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What is cycle syncing? Everything to know, from foods to workouts to fertility

OB-GYNs and endocrinologists weigh in on the benefit of changing your diet and activity habits based on your menstrual cycle.
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During phases of your menstrual cycle when energy is low, your body may benefit from easy movement like yoga and stretching.Kseniya Ovchinnikova / Getty Images

For ages, women have been developing coping skills to manage the changes that come with their unique menstrual cycle. A more recent trend that promises to help is cycle syncing — the practice of altering your health routine based on your menstrual cycle.

On TikTok, some users claim certain diet and fitness habits help them feel better during different phases of their cycle, such as long walks and mint tea when menstruating or strength training when your hormones are providing an energy boost.

Some fitness programs are even developing workout plans using the menstrual cycle as a guide. For example, the popular Pilates workout Pvolve released a “Phase and Function” workout that tailors the type and intensity of exercise to your cycle — all with the goal of minimizing PMS symptoms and optimizing your body’s energy and strength during each phase.

But does this actually work? Here's what experts say about cycle syncing.

What is cycle syncing?

Cycle syncing is a practice that attempts to use lifestyle habits to combat the negative effects the menstrual cycle can have on mood, appetite and energy.

Cycle syncing refers to lifestyle modifications based on the timing of one’s cycle. For those who practice cycle syncing, the thought behind it is that changing one’s behaviors during different times of the cycles can help reduce intensity of symptoms and stabilize their mood,” Dr. Asima Ahmad, board-certified reproductive endocrinologist and OB-GYN, and chief medical officer of Carrot Fertility, tells TODAY.com.

The practice can include changes to your diet, workout routine and other daily activities, all in an attempt to help boost energy levels and ease hormonal symptoms.

The term cycle syncing can also refer to syncing your cycle with a life event. “For example, if somebody is planning to go on vacation and they don’t want to get their period at the time, or they’re planning to start fertility treatment, we might use a medicine, which is a completely different concept to delay a period,” says Dr. Khaled Zeitoun, a board-certified OB/GYN and reproductive endocrinology/ infertility specialist at New Hope Fertility.

On TikTok, supporters of cycle syncing say it's all about taking your body's lead.“I’m trying to listen to my body and do what I have the energy for,” one user said.

“Now that I understand a little bit more about my hormones and how they can affect me throughout the month, I listen to my body a little bit better,” another said about practicing cycle syncing.

Benefits of cycle syncing

There are no documented, scientific benefits to cycle syncing, Dr. Irene Woo, board-certified reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist at HRC Fertility, tells TODAY.com.

“It’s true that hormones do fluctuate during the different phases of your menstrual cycle, and it is also true that hormones can affect your physiology, energy levels and mood and things like that,” she explains. But your hormones are unlikely to behave the same every month due to factors like stress, weight changes, medications and more.

So, “to say that every month, you will experience the exact same physiologic change in your body so that you can schedule your whole exercise regimen around it, it’s unlikely,” Woo adds.

However, in order to cycle sync, you need to be aware of your menstrual cycle, which does have benefits. For example, Woo says it can be helpful to notice changes in your menstrual cycle from month to month and bring them up with your doctor.

“It’s kind of exciting to see that just tracking your menstrual cycle can go viral,” she says. “The best part is that this trend encourages women to know their body, to be mindful of where they are in their cycle and the hormonal changes that are happening so that they can really be more generous, forgiving and tender to their bodies.”

Dr. Anate Brauer, board-certified reproductive endocrinologist and IVF director at Shady Grove Fertility in New York, agrees: “Tracking a cycle or two could be helpful to better understand why you feel a certain way and when, but stringent tracking with vigilance to diet and activities could cause more stress and anxiety than it’s worth.”

Ahmad doesn’t practice or discuss cycle syncing with patients, but does recommend her patients spend time getting to know their unique cycle in detail.

“I do recommend that the individual track their symptoms and then discuss them with a doctor before considering cycle syncing to rule out any other medical issues or concerns that may be causing some of their symptoms,” Ahmad says.

What are the different phases of the menstrual cycle?

For women who have regular periods, there are three main phases of the menstrual cycle, and each one comes with its own unique set of symptoms, the experts say.

