Maybe you’ve heard of cycle syncing, or maybe you’re just hoping there’s some way to curb cravings, cure cramps and beat the bloat without pills.
Our bodies are pretty good at performing their functions when we aren’t unknowingly sabotaging their efforts with simple (but important) choices all day. When given the right nutrients, regular movement and restorative sleep, our bodies are typically quite capable of keeping hormones in balance and creating low- or no-symptom periods.
The cycle is made up of four phases. Read on to understand the best foods for each phase of your cycle.
Phase 1: Menstrual Phase, lasts around 3-7 days
What’s going on? Our hormone levels have declined quickly to their lowest levels of the month as our bodies begin to shed the uterine lining. Our energy levels are likely lower than usual because of this change in hormones.
Nourishment needs. The goal is to keep energy and blood sugar steady to avoid any added stress and changes to these hormones.
Our bodies are doing a lot right now, and we need to supply them with clean proteins, healthy fats and fibrous vegetables that are low on the glycemic index. This will help keep blood sugar steady, while providing much needed antioxidants and fiber to help our bodies flush out waste and excess hormones.
We’ll want to focus on getting nutrients like iron and zinc (which are lost during menstruation), Omega-3, B12 and more.
How to get that nourishment. Load up on pasture-raised red meat and eggs, fresh-caught fish like salmon, mussels and other mollusks, kelp, nori, dark leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, other fibrous veggies and root vegetables, beans, avocado, nuts and yogurt.
Have chamomile tea on hand for cramps and avoid sugar, alcohol and very salty foods.
How to move. While your energy is at its lowest at the start of your period, it's a good time for walking, hiking, yoga and lower impact training like pilates. As energy starts to increase later in this phase, you should have more energy to turn up the intensity a bit.
Phase 2: Follicular Phase, lasts around 7-10 days
What’s going on?
FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) and and LH (luteinizing hormone) are released to help eggs grow and mature in the follicles. The rise in these two hormones causes estrogen to start to increase as well (later in the phase). Then estrogen rises enough to cause FSH to drop late in this phase, shifting us into the next one.
Nourishment needs. While hormones are starting to rise, support the gut and help your body metabolize estrogen by including fermented vegetables, clean proteins and foods high in fiber.
How to get that nourishment. Add in sauerkraut or kimchi, fibrous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts, as well as greens like kale and bok choy, garlic, flax seeds, nuts and berries.
How to move. Energy should be pretty normal to high right now, so anything goes. I prefer strength training, lots of walks throughout the week, and a day or two of more intense cardio if it feels right.
Phase 3: Ovulation Phase, lasts around 3-5 days
What’s going on?
Luteinizing hormone continues to rise to stimulate the release of the egg from the follicle. Estrogen rises - as noted at the end of the last phase - to help thicken the uterine lining. Testosterone rises - thereby increasing sex drive - until it drops right around ovulation.
Nourishment needs. It’s even more important now to help metabolize and eliminate the excess estrogen with fiber- and glutathione-rich foods. Ovulation can cause a drop in magnesium and zinc, so eat foods rich in these minerals to help replenish.
How to get that nourishment. The list is long, but that’s a good thing. We have tons of tasty ways to get the nutrition we need with foods like hemp seed, flax seed, pumpkin seed, nuts, lentils, sprouts, garlic, onion, pasture-raised eggs, fresh-caught fish, pasture-raised meat, yogurt, spinach, kale, cauliflower, broccoli, bok choy, avocado and dark chocolate (yup!).
How to move. We should have tons of energy during this phase, so now is the time for PRs and higher impact exercise - if it feels good.
Phase 4: Luteal Phase, lasts around 10-14 days
What’s going on?
This is the phase that we typically think of as guaranteed PMS. Estrogen, progesterone and testosterone reach their peak concentrations before falling to their lowest levels right before we are back to phase 1 and bleeding begins.
Estrogen thickens the lining of the uterus as progesterone keeps that lining in place in anticipation of a fertilized embryo. If we have too much estrogen building up in this phase in relation to progesterone (so, an imbalance) the symptoms we all know and hate can set in.
It can be mild to quite extreme for some people, but there are ways in many cases to reduce or nearly eliminate these symptoms.
Nourishment needs. Shifts in hormones can cause those sugar cravings, but what we might really need is more B12. Calcium and magnesium may also be depleted, so eat foods rich in these nutrients.
Fluid retention (resulting in bloating) is also common but can be helped with foods (lower in sodium) that support the liver and large intestines in flushing out excess estrogen and give us added hydration.
Other nutrients to load up on during this phase are Vitamins D and B6 as well as...you guessed it...fiber.
You’ll notice several foods and nutrients span all phases, and that’s because they are just helpful all month long. They support critical organs like the liver and provide us with important nutrients mentioned above.
This is the time for a bit more carbohydrates than usual, but we should still focus on lower glycemic index foods that are higher in fiber.
How to get that nourishment. Leafy greens, cucumbers, root vegetables, mushrooms, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, bananas, watermelon, berries, lentils, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, nuts, quinoa, fatty fish like salmon, tuna and sardines, pasture-raised eggs (especially the yolks), olive oil, dark chocolate, coffee and tea.
How to move. At the start of this phase you may have more energy so keep up the strength training and higher intensity workouts. By the second half of this phase, you may start to feel more drained and need a bit more rest. Choose longer walks, hikes, and lower impact strength training at the end of this phase if energy dips.
Again, many of these foods are great all month long, this is simply an idea of where to focus in a given phase. You can use an app to track your phases more specifically so you know about where you are, but your body will speak to you pretty clearly, if you listen.
My weekly staples, no matter the phase are bone broth, full-fat Greek yogurt, raw and probiotic sauerkraut, fatty fish like sardines and salmon, pasture raised eggs and fibrous vegetables. If you can throw in some liver and mollusks throughout the month as well, you’re in fantastic shape. And of course, lots of water!
Be sure to let me know how cycle syncing has worked for you, and if you have any questions!