By: Heidi Harris, RD-N, CD-N, LD-N
What You’ll Learn: In this blog, we will discuss what cycle syncing is and how listening to your body’s natural rhythm and fueling for the different phases of your menstrual cycle can help you as a female athlete achieve your peak performance.
As an athlete, you know how to listen to your body. You know when your body is feeling energetic and active and when you’re feeling sluggish. For women, it goes beyond just muscle fatigue from a particularly strenuous exercise, and as women, we must deal with the ebb and flow of our menstrual cycle.
Did you know that the natural hormonal changes in our menstrual cycle also affect our nutrition and exercise capacity?
Cycle syncing is a fairly new concept to adjust your routines around the phases of your menstrual cycle. Let’s talk more about how you, as a female athlete, can use cycle syncing to understand your body’s needs to adjust the intensity of your workouts and nutrient needs to support your changing cycle needs.1
Phases of the Menstrual Cycle
Before we can dive into how to use the concept of cycle syncing to your athletic advantage, we first need to discuss the phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle. There are four menstrual cycle phases, and your body responds differently in each phase. This next section will focus on a 28-day menstrual cycle with a brief synopsis of the four phases:
The menstrual phase is probably the most well-known phase of a female’s menstrual cycle. The menstrual phase occurs from day 0 to day 7 of the menstrual cycle. During this phase, you have your period and shed the lining of your uterus or the endometrium. At this point, your estrogen levels are low; therefore, your energy levels tend to also be low.1
The follicular phase generally occurs on days 8 through day 13 of your menstrual cycle. At this time, you may start to feel an improvement in your energy levels because your estrogen levels naturally rise to help rebuild and thicken the endometrium or uterus wall lining.1
Days 14 through 15 tend to be the ovulation phase. This is where a female releases an egg and where they are at their most fertile. This is also the phase where estrogen and testosterone levels peak, leading to periods of high energy.1
Last but not least, days 16 through 28 are your luteal phase. At this point, the sac left from the egg released during the ovulation phase produces progesterone. What is this goal? It’s to help prep the uterus to receive a fertilized egg. Usher in those pesky PMS feelings because it’s during the end of the luteal phase when our bodies are more susceptible to PMS.1
It’s worth mentioning these guidelines are generally based on a 28-day timeframe, but females may differ. For this reason, good signs to look for during your menstrual phase include changes in your appetite, behavior, energy levels, mood and PMS symptoms.2
Cycle Syncing Your Diet and Exercise
Now that we’ve given a brief overview of each menstrual cycle phase, let’s talk about how our diet and exercise needs change during those four phases:
Nutrition and Exercise During the Menstrual Phase
During your period or menstrual cycle, this is the time when we are most susceptible to menstrual-related cramping, fatigue and irritability. This is most likely when you have less energy and is an excellent time to take advantage of low-intensity exercises such as walking, an easy jog, pilates, and stretching.1
The menstrual phase is also where you may crave calorie-packed and highly sugary foods due to hormone changes. Some good food options to consider during this phase would be iron-rich foods to help replenish the iron lost during your period. Iron-rich foods include green leafy vegetables, lean red meat, beans and lentils. Our Klean Iron supplies 27 mg of iron to help support muscle strength and performance.3
When we talk about iron, we need also to mention Vitamin C because it aids in iron absorption. This is another good nutrient to consider when on your period. Citrus fruits, berries, broccoli and red peppers are all examples of natural Vitamin C food sources. Our Klean-C provides 525 mg of Vitamin C to help with iron absorption and some immune support.4
Omega-3 fatty acids deserve an honorable mention because of their importance in musculoskeletal health and recovery. Foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish, salmon and grains such as flaxseeds and healthy tree nuts. Our Klean Omega provides 1,250 mg of marine triglyceride concentrate comprised of 500 mg of EPA and 250 mg of DHA.
Nutrition and Exercise During the Follicular Phase
As we discovered a little earlier, the follicular phase is when your energy levels start to rise due to hormonal shifts. During this time, you may want to choose foods that support your increased energy levels. Foods such as lean protein like skinless chicken, lean red meat, and fish and complex carbohydrates such as wheat, brown rice and quinoa help fuel more intense workouts such as running, swimming and group exercise classes such as power-hour classes to help spike your heart rate.1
During this phase, estrogen levels rise, so eating cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale and leafy greens help support balanced estrogen levels.
Nutrition and Exercise During Ovulation
During the ovulation phase, your estrogen levels have peaked, providing you with increased energy levels. This is a great time to promote high-intensity workouts such as bootcamp, kickboxing, or high-intensity interval training (HIIT). This is also a good time to incorporate endurance and resistance training, such as spinning and ballet-fit style classes. Since estrogen levels are peaked at this time, it’s a good idea to focus on maintaining a good intake of cruciferous vegetables to help promote healthy estrogen balance in the body.1
Nutrition and Exercise During the Luteal Phase
I think it’s safe to say that we all are familiar with the cravings brought on by PMS, like the desire for sugary and salty foods high in calories and fat.3 High-fiber foods such as whole grains, sweet potatoes and fruits can help promote satiety to help limit the onset of cravings.
Magnesium is helpful during the luteal phase because of its importance in helping muscles relax.5,6 Pumpkin seeds are a great natural source of magnesium and our Klean Magnesium supplement provides 120mg of elemental magnesium per serving.
During your luteal phase, medium-intensity cardio and strength training are at their peak. Examples of medium-intensity exercises include jogging, brisk walking and gentle, even-paced swimming.
Cycle Syncing for Athletes
As female athletes, in addition to the muscle and fitness demands we put our bodies through, we also have to deal with the hormonal fluctuations that occur during our natural cycle. Cycle syncing is one way to become aware of listening to your body and another way to nurture your body for peak performance. You can help support your unique athletic needs by visiting Klean Athlete today!
1. Cycle Syncing Nutrition and Exercise. (2023, April 4). Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/nutrition-and-exercise-throughout-your-menstrual-cycle. Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS): Causes, Symptoms & Treatment. (n.d.).
2. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/24288-pms-premenstrual-syndrome
3. Souza, L., et al. RBGO Gynecology and Obstetrics. 2018; 40(11), 686–692. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0038-1675831
4. Tauler, P., et al. Free radical research. 2003;37(9), 931-938.
5. Carvil P, Cronin J. Strength Cond J. 32(1):p 48-54, Feb 2010.
6. Vallee BL, Wacker WE, Ulmer DD. N Engl J Med. 1960 Jan 28;262:155-61.
If you currently have an account on www.shop.kleanathlete.com, click here to browse & place your order.