as your energy levels decline shift to lower-impact movement like yoga and walking.
Final Thoughts on Cycle Syncing
Don’t forget: this advice is only meant as a guide. Adding these tips and foods can be helpful, but remember to allow for flexibility and self-compassion in your life. Give yourself grace and kindness, and remember—tuning in and emphasizing self-love is the ultimate goal of cycle syncing.
This post was originally published on July 19, 2018, and has since been updated.