Cycle Syncing: How to Optimize Your Food and Exercise at Every Stage of Your Menstrual Cycle

Cycle syncing is a buzzy new phrase that basically just means making lifestyle choices based on your menstrual cycle. The key question is why: Why does it matter what you eat and how you exercise, and when during your cycle? Here’s a breakdown to get you started on cycling syncing.

Hormones and Your Menstrual Cycle

As women, our menstrual cycle is orchestrated by the rise and fall of different hormones. We have three phases to our cycle and we can think of them as different parts of a symphony, each serving a distinct purpose and therefore setting a different mood. This is why our emotions, energy, and even physical symptoms can ebb and flow throughout the month. We may feel sexy, energized, and confident right before ovulation—and then a week later we feel bloated, irritable, and hangry. Why the drastic shift? We can thank our hormones for that. 

While it’s natural (and needed) for our hormones to fluctuate throughout our cycle, the extreme shifts in mood, bloating, and cravings that we often think of with PMS or other cycle problems are not necessarily “normal” and do warrant further exploration. Identifying the cause of your symptoms is beyond the scope of this post and if your period problems begin to interfere with your daily functioning, then we encourage you to work with an integrative and functional provider who can dive deeper and get to the root of your hormone concerns (also, check out our blogs about hormones—they can help!). 

Cycling Syncing: The What and How

Enter Cycle Syncing, the trendy (and really useful) way to optimize your cycle. It works similarly to seed cycling and helps to ensure your body is getting all the nutrients it needs to support the optimal balance of hormones throughout each unique part of your cycle. 

We mentioned earlier that there are three phases to the menstrual cycle: 

  1. The Follicular Phase (this includes an early phase—menstruation—and a late phase)
  2. The Ovulatory Phase
  3. The Luteal Phase

So what can you do to stay in balance during each of these distinct phases? Keep on reading to see how you can nourish your body (and hormones) with cycle syncing!

Cycle Syncing for Menstruation/Early Follicular Phase (Days 1-6) 

Menstruation starts the first day of full bleeding—this is considered day 1 of your cycle. Prior to the start of your period, your body’s hormones build up the uterine lining in preparation for pregnancy. If implantation does not occur, then progesterone and estrogen drop and the body sheds the lining of the uterus—hello, flow. 

Food Goals: This phase of your cycle is about slowing down and providing foods that support the process of menstruation, and replenish nutrients lost in the process. As a foundation, focus on protein, healthy fats, plentiful fruits and veggies, and high fiber carbohydrates. If you are listening to your body’s cravings, you may notice an inclination for warm foods, such as soups and stews. Lean in to these cravings, as they can be an easy way to help your body renew and re-energize.

Essential Nutrients & Foods for Menstruation: 

  • Iron: Beef, beans, oysters, molasses, lentils, firm tofu, tuna, eggs, dark-meat turkey & chicken
  • Vitamin C: Bell peppers, strawberries, broccoli, tomatoes, citrus fruit, papaya, mango 
  • Vitamin B12: Salmon, mussels, yogurt, turkey, chicken, eggs, beef 
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Salmon, cod, mackerel, skipjack, tuna, halibut 
  • Zinc: Turkey, chicken, eggs, pork, avocado, nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, lentils, yogurt, shellfish  
  • High Fiber Carbohydrates: Sweet potatoes, quinoa, lentils, oats, brown/wild rice, winter squash 

Exercise Goals: Your energy will be at its lowest during menstruation—and this is completely normal! Engage in light-intensity physical activity, such as walking and restorative yoga. Gentle movement can also help ease cramping and/or bloating experienced during this phase of your cycle. 



Cycle Syncing for Late Follicular Phase (Days 7-11) 

During your follicular phase, estrogen begins to increase, alongside LH and FSH, as the body prepares for ovulation. With the rise in hormones comes a boost in energy and you may even notice an increase in mental clarity and creativity.

Food Goals: While you may have had cravings for chocolate and warming foods during your period, the rest of the follicular phase is often accompanied by a drop in appetite as your brain shifts to focusing on your upcoming fertility window (playlist suggestion: JT’s “I’m Bringing Sexy Back”). This is the time to fill your plate with protein and lots of veggies, with a daily serving of berries and fermented foods. 

