Have you heard of the concept of a cycle syncing diet and wondered what it is and whether it's right for you?
In this article, I cover everything you need to know about cycle syncing foods from a dietitian perspective, including the 4 phases of the menstrual cycle, the benefits of cycle syncing, and how to plan your diet based on what phase of your menstrual cycle you are in.
- What is Cycle Syncing?
- When Did Cycle Syncing Originate?
- Benefits of a Cycle Syncing Diet
- What are the Menstrual Cycle Phases?
- Cycle Syncing Food
- What to Eat During Menstrual Phase
- What to Eat During Follicular Phase and Ovulation Phase
- What to Eat During Luteal Phase
- Cycle Syncing Food Chart
- Cycle Syncing Fitness Routine
- In Conclusion
- Looking for More Nutrition Education?
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- 💬 Comments
What is Cycle Syncing?
Simply put, cycle syncing is when you adapt your daily activities and routine around the stage of your menstrual cycle you are in and how you feel as a result of hormone fluctuations that vary throughout the month.
At its core, cycle syncing includes adjusting both your exercise routine and diet depending on your cycle. But it’s recently expanded to include other parts of daily routines. This includes planning work projects and social events around your cycle, too.
For example, schedule your most productive work day or a fun social event during the phase you have the most energy. And try to schedule work tasks that require less brain power on the days you anticipate being lower in energy.
It’s no secret that if you're a menstruating woman, you feel different depending on what week of the month it is. Even when you aren't on your period, there might be times throughout the month that you just don't feel yourself.
Many women experience mood changes, increased appetite, decreased sex drive, breast tenderness, cravings, and water retention during part of the month. And the other part of the month they may have higher energy levels, an increased sex drive and clearer skin.
Appetite is impacted by hormone levels, too. Have you ever noticed you are ravenously hungry some weeks even though you haven’t changed anything else in your routine? Becoming familiar with a cycle syncing diet can help you to better understand and support your body and curb cravings without feeling restricted.
While there are many factors that contribute to how we feel, if you are a menstruating woman learning the stages of your cycle can allow you the freedom to plan your diet and productivity according to the phases of your cycle.
When Did Cycle Syncing Originate?
The term was first introduced by Functional Nutritionist Alisa Vitti in 2014 in her book “Woman Code”. There isn’t much concrete research around the concept, but many women have adopted a lifestyle that includes cycle syncing and found that it helps them feel more balanced.
Benefits of a Cycle Syncing Diet
You might have realized by now that cycle syncing is best for women who are of menstruating age and have a cycle. But what are the benefits of planning diet and exercise around your cycle?
It really boils down to 2 main benefits:
- Cycle syncing can help to balance your hormones.
- Balancing your hormones can help you feel your best with less PMS symptoms.
Once you can recognize what is happening in your body, you are better able to support it through good nutrition and other things like exercise and rest in order to promote your best health.
What are the Menstrual Cycle Phases?
Every woman’s cycle may vary within a few days, but the typical menstrual cycle occurs every 28 days starting with the first day of your period. There are 4 phases of the menstrual cycle.
- Phase 1: days 0-7, Menstrual Phase. This is the part of the menstrual cycle when a woman is having vaginal bleeding as the unfertilized egg and uterus lining are shed. Estrogen levels and progesterone levels are low during the menstrual phase. Energy levels are also typically low during this time. When the uterine lining sheds during the menstrual phase, there is a rise in inflammatory substances called prostaglandins. You may notice water retention, menstrual cramps, and bloating.
- Phase 2: days 0-13, Follicular phase. The follicular phase starts the first day of the menstrual cycle and lasts until ovulation. This is the phase of a woman’s cycle when an egg matures in the ovary. The pituitary gland in the brain triggers hormonal changes including the release of follicle-stimulating hormone. There is also a rise in estrogen during this phase and you might notice an increase in energy.
- Phase 3: days 14-15, Ovulatory phase. The ovulation phase is when a woman’s body releases a mature egg from the ovary into the fallopian tubes. Estrogen and testosterone levels are at their highest. You may notice your energy levels are at a peak during this phase. You may also experience an increased sex drive. Some women have slight cramps, too.
- Phase 4: day 16-28, Luteal phase. This is the phase after ovulation leading up to a period. During this phase, cells in the ovary called corpus luteum release progesterone as your uterus is preparing to receive a fertilized egg. Along with this, estrogen decreases. You may feel premenstrual symptoms (aka PMS symptoms) and are more likely to have low energy, mood swings, and food cravings.
