Cycle Syncing: Ways to Achieve Balance for Optimal Female Health

Women are adjusting many of their lifestyle choices around their menstrual cycle, and it’s making them feel more empowered, energetic and healthier. With the rise of cycle tracking apps and wearables, the cycle syncing trend has been gaining momentum.

Key takeaways:

The rise of cycle syncing

Dr. Carrie Jones, Head of Medical Education at Rupa Health, told Healthnews that the popularity of cycle syncing is largely due to its spread on social media coupled with books talking about it.

Women should be taught the different phases of their cycle, what’s happening in their body, why some things might seem easier or harder, and how to adjust accordingly! Imagine if we were taught this from a young age.

Dr Carrie Jones, Head of Medical Education, Rupa Health

The natural ebb and flow of sex hormones of women of childbearing age can bring along a rollercoaster of emotions, energy levels, and for many, pain and discomfort. According to the Office on Women’s Health, more than 90% of women say they experience some premenstrual symptoms (PMS), such as headaches, bloating, and moodiness.

However, by making lifestyle choices, based on which phase of your cycle you are in, you can make your hormones work for you and not against you.

What is cycle syncing?

Cycle syncing is a practice through which women aim to optimize their overall health and well-being by making adjustments to their lifestyle habits following the natural changes of their hormones. Each of the four phases of the menstrual cycle is associated with specific hormonal fluctuations that can affect a woman's physical, emotional and cognitive well-being.

By understanding which day of your cycle you’re on, it can help guide you to making specific nutritional, training and lifestyle decisions to improve your health outcomes.

4 phases of the female cycle:

No two biological females are the same. Everyone has their own schedule when it comes to menstrual cycles. However, according to the Cleveland Clinic, the average cycle is around 28 days, yet it is still normal to range between 21 and 35 days.

Menstruation phase

This phase typically lasts from day 1-7 as the body is shedding the endometrial lining of the uterus, which is no longer needed because the egg that was released during the previous ovulatory phase was not fertilized.

It’s when both estrogen and progesterone are at their lowest, so you might feel lower energy and can result in a variety of physical and emotional symptoms. Some women may experience cramping, bloating, fatigue and mood changes during this time.

Follicular phase

Typically occurring from days 6-14, the follicular phase is the time for estrogen to rise, along with the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) stimulating the growth of follicles in the ovaries. One of these follicles will eventually mature and release an egg during ovulation. Additionally, the increased levels of estrogen stimulate the thickening of the endometrial lining of the uterus to prepare it to receive a fertilized egg.

The follicular phase is often associated with increased energy and motivation, as well as improved mood and cognitive function. Some women may also experience increased libido and, as they get close to ovulation, feel more outgoing and social as well.

Ovulation

Generally, in a 28-day cycle, ovulation occurs around day 14. It’s only a one-day event. It’s when estrogen is the highest and as the luteinizing hormone (LH) increases, a mature egg is released from one of a woman’s ovaries. If you ever used ovulation test kits, it’s the LH in your urine that is being detected to determine if ovulation has occurred.

The egg then travels down the fallopian tube and into the uterus, where it will implant in the endometrial lining if it is fertilized.

Women’s libido tends to peak during this time, and they may be even more sensitive to pheromones. It’s your body telling you, it’s “baby-making time”.

Luteal phase

Lasting from the day after ovulation until the first day of menses, the luteal phase is when the body is getting ready for a potential pregnancy. Progesterone begins to rise to thicken the endometrial lining should a fertilized egg be implanted. If the egg is not fertilized, both estrogen and progesterone drop, and you’ll shed the thick lining of your uterus as your next period begins.

In this phase, women might experience more discomfort, lower energy, less motivation. Toward the second half, PMS symptoms tend to occur along with more cravings, especially for comfort food or chocolate. All that will depend on the balance of estrogen (and its metabolites) and progesterone.

Our hormones, estradiol, and progesterone, are shifting up then down as we edge closer to our periods, which affects areas in our brain related to cravings and satiety. Some women may only experience this for a day or two, but if those hormones are really causing dysfunction (along with other issues such as poor sleep or high stress lately), then women may experience those cravings for longer.

Dr Carrie Jones, Head of Medical Education, Rupa Health

Estrogen detoxification

To fully understand why women experience a variety of uncomfortable health issues due to their hormonal imbalance, we must have a clear picture of the importance of detoxing and eliminating excess estrogens.

Estrogens are primarily produced in the ovaries, but small amounts can also be made in adipose tissue. There are two main types of estrogens, estrone and estradiol, which both must go through a metabolic process to be eliminated from the body. If lingering, they can cause quite a havoc on your health.

High levels of estrogens are often at the root of a variety of health problems, such as weight gain, bloating, water retention, moodiness, cravings and abdominal cramps.

