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What Is Cycle Syncing?

Woman tracking her period follows the practice of cycle syncing

Have you ever noticed certain cravings arise right before your period? How about those classic PMS symptoms like moodiness, irritability, headaches and bloating? Those changes are the result of hormonal shifts that happen naturally during the menstrual cycle. “Cycle syncing” is the practice of adjusting your diet and exercise to support the body during each phase.

The average menstrual cycle lasts 28 days, but a “normal” cycle can last anywhere from 21 to 35 days with bleeding occurring for about 5 days. The menstrual cycle has four phases with the menstrual phase starting on the first day of menstrual bleeding. That is followed by the follicular phase, the ovulatory phase and finally the luteal phase.

On the first day of bleeding, estrogen and progesterone are at its lowest. Throughout a cycle, progesterone increases and spikes during the luteal phase.

“You may notice during the different phases you may have different levels of energy,” said Northeast Medical Group OBGYN Jillian Dolan, MD. “Diet and lifestyle modifications such as exercise may help to balance these hormones and decrease some of those associated symptoms like mood changes, decreased energy, sleep disturbance and increased appetite.”

How much iron do you need?

While there isn’t a ton of research to support the idea that diet changes can make a big impact during every phase, it’s important for patients to pay attention to their overall nutritional needs.

For example, iron deficiency can be common in patients of reproductive age. Symptoms of iron deficiency can include fatigue, trouble focusing, low energy throughout the day and cold extremities due to poor circulation.

“Probably one of the biggest things to be mindful of is iron content,” said Yale New Haven Health registered dietitian Wendy Cartier, RDN, CDN. “With blood loss, there is going to be iron loss. So, it’s important to include iron rich foods throughout the month, maybe bumping that up closer to your period.”

Cartier recommends adult women of reproductive age aim for about 18 milligrams of iron per day.

Iron rich foods include:

  • Red meat
  • Seafood
  • Fortified grains
  • Peas
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Dark leafy greens

Calcium can block iron absorption while vitamin C can help with iron absorption so it can be beneficial to think about food pairings when adding iron to the diet. For example, pair steak with sauteed bell peppers or broccoli instead of a cheese sauce.

Cartier says it’s also worth focusing on fiber and anti-inflammatory foods throughout the entire menstrual cycle.

Anti-inflammatory foods include:

  • Lower mercury fish like salmon
  • Nuts & seeds
  • Green and orange vegetables high in micronutrients
  • Healthy fats like avocado

Meanwhile, studies show excess caffeine, alcohol and foods high in salt and sugar can aggravate premenstrual symptoms.

Diet to support life changes

One common reason why some people choose to track their cycle is to try and become pregnant. If you are trying to conceive, it’s important to focus on adequate folic acid stores in addition to iron. Take a prenatal vitamin even before becoming pregnant and add in dark leafy greens, beans, nuts, seeds, fruit and whole grains.

Another thing to consider is a healthy body weight. Inadequate nutrition, a restrictive calorie diet or excess body fat, especially in the abdominal area can all lead to hormonal shifts that can impact fertility.

But even if you are not trying to conceive, Dr. Dolan says it’s important to pay attention to changes to your cycle. It’s normal for there to be period changes throughout a lifetime but sometimes new symptoms can be a sign of another health concern like endometriosis or PCOS.

“A lot of people don't bring up their period because they think, ‘Oh this is normal,’” said Dr. Dolan. “But anything that is concerning to a patient is concerning to us and we would always want to have a deeper discussion about that anytime bleeding or pain is interfering with your life.”