Learn how to be empowered by your menstrual cycle rather than being enslaved by it

By Kaye Lopez | Photo by Wesley Tingey/Unsplash | Graphic by Tricia Guevara

Yesterday, I wrote about menstrual cycles and how they affect performance particularly among female endurance athletes. But what about its effect on women who exercise more for health and fitness rather than competition? While searching for inspiration for my next article, I stumbled upon this relatively new wellness trend called “cycle syncing.” This ancient practice of syncing your food choices, workout intensity, and social schedules to the ebbs and flows of your monthly cycle has actually been around for centuries. But the concept behind this trending biohack was invented by functional nutritionist Alisa Vitti in her book WomanCode. She is also the creator of the MyFLO period tracking app, just one of the many Fiitbit for your period” applications to support the growing trend of menstrual cycle tracking.    

Understanding Your Monthly Emotional Rollercoaster

In order to reap the benefits of cycle syncing, it’s important to accept that women’s bodies are not designed to function at high energy levels all month long. Start by observing and understanding emotional and behavioral patterns as you go through the four distinct phases of the menstrual cycle: menstrual, follicular, ovulatory, and luteal.  Studies have shown that the fluctuations in sex hormones, particularly estrogen and progesterone, are responsible for the changes in how women feel and act depending on the time of the month. The tendency towards feeling more sluggish and introverted just before and during your period, followed by the gradual shift towards feeling more positive, energetic, and self-confident as you approach ovulation is actually backed by scientific research. This hormonal shift that occurs throughout your menstrual cycle influences not only your mood and energy levels but also feelings of attractiveness, pain tolerance, and even food cravings. Once you become aware and accept that these cyclical patterns are not random, you can leverage on this hormonal energy by matching your diet, exercise, and social engagements to make your hormones work for you rather than against you.

In order to reap the benefits of cycle syncing, it’s important to accept that women’s bodies are not designed to function at high energy levels all month long. Start by observing and understanding emotional and behavioral patterns as you go through the four distinct phases of the menstrual cycle: menstrual, follicular, ovulatory, and luteal

Is It Worth a Try?

Cycle syncing is for every woman who is tired of being a slave to her hormones. That said, women on birth control pills or hormonal contraceptives may not be able to experience its benefits as much but it can be especially helpful for those who:

    • are trying to conceive
    • have been diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome
    • struggle with premenstrual syndrome symptoms such as anxiety, mood swings, bloating, cramping, and weight gain.
    • suffer from heavy, painful, and/or irregular periods
    • are struggling to get pregnant
    • have low libido

When you learn to become more in tune with your body, you’ll come to understand that women are cyclical by nature and that you can harness power from it by being aware of your own unique cyclical rhythms and using it to regain control over your body.

Using a period tracking app like FertilityFriend or even an ordinary calendar, all you need to do is mark the first day of your period and count the days from there until your next period begins. It may take three to four months before you find a pattern, which is why keeping a record of your observations through a period tracking app is handy

How to Start

Start by observing what you naturally crave in terms of food as well as your energy levels as you go through your cycle. This is an important first step, especially for those who have just recently gotten off birth control pills. More often than not, women lose touch of their natural rhythms after months or years of being on artificial contraception. It is also important to know how long your menstrual cycle is. Using a period tracking app like FertilityFriend or even an ordinary calendar, all you need to do is mark the first day of your period and count the days from there until your next period begins. It may take three to four months before you find a pattern, which is why keeping a record of your observations through a period tracking app is handy.

The Four Phases

The next step is to get to know each of the four phases of your monthly cycle based on how you are feeling, coupled with food, exercise, and mental and/or social activities that best support your mind and body throughout your monthly cycle. Feel free to use this table as a guide. Note that this chart is for an average cycle length of 28 days. Every woman goes through her monthly cycle in her own unique way, so be sure to follow this guide based on your own cyclical rhythms and cycle length.

Cycle Syncing PhasesApproximate Cycle DaysWhat’s HappeningHow You FeelWhat to EatHow to ExerciseMental/Social Activities
Menstrual1 to 5Estrogen and progesterone are both low, and the endometrium, the lining of the uterus sheds, causing bleeding.Your body has the lowest energy levels than in any other phase.Warming or comfort foods like stews and foods rich in iron, like blood-building red meat, and B vitamins to support blood loss and energy levelsGentle yoga, pilates, or walking.  Aside from craving rest and rejuvenation, you are also most susceptible to pain during this time so stay away from high-impact workouts that can stress uterine ligaments.Focus on slowing down and relaxing.  Look inward, write down goals for the month, and try not to schedule any social plans this week. Cater to your need for rest and alone time. Prioritise self-care and take advantage of higher levels of delta brainwave activity by doing something creative.
Follicular6 to 14Estrogen and progesterone levels are rising.More energy and brain power.Foods high in Vitamin E (like sweet potatoes, walnuts, spinach, and broccoli) for ovary support and lots of protein paired with greens for estrogen support.Intense workouts like heavy weights and HIIT.Time to strategise and problem solve. Try a new social activity and schedule work meetings this week.
Ovulatory15 to 17Estrogen peaks.  Testosterone and progesterone are on the rise.Feeling confident, energetic, excited, and sociableCruciferous vegetables like cauliflower and brussel sprouts to flush out excess estrogen, as well as foods rich in magnesium like dark chocolate and spinach to steady the hormones.High-impact workouts feel more invigorating rather than exhausting now that you’re up for a challenge. Group fitness classes make you feel socially connected.Schedule a date night, socialise, and network to satisfy your need for social connection.  Now that your head is  clear, have that tough conversation that you’ve been putting off.
Luteal18 to 28Estrogen and progesterone levels starts high.  If the egg isn’t fertilised, then hormones decrease and the menstrual cycle starts again.Different levels of energy and social connection throughout the phase.  Attention turns inward as you prepare to begin another cycle.Grounding foods like warming soups and root vegetables.  Foods high in Vitamin C will aid in progesterone production and eliminate excess estrogen.Keep moving to prevent sluggishness and bloating once your period starts but start dialling down the intensity of your workouts, focusing more on stretching and restorative yoga.Stay home, get enough rest while still being productive.  Check off items on your to-do list so you have more time for rest during the menstrual phase.

Ready to give it a try? Just remember that this is just a guide and at the end of the day, the goal is to become more in tune with your own unique needs throughout your cycle instead of fighting a losing battle with your hormones each month. No need to be too restrictive. Just learn to listen to your body, practice grace, kindness, and self-love, and feel empowered by the fact that you can be in control of certain aspects of your life that you never thought you did if you choose to be.    

Have some female-specific training questions, feedback, or suggestions for future articles? Please feel free to drop me a note on the comments section below or on any of our social media platforms.  You can also email me directly at fitplusacademy@gmail.com.

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