“Estrogens are routinely metabolized out of the body,” Dr. Jones explained. “It’s a 24/7/365 process that is generally a two- or three-step process. The liver, kidneys, and gallbladder/intestines play a huge role, and if they are impacted in any way, that means the detox process is also impacted.”

If estrogens are not detoxed adequately, they end up back in circulation and potentially cause more estrogenic-type symptoms. “So many women struggle with estrogen-related conditions, and supporting this whole system could be a huge help,” she added.

Cycle syncing and diet

Cycle phaseRecommended foods
Menstrual phaseRed meat, organ meats, nuts, and seed and sprouted legumes
Follicular phaseSauerkraut, cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, brussel sprouts, kale, arugula, bok choy), fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, avocado, fiber-rich foods
OvulationWhole grains, fruits, cruciferous vegetables, turmeric, fatty fish, beets, garlic
Luteal phaseFish high in omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, sardines, mackerel) citrus fruits, dark leafy vegetables, sweet potato, squash, rice, fiber-rich foods

As estrogen and progesterone rise and dip, eating the right nutrients can aid their natural flow and optimize many aspects of your diet.

Whether you are tracking macros, or practicing intermittent fasting, knowing where you are in your cycle can help make it easier.

There is a reason why your body craves more calories during the second half of your cycle, as it helps with the rise of progesterone. “In that second half of the cycle after ovulation, fasting (even longer intermittent fasting) is not generally recommended as it could interfere with progesterone production,” Dr. Jones explained.

On the contrary, fasting during the follicular phase will feel more natural, easier and aid your estrogen production.

Cycle syncing and exercise

Cycle phaseRecommended exercise
Menstrual phaseYoga, walking, stretching
Follicular phaseResistance training (go for personal records around days 10-14)
OvulationHigh-intensity interval training
Luteal phaseYoga, walking, cardio, lower weight exercise

More research is needed in this area, but there’s supporting evidence that women will find more benefit in resistance training during the first two weeks of their cycle as opposed to in the second half.

A study published in 2014 found that women who trained during their follicular phase showed a higher gain in muscle strength and muscle diameter than those who trained in their luteal phase.

Another study a few years later supported that finding, concluding that “resistance training during the first two weeks of the menstrual cycle even resulted in a larger gain of lean body mass than regular training.”

The hypothesis for why women can gain more lean muscle in the first half is due to the rise of estrogen. Beyond being a sex hormone, estrogen plays a role in breaking down fats and carbohydrates for energy, supporting glucose metabolism and increasing muscle mass.

It’s been shown in animal models that estrogen is key to muscle growth and injury prevention, and data suggested that in the absence of estrogen, muscle is more prone to injury and there's a decrease in levels of antioxidant proteins such as glutathione.

While human studies are much needed, it’s worth considering that lower estrogen levels may be the reason it might feel as if it's taking longer to recover from an intensive workout during your luteal phase than it does during your follicular phase.

Dr. Jones referred to Dr. Stacy Sims recommendations suggesting that women should lean into more restorative type workouts close to their period and pick up more explosive type or heavy lifting in the days after their period starts.

Cycle syncing and mental health

“Estrogens and progesterone play a huge role in the brain,” Dr. Jones pointed out, adding that both low levels of estradiol and progesterone can result in increased feelings of depression and anxiety.

Many women experience brain fog when their estradiol dips low, especially as they head into menopause. Currently, the effect of estradiol on the female brain is actively being studied as its decline relates to dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Dr Carrie Jones, Head of Medical Education, Rupa Health

Even excessive levels of estradiol negatively affects serotonin, which can also affect women’s mood. Progesterone is a calming, soothing hormone, as its metabolites act as a neurosteroid in the brain. If progesterone levels are low, women may feel irritable, restless or more angry leading up to their period.

How to track your cycle

There are many smartphone apps that are available today to use for tracking your cycle. Whether it’s Flo, Period Tracker or Natural Cycles, each provides education and an easy way to track your menstrual cycle and note what symptoms you may experience on any given day.

Start to pay attention to how you feel on your days leading up to ovulation. Perhaps, note whether eating more cruciferous vegetables during the late follicular phase and ovulation does help to better manage your PMS symptoms leading up to your period.

Dr. Jones highlighted that these cycle syncing practices would generally apply to women who are not on hormonal contraceptives. “Women on the oral contraceptive pill are controlled by the action of the pill,” she said. “Their own estrogen and progesterone hormones are quite suppressed as a result.”

While research is still needed to investigate many aspects of cycle syncing, it’s important to keep in mind that it isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Each woman has her own bio-individuality and her personal hormonal history and activity, therefore, one must apply a highly individualized approach to cycle syncing to see the most benefits.

Whether you start by making changes to your diet, or tweak your training plan next month, be sure to take notes, journal and learn to tune in to what your body is telling you. The female reproductive system is a constant dance of hormonal highs and lows. However, by following and complementing their lead, you can enjoy the dance instead of stepping on your own toes along the way.



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