Essential Nutrients & Foods for the Follicular Phase: 

  • Phytoestrogen Foods: Flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, soybeans, hummus, berries, grains, garlic, sprouts
  • Fiber: VEGGIES, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, avocado, berries, apples
  • Antioxidants: Berries, broccoli, sweet potatoes, carrots, citrus, passion fruit, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, pomegranate
  • Fermented Foods: Raw & fermented vegetables, yogurt, kefir, miso, tempeh
  • Cruciferous Veggies: Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, bok choy, broccoli sprouts, broccoli

Exercise Goals: This is the perfect time to work on your “big intentions” and discover new ways to move your body. Try a different workout, or something that challenges both your body and your mind at the same time (a cardio dance class, a tricky yoga move, or a more complicated routine might be right for you!).

Cycle Syncing for Ovulation (Days 12-14) 

While ovulation occurs in one day, we typically think of this phase of your cycle as the two to four days preceding ovulation and the day of. The increasing levels of LH, FSH, and estrogen all peak during ovulation, prompting the follicle to release the egg. High levels of estrogen also prompt your cervix to release slippery, egg-white mucus to help any sperm along their journey toward the egg. 

Food Goals: You might experience a drop in appetite—researchers believe this is your body’s way of directing your attention toward mating. Keep your plate similarly balanced as in the late follicular phase (protein + fats + veggies) with an extra emphasis on magnesium-rich foods to prevent the inevitable drop in magnesium that occurs with ovulation. 

Essential Nutrients & Foods: 

  • Fiber: VEGGIES, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, avocado, berries, apples
  • Cruciferous Vegetables: Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, bok choy, broccoli sprouts, broccoli
  • Zinc: Turkey, chicken, eggs, pork, avocado, nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, lentils, yogurt, shellfish 
  • Magnesium: Hempseeds, flaxseeds, tofu, almonds, quinoa, sorghum, pumpkin seeds, spinach, dark chocolate 

Exercise Goals: The surge in LH causes testosterone to peak, contributing to the increase in libido you might notice around this time of your cycle, so use it as an excuse to get busy! You might also see your energy continue to increase from your follicular phase, so this is the perfect time to take those HIIT classes and boot camps. 

Cycle Syncing Luteal Phase (Days 15-28+) 

Once your ovarian follicle has released its egg, it turns into a structure called the corpus luteum, which begins releasing progesterone (and some estrogen) to build and thicken the uterine lining in preparation for pregnancy. If the egg is not fertilized, the corpus luteum disintegrates at the end of this phase causing a decline in progesterone and estrogen—and the cycle starts all over again. 

Food Goals: As the luteal phase draws to a close, you may begin to experience stronger sweet cravings and heightened emotions. The luteal phase is not a time for carbohydrate restriction, and including moderate amounts of low glycemic (high fiber) carbohydrates can help stave off sweet cravings. 

Essential Nutrients & Foods: 

  • Vitamin D: Salmon, mackerel, tuna, egg yolk, mushrooms
  • Magnesium: Hempseeds, flaxseeds, tofu, almonds, quinoa, sorghum, pumpkin seeds, spinach, dark chocolate 
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Salmon, cod, mackerel, skipjack, tuna, halibut 
  • Thiamine: Oats, whole grains, bean-based pastas, nuts, oranges, sesame seeds
  • Vitamin B6: Turkey, lentils, fish, potatoes, banana, watermelon, poultry 

Exercise Goals: The first three to five days of the luteal phase are often accompanied by high energy levels and your exercise and diet may closely resemble the ovulatory phase during these early days. However, as the luteal phase progresses, you might notice your body shift from energize-mode to chill-mode as progesterone takes over. This is the perfect time to focus on strength training and slower yoga with moderate-intensity cardio.

While it might seem like a lot of info, cycle syncing doesn’t have to be that complicated. Listen to your body when it’s trying to give you info on your energy levels and food cravings, and you’ll already be on the right track. The next step is to bookmark this page for quick and easy food reminders—and check out our hormones series for more info on your cycle.