Cycle Syncing Food
Since your body needs different nutrients at different times of the month, it can be helpful to tailor your meal plan and diet according to the phase of the cycle you are in.
Below are some recommendations for foods to incorporate into your diet during the different phases of your cycle.
What to Eat During Menstrual Phase
Foods Rich in Iron
Since you lose iron through blood and the menstrual phase of our cycle is when bleeding occurs, it is important to replete iron stores from blood loss and keep your iron levels within normal limits. This is particularly important for women with heavy blood flow. Iron deficiency can make you feel fatigued, light headed, and zapped of energy.
Examples of iron-rich foods include animal sources of iron such as red meat or beef in addition to poultry including chicken and turkey. Some plant foods that are high in iron include dark leafy greens, beans, dark chocolate (make sure to look for at least 45% cocoa) and nuts and seeds. Many grain products are enriched with iron in the United States. These include cereals and breads.
One note on iron: Heme iron is the form found in animal foods, while non-heme is the iron form found in plants. Heme iron is better absorbed by the body, so aim to eat heme iron if you are in your menstruating phase and you aren’t a vegetarian.
Foods High in Vitamin C that Support Iron Absorption
Foods high in Vitamin C can increase absorption of iron in your body when paired with iron containing foods. Some ideas are to add some tomatoes (high in Vitamin C) on a beef taco salad (high in iron) or eat an orange (high in Vitamin C) with your chicken wrap (high in iron) at lunch.
Examples of foods high in Vitamin C include citrus fruits, tomatoes, strawberries, and bell peppers.
Make an Immunity Booster Shot full of Vitamin C that also helps your immune system. Win-win!
Foods High in Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Eating anti-inflammatory foods like Omega-3s can help with PMS symptoms and the menstrual phase is the right time to eat plenty of Omega-3s on a cycle syncing diet. Omega-3s are also great for brain health, and overall hormone health .
Examples of foods rich in Omega-3s include fatty fish like salmon or tuna. There are also plant-based sources of Omega-3s including nuts and seeds like flax seeds, chia seeds, and sunflower seeds and plant based oils.
Eat a Salmon Quinoa Salad or Tuna Salad sandwich. Make Chia Seed Pudding overnight. Add nuts and seeds to things like homemade Hemp Granola with Dates, oats, smoothies, Cottage Cheese with Fruit, or greek yogurt.
Foods High in Antioxidants
It's no secret that plants are loaded with nutrients including important vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Antioxidants are a part of a cycle syncing diet because they help to decrease inflammation in the body.
Examples of whole foods high in antioxidants include green leafy vegetables, cruciferous veggies, and other vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and beans, seeds, and many spices and herbs.
Aim to fill your plate with at least half vegetables and add some whole grains and nuts, seeds, or beans in there, too! Have fruit as a snack or dessert or pair it with your meal.
What to Eat During Follicular Phase and Ovulation Phase
This phase right after your menstrual cycle is a good time to incorporate some estrogen balancing foods in your diet.
Load up on lean meats and protein during this phase.
Some examples of lean proteins include poultry (including chicken and turkey), eggs and seafood. Plant-based lean proteins include peas, beans, and lentils.
Gluten-free Turkey Meatballs or Slow Cooker Chicken, Green Beans, and Potatoes are great options. Prep some Copycat Starbucks Egg White Bites for breakfast for the week. For a plant-based lean protein option, make homemade hummus, Roasted Chickpeas, or Chickpea Soup for a cozy meal.
Complex carbs absorb slower in the blood stream and can help to regulate blood sugar levels and keep you full longer.
Examples of complex carbohydrates include whole grains like quinoa, oats and brown rice. Some other examples of complex carbs include starchy vegetables like peas, potatoes, squashes, and corn.
Sweet potatoes are one of my favorite ways to add complex carbs to my plate. I love making Air Fryer Sweet Potatoes and adding them to scrambled eggs with spinach or on top of a salad.
Cruciferous vegetables are nutrient dense and relatively easy to find no matter where you live!
Examples of cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts, arugula, kale, collard greens, chard, and bok choy.
Foods High in Fiber
Foods that are high in fiber support good gut health which is important for keeping hormone levels in balance.
