The world we live in predominantly focuses on the 24-hour body clock known as our circadian rhythm. While our circadian rhythm is a hugely important cycle in our health, women also have another clock that is fundamental to their wellbeing, and it works around their monthly cycle – the Infradian rhythm.
Working with this monthly body clock balances our hormones, limiting the debilitating symptoms of imbalance such as weight issues, fatigue, cramps, acne, sleep issues to name a few. Many of us consider PMS to be normal and something, as women, we must learn to live with, however, all the symptoms of PMS are actually a sign of hormonal imbalance. Cycle syncing allows women to support their hormonal changes rather than our natural inclination to work against them, pushing ourselves even when we feel like there is nothing left in the tank. This synergy allows us to feel more energised, better in ourselves and put an end to many ongoing health issues that are linked to hormone health.
Throughout the monthly cycle, a woman’s hormone levels change dramatically – we, therefore, shouldn’t expect to treat our bodies or for it to respond in the same way continuously.
For example, the oestrogen and progesterone fluctuations during the cycle trigger brain changes in response. Studies show the female brain can change by up to 25 per cent during the cycle, explaining why we often don’t feel like the same person day-to-day.
The male hormone clock is coincidentally a 24-hour cycle, peaking in the morning. This allows them to work in a daily routine, often waking up raring to go and cramming in that intense morning workout before a morning full of meetings. But for us women, at certain times of the month when our bodies are needing to turn inwards and regenerate, engaging in this kind of routine can create stress on our bodies and even trigger fat storage. While it may sound like yet another thing that favours the male gender, by moving and feeding our bodies differently through the cycle, we can actually push ourselves further when it’s the right time, whilst indulging in all the self-care and relaxation when the time calls for that too.
Rather than seeing our cycle changes as an inconvenience, we can learn to use them to our advantage. Recognise those days when your body just doesn’t want to do that workout? Or you wake-up feeling hungrier than usual? It’s normal. Your hormone changes affect your metabolism, your energy, your mood. Working with your cycle can in fact help all women but especially those with hormone conditions such as PCOS, those trying to conceive, and those who struggle with weight gain.
There are four phases in a women’s monthly cycle: Follicular, Ovulation, Luteal and Menstrual:
The follicular phase technically starts on the first day of your period when the brain signals the release of FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone), so it overlaps with the menstrual phase. However, for the purpose of the separate four phases of the cycle, we consider this phase to begin directly after your bleed ends. This phase lasts about 7-10 days during which oestrogen levels begin to rise to initiate the renewal of the uterus lining. This triggers a rise in energy levels, making it the time for light cardio such as running, cycling, dancing, hiking.
This change in oestrogen also means it is the time to focus on fresh, vibrant whole foods as well as fermented and probiotic rich options such as miso, tempeh, or kimchi to aid the microbiome prior to ovulation.
The ovulation phase is roughly mid-way through the cycle and usually lasts about 3-4 days. Oestrogen and testosterone are at their peak giving you energy to burn and the desire to be social.
Intense workouts and group classes can satisfy this, such as HIIT, spinning, boxing or even boot camps. The body can sustain the rawest foods in this phase and as the metabolism drops, it is time to focus on lighter meals such as salads and smoothies. Whole fruits, vegetables and other anti-inflammatory choices support the liver in this phase while hormones are high.
The luteal phase is the longest phase lasting for about 10-14 days and is the time when progesterone production is triggered alongside a further rise in oestrogen prior to both suddenly dropping before your period. We can therefore look at this phase in two halves due to the contrast in hormones. Since in the first half of the phase hormone levels are still high, your body can sustain exercise such as strength training, power yoga or weight training. But, in the second half, your hormones drop, shifting out of muscle-building mode and requiring more gentle forms of movement such as Pilates, barre and gentle yoga.
During this phase, the body needs more calories as your metabolism starts to speed up. Rather than thinking that means eat more and feed those sugar cravings, you should focus on eating healthy, wholesome foods and avoid choices that can trigger PMS in the lead up to your period, like caffeine and refined sugars. Instead consume more complex carbs to stabilise blood sugar levels such as sweet potatoes and brown rice. Cooked leafy greens will help with fluid retention and iron levels and high fibre foods like chickpeas, pears and apples will help the liver and large intestine flush out oestrogen more effectively. Magnesium-rich foods such as dark chocolate, spinach, bananas, nuts, and seeds will also help during this time.
The menstrual phase is the one we can all identify but can vary for many of us, usually lasting between 3-7 days. As the progesterone production drops, the uterus sheds its endometrial lining, triggering a bleed. Hormone levels are at their lowest and so are our energy levels. Any high-intensity exercise now will turn on fat storage, so focus on restorative activities such as walking, yin yoga and mat Pilates as well as prioritising sleep and rest. Continue to limit or ideally avoid alcohol, caffeine, and processed foods, and instead increase the intake of quality protein, healthy fats and nutrient-dense foods. Focus on warming choices such as stews and soups as well as iron and zinc-rich options like cooked greens, seafood, red meat, kidney beans. The main objective in this phase is to replenish and nurture your body through its bleed.
words by Alexandra Pope
As a Health and Wellness Coach, I work with various clients using this method and introducing it into their lives, helping them improve their wellbeing and any imbalances they may be experiencing.
Find more information on working with Alexandra at www.root-to-wellness.com with a free 30-minute discovery call on how she could help you, or follow her on Instagram @root.to.wellness.