What is Cycle Synching?
Cycle synching is the practice of changing lifestyle, fitness and food to align with the stages of your menstrual cycle. It is a term that is trademarked by Alissa Viti, Functional Nutritionist, and author of FLO Living. The female hormones cycle on a monthly basis, effecting energy levels and moods differently daily. The goal of cycle synching is to work with these fluctuations so that you feel your best the entire month.
Who Benefits from Cycle Synching?
Every woman can benefit from this. It can take 5-7 years to regulate your cycle after your first period. This makes cycle synching a great way for young women to learn about their bodies. The menstrual cycle has been referred to as your fifth vital sign and provides a tremendous amount of information about our health. Learning this at an early age sets the stage for an overall healthy woman. Cycle synching is also helpful for those with PCOS, high levels of PMS or fatigue, high level athletes and women who are trying to conceive or are having fertility issues.
The first step to cycle synching is understanding your cycle. If you don’t already track your cycle, you should. Alissa Viti has her own app called MyFLO but there are many other apps available. The average cycle is around 28-35 days in length. It can take up to 4-6 months to get a good understanding of your cycle, but you can start synching nutrition and fitness immediately.
What are the Cycle Phases?
The menstrual phase is the most obvious because of the lining being shed, and usually last about 3-7 days. It is the beginning of the follicular phase. The menstrual phase is when hormones are at their lowest. In the beginning of this phase, you may feel fatigued and it is recommended to rest (especially with heavy or irregular periods). Rest can be taking a nap, reading a book or an easy walk; as long as you are listening to what your body needs. As your energy returns, you can begin to return to low level cardio and weight training. It is considered the Winter phase of the cycle, and nutrition includes foods that are warm – think soups and stews. Healthy fats and food high in iron also support you during this phase as the lining sheds.
The menstrual phase is the beginning of the follicular phase that lasts a total of around 14 days. The low levels of hormones from your period, start to rise in the second half around days 5-7. There is an increase in estrogen which signals another hormone (FSH) to release an egg. With this rise in estrogen, energy levels also begin to rise. This is a good time for HIIT and high intensity weight training. This phase is considered the Spring of your cycle, and steamed or sauteed. You also want to add in fermented foods to help with gut health prior to ovulation.
The next phase, ovulation, is when the egg is released from the ovary. It last about 2-4 days. This correlates with high energy levels, and you are able to go strong with HIIT and strength training of increased intensity. You can also push for longer time intervals for workouts, longer runs or training sessions. This is considered the Summer phase of the cycle, and your body will do well with raw fruits and vegetables (salads and smoothies). Nutritional support of for this phase should focus on anti-inflammatory foods to support the liver.
The luteal phase starts after ovulation, and last 10-14 days. The second rise in hormones occurs in the middle to end of this phase, with both estrogen and progesterone spiking. In the beginning of this phase energy may still be high, but towards the middle and end energy levels lower. Listen to your body in the beginning of this phase but begin to back off intensity and duration towards the end (30 minutes maximum). Lower intensity workouts such as Pilates and Yoga will help to support rising hormones at this time. This is the Fall phase of the cycle, and foods that are roasted or baked work better for your body. With the increase in progesterone, women are more inclined to be constipation during this time. You can balance that with increasing magnesium (pumpkin seeds and leafy greens) as well as increasing fiber which helps to clear out excess hormones.
Where to start?
This can all seem very overwhelming. Pick one phase of your cycle, and start with one nutrition and one fitness goal for that phase. The menstrual cycle is the easiest to identify, so this may be a great place to start. I highly recommend reading The FLO for a more thorough guide to cycle synching, covering general hormone balancing but also diving deeper into fixing your cycle.