Ever since the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team revealed that they tracked their periods to optimize their performance, women and experts alike have been fascinated by the menstrual cycle’s connection to productivity, athleticism, and more.
Women’s health guru Alisa Vitti’s book “WomanCode”, published in 2013, compiled knowledge on the subject—and sparked a revolutionary new way of looking at our periods. Instead of a monthly inconvenience, the menstrual cycle can be viewed holistically—as a way to schedule our lives to promote productivity and health.
What is the science behind cycle syncing—and is it legit? If you’re curious about living in sync with your menstrual cycle, then this article is for you. We’ll cover everything from what cycle syncing is, to the reasoning behind it, to how to try it out for yourself.
What is Cycle Syncing?
We’re not talking about when you sync up with your female roommate or office colleague. Cycle syncing refers to planning your life by the different phases of your menstrual cycle. We usually think of our menstrual cycle in two phases: “period” and “everything else.” But there are actually four distinct phases:
- menstruation (your period)
- the follicular phase (preparing to release an egg)
- ovulation (releasing an egg for fertilization)
- the luteal phase (preparing for menstruation)
Vitti believes that a women’s energy and metabolism vary according to the phases of her menstrual cycle. Using this logic, you can optimize your workouts, your nutrition, and other activities to correspond with hormonal changes during each phase of your cycle.
Why It Works
Everyone has an internal clock known as the circadian rhythm, which regulates the sleep/wake cycle. Women also have a second internal clock known as the infradian rhythm.
Over the course of our cycles, the infradian rhythm is responsible for a 25% change in brain chemistry each month. It results from hormonal changes linked to the menstrual cycle and regulates everything from your metabolism to your immune system to your stress response system.
Historically, medical research has excluded women because researchers thought the infradian rhythm would skew results. Most diet plans, exercise routines, and productivity hacks were developed using male-focused research, disregarding the role of infradian rhythm.
By embracing the changes in your body throughout the menstrual cycle and planning your activities accordingly, Vitti’s research shows that you can learn to optimize your energy, productivity, physical health, and more.
How to Do It
Cycle syncing works best if you are not using hormonal birth control. The pill and other hormonal methods keep hormone levels more stable throughout the month, so they are less likely to see the same results. However, women on hormonal birth control can still try cycle syncing for themselves, even if they no longer experience monthly menstruation.
Menstruation (Days 1-7)
What’s happening: As the uterus sheds its lining, you’ll experience bleeding, cramps, bloating, and mood changes. Your energy levels will likely drop since estrogen and testosterone levels are low.
What to eat: You’re losing blood during menstruation, which means you’re also losing iron. Eat iron-rich foods like leafy greens and protein.
How to work out: Give your body permission to rest. Focus on recovery and/or low-intensity workouts.
For productivity: Take frequent breaks while working to avoid burnout, and take extra time for self-care.
Follicular Phase (Days 8-13)
What’s happening: Your body is growing a new follicle, or potential new egg, in preparation to release it. Estrogen and testosterone levels are rising again, leading to a gradual boost in energy after your period.
What to eat: High energy levels mean a more active lifestyle. Make sure to eat plenty of protein sources and stay hydrated.
How to work out: Rising hormone levels mean you’re feeling more creative, so it’s the perfect time to mix up your workout. Try a higher energy class or other forms of creative body movement.
For productivity: This is the perfect time to take action! Start a new project or pick up a new hobby.
Ovulation (Day 14)
What’s happening: Estrogen and other female sex hormones peak during ovulation, when your ovaries release a mature egg—and so do your energy levels. If the egg is not fertilized within 24 hours, it dies off, and you continue onto the next phase of your cycle.
What to eat: You may feel bloated or constipated during ovulation, so it’s time to up your fiber intake. Eat plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, and try mixing a Metamucil powder into your water to keep everything running smoothly.
How to work out: Having extra energy makes this the perfect time of the month to go for a HIIT workout.
For productivity: Higher estrogen levels mean you’ll likely be feeling more outgoing and social. Try scheduling time to catch up with an old friend or take advantage of an outdoor activity.
Luteal Phase (Days 15-28)
What’s happening: The hormonal spike during ovulation is followed by a drop in the final week of your menstrual cycle, as your body prepares for menstruation. Your energy levels will likely follow. Lower serotonin levels may leave you feeling bluer than usual.
What to eat: Go for healthy comfort food, whatever this means to you. Hello, dark chocolate!
How to work out: Ease back into low-intensity activities. Some gentle stretching, yoga, or walking will get your body moving without depleting your energy reserves.
For productivity: You may find yourself feeling more withdrawn during the luteal phase. Try journaling and other introspective activities to relax. At work, focus on editing and refining rather than starting new projects, if it allows.