Having a period can be such a drag, but it doesn’t have to be that way. In Alisa Vitti’s book Woman Code, she introduces a new method that teaches women to work with their monthly cycle.
In 2019, the U.S. women’s national soccer team (UWNT) won the World Cup title against the Netherlands. The triumph wasn’t just any victory; it marked the fourth world title and back-to-back wins for their team and co-captain Megan Rapinoe was also awarded the Golden Boot for having the most goals scored in the shortest amount of time. Beyond these impressive feats on the field, the team empowered women more when they revealed their new approach to their training. Introduced to the team by UWNT coach Dawn Scott, these female athletes worked with their bodies with a method called “cycle syncing.”
The term was first introduced by nutritionist and women’s hormone expert Alisa Vitti, in her book Woman Code which debuted in 2014. It is exactly what it sounds like—syncing your lifestyle based on the menstrual cycle phases. This includes the food that you eat, what exercise you do, what skincare products to use, and some go as far as planning their social activities around the body’s hormonal fluctuations throughout the menstrual cycle.
It’s an alluring technique, promising to combat the all-too-familiar unpleasant physical and mental symptoms that occur during the menstrual cycle and help correct hormonal imbalances. No wonder then that the hashtag #cyclesyncing already has millions of views on TikTok, with content creators sharing their own cycle syncing strategies and routines. To get you started, here are the recommended cycle syncing food and exercises from Woman Code, as well as additional tips from various health and wellness experts.
Take it easy during the Menstrual phase
Beginning with the most uncomfortable part of the cycle, the menstrual phase occurs when the uterus sheds its lining with the unfertilized egg cells in the form of period blood. Headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, and dysmenorrhea are some of the painful symptoms experienced during the 3-7 days of your period. Along with increased physical discomfort, you may also notice feeling more lethargic and fatigued with levels of estrogen, progesterone, and oestrogen dropping.
During this phase, Vitti suggests consuming food with a low glycemic index, as well as iron and zinc-rich food. Nutritionist Dr. Sana Khan also recommends eating “a combination of protein, good fats, and carbohydrates.” When it comes to exercise, rest and recovery are a priority. If you’re up for some movement and want to get your blood flowing, Vitti recommends light exercises such as stretching or yoga.
Foods to eat: Eggs, walnuts, fortified cereals, alternative milks
Exercise to do: Yoga, walking, light stretching
Build yourself up throughout the Follicular phase
After your menstrual phase ends, the body begins to develop a follicle in the ovary, hence the term “follicular phase.” During the 10 to 16 days of this phase, estrogen, progesterone, and oestrogen levels begin to pick up, causing a rise in energy and mood levels. It is also alternatively called the “proliferative phase,” as the rise in estrogen and follicle-stimulating hormones prepares the ovaries and the uterus for the egg’s release.
Because the body is working hard to develop these, dietician Tracy Lockwood Beckerman recommends food rich in fiber, zinc, iron, and vitamin B12. For Vitti, this is the time to eat food with a higher phytoestrogen content to help your body replenish its estrogen levels. With exercise, Vitti encourages you to try something new because your brain forms new neuroconnections more easily during this phase. Additionally, Beckerman suggests taking advantage of this time to do cardio-based workouts as your energy levels increase.
Foods to eat: Eggs, whole grains, kale, cabbage, nuts, fish, fermented foods, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds
Exercise to do: Zumba, running, swimming
Feel empowered with the Ovulation phase
Ovulation is when you will feel at your best. At this stage, the follicle from the previous phase develops into a mature egg and travels down into the fallopian tube. Lasting for about 3 days, your oestrogen level peaks and testosterone increases, boosting your sense of confidence and giving you extra power — perfect for strength and resistance training, according to celebrity yoga and wellness expert Anshuka Parwani.
The body has more natural energy during this time, so Vitti suggests focusing on lighter grains. Fruits and vegetables will also help eliminate excess estrogen and support the first phase of detoxification in the liver. More strenuous exercises are also recommended by Vitti, due to the body’s energy levels being at peak throughout this phase.
Foods to eat: Okra, spinach, coconut, guava, strawberries, raspberries
Exercise to do: HIIT, CrossFit, weight training
Be kinder to yourself in the Luteal phase
If fertilization hasn’t occurred, uncomfortable symptoms such as abdominal bloating, acne, headaches, insomnia, fatigue, and depression return in the luteal cycle. In a span of about 10 days, the body prepares to move back to the menstrual phase. Estrogen and progesterone levels decrease again, leading to an increased feeling of anxiety, brain fog, and difficulty concentrating.
To help fight off sugar cravings, flush out excess estrogen, and mitigate the effects of fluid retention, Vitti recommends food rich in calcium, magnesium, fiber, and B vitamins, combined with a sufficient amount of complex carbohydrates. In staying active, sports and nutrition physiologist Stacy Sims and Vitti both recommend sticking to lower-intensity activities and longer recovery times, as exercising can feel more difficult.
Foods to eat: Walnuts, avocado, sweet potatoes, beans, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds
Exercise to do: Aerobic training, cycling, power walking
Is it for you?
Before you binge-watch cycle syncing TikTok and YouTube videos, there are a few things to keep in mind. For starters, it’s a time-consuming process. Beckerman says it will take up to three months before you feel the changes. The menstrual cycle also varies from person to person, especially if you experience menstrual cycle irregularities, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), or premenstrual dysphoric disorder. However, Vitti was able to manage her PCOS symptoms with the cycle syncing method which helped her become more aware of her body.
Although it is far from being perfect, there’s one thing that we can take away from cycle syncing—we need to listen and work with our bodies. In a British Vogue article, Vitti shares, “The cycle syncing method can give us the correct strategy to optimize our health, but it’s also giving women the validation to listen to their bodies and follow their own needs instead of trying to force their body to do the things that it isn’t designed to.”