Examples of high fiber foods include vegetables like leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables. Fruits including avocados, nuts and seeds, oats and other whole grains, beans and lentils, avocados, and corn are all high in fiber.
Some other foods that support a heathy gut are fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut.
Healthy fats including Omega-3, Omega-6, and Omega-9 fatty acids can help to balance hormones.
Examples of healthy fats include Omega-3 and Omega-6 found in salmon and other fatty fish, nuts, seeds and plant-based oils. Other healthy fats include Omega-9 found in olive oil and macadamia nuts.
Make a Salmon and Quinoa Salad or Orange and Cranberry Granola with Almonds to get some healthy fats in your diet. Avocados are also high in monounsaturated fats which are the good kind of fat! So add that guac, sis.
What to Eat During Luteal Phase
This is the cravings phase. A recent study published in Nature Metabolism showed that increased cravings during the luteal phase may be due to decreased insulin sensitivity resulting in higher blood sugar levels.
This is especially true at the end of the luteal phase and could explain why you feel hungrier right before your period. There are specific foods you can eat that help with cravings and support your body during this part of the cycle.
Continue to focus on complex carbs including whole grains and starchy vegetables during this phase. Before those carb cravings get the best of you, add some dark chocolate which is high in antioxidants and focus on eating some of the heartier, more satiating vegetables like potatoes and squash.
Examples of complex carbohydrates include whole grains like barley, quinoa, oats and brown rice. Some other examples of complex carbs include starchy vegetables like peas, potatoes and squashes, beans and lentils. Fruits and vegetables also contain complex carbohydrates.
Make a Quinoa Salad, Hemp and Date Granola, Air Fryer Sweet Potatoes, or a Smoky Chickpea Soup. Add some GF Turkey Meatballs on top of chickpea pasta with your favorite tomato sauce, or prep a batch of 4 Ingredient Banana Oatmeal Cookies to have on hand for when you’re craving something a little sweet.
High Fiber Foods
It's also best to continue adding high fiber foods to your plate to help keep you full longer and balance blood glucose.
Examples of high fiber foods include leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Nuts, seeds, and beans and lentils are high in fiber and plant-based proteins.
High Magnesium Foods
Magnesium-rich foods can help with fluid retention which is common during the luteal phase.
Examples of foods that are high in magnesium include nuts like almonds, cashews and peanuts, beans, pumpkin seeds and other seeds, brown rice, and oats.
Cycle Syncing Food Chart
Below is a cycle syncing food chart to give you a visual of the cycle phases, symptoms to expect, and what kinds of food to eat during each phase of your cycle. Consider this a free "cheat sheet" for cycle syncing foods!
Cycle Syncing Fitness Routine
Below are some suggested recommendations for planning your exercise or fitness routine around your phase of the menstrual cycle. This can be a great addition to a cycle syncing diet.
- Menstrual phase: Focus on low intensity such as walking or stretching. You might consider doing a yoga class during this week. There are many benefits to walking outside.
- Follicular Phase: Take advantage of increasing energy levels with cardio workouts. Throw on a dance video, go for a jog, or hit the spin bike.
- Ovulation Phase: While your estrogen is at it’s highest, you’re likely to have corresponding high energy levels. This is a great time for high intensity interval training (HIIT). You could do a run/walk interval, search "HIIT workout" on YouTube and choose one, or go to a spin or boxing class.
- Luteal Phase: Medium cardio and strength. Do some weights or do bodyweight strength training like a pilates or barre class. Do a light jog or a fun zumba workout.
Remember that rest is important, too! Some days or weeks you may want to take off from exercising altogether and that's ok. Listen to your body and rest when you need to.
Beyond diet and exercise, it can help to practice gratitude, take a self-care day, or even take a trip to an infrared sauna. You can also use cycle syncing to adjust things like date nights, social outings, and work trips (if possible) around your phases and energy levels during each phase!
Cycle syncing is all about planning your lifestyle habits around the phases of your menstrual cycle. This includes what you eat, the type of exercise you do, and even things like big work projects or social events.
By learning your cycle, you can predict the weeks you will have more or less energy and support healthy hormones by eating the right foods for that phase of your cycle. Feel free to save the cycle syncing food chart in this article for your reference.
I hope you enjoyed this article! I would love to hear from you if so. Please leave me a comment below or find me on Instagram....I LOVE knowing there’s people out there reading my articles. 🙂 IG: @mallorythedietitian
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