The follicular phase starts on day one of your cycle, which is the first day your uterine lining from the previous cycle starts to shed, aka your period, Woo explains. Also during the follicular phase, an egg is selected to be the egg for the month, and the body starts to make estrogen around day five, which signals to uterus to stop shedding the lining and instead to start growing it again.

Once the egg is done maturing, there’s another surge of a hormone called LH, or the luteinizing hormone. Then your body releases the egg, and it enters the fallopian tube, at which point it has about 24 hours to be fertilized. This is the ovulatory phase.

After ovulation, you enter your luteal phase, where the cells that were supporting the growing egg change and start producing a different hormone, called progesterone. This signals to the uterine lining to prepare for a possible pregnancy and become receptive to a possible embryo.

If the egg did get fertilized, then it takes about five days to reach the uterus, at which point the estrogen and progesterone should’ve made it easy for the embryo to gently attach. Then you’ll start producing the pregnancy hormone, which will signal to your body to keep producing estrogen and progesterone to support the pregnancy.

If you didn’t get pregnant, there will be no pregnancy hormone a week after you ovulate, and your progesterone levels will drop. And a week after that, you’ll start to shed your uterine lining, starting the cycle over again.

The follicular phase often results in increased energy levels as estrogen rises, whereas the luteal phase can lead to “decreased energy levels and increased levels of anxiety ... as estrogen plummets and progesterone rises,” says Brauer.

During the luteal phase and when you’re menstruating, you may feel bloated, fatigued and less inclined to push yourself physically, Woo says.

During your period, symptoms can also include fatigue, cramping and mood changes, says Ahmad.

Foods for cycle syncing

While there isn’t any scientific evidence to back cycle syncing, Zeitoun says there are foods that may help ease cramps and other symptoms common to specific phases in your cycle. “Women can change their diet and activity habits based on their menstrual cycle to help boost energy levels and ease hormonal symptoms,” he adds. 

Follicular phase

Your body is making more estrogen, so seek out foods that promote estrogen production like tofu, Zeitoun says.

Ovulatory and luteal phases

Seek out fiber and foods rich in vitamin B to help ease gastrointestinal discomfort, like bloating and constipation, as hormones rise and progesterone kicks in, he says.

Menstrual phase

“During the menstrual phase, the body is sort of in a cold state, losing energy,” Zeitoun explains. So it’s important to stay well hydrated and look for energy-rich foods that are high in electrolytes during this phase.

Woo also suggests avoiding foods that can increase water retention when you’re menstruating, such as salty or fatty foods, soda, alcohol and caffeine. “Ginger, mint teas, things like that can potentially help,” she adds.

Workouts for cycle syncing

Your energy levels vary based on where you are in your cycle, so it’s natural to alter your workout routine based on how sluggish you’re feeling.

Follicular phase

Zeitoun notes that energy levels are pretty stable during the follicular phase. They peak at ovulation, and most of us can be more active at this time, he adds. “At that time, the energy levels go up, metabolism goes down a little bit, and it is a good time to exercise and have an active lifestyle and get things done,” he says.

Luteal phase

During the luteal phase, you may not be able to push yourself as hard and may feel like you’re not doing your best, so it’s important to give yourself forgiveness and be tender with your body if needed, Woo says.

However, she stresses that women “are not at the mercy of the menstrual hormones. We have agency. So, you might be in your luteal phase and have progesterone around that makes you more bloated and fatigued, but if you had a hard week at work … and you want to do a HIIT class or intense cardio training program, by all means you should do that.”

Ultimately, Woo suggests having a mindset of: “I am in this cycle. I am aware that these changes could be happening, and I’m OK with it. And I can use my body to go as hard or as gentle as I want.”

Does cycle syncing help balance hormones?

Balancing hormones with food and other lifestyle factors has been a popular social media trend. The truth is some hormone imbalances require medical treatment, and other hormone imbalances go away on their own, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

If you’re worried you have a hormone imbalance, Woo strongly discourages trying to balance it on your own with cycle syncing.

“Hormones are chemical signals that your endocrine glands release, (like) messages to different parts of your body to coordinate the function of it,” she explains, adding that there are over 50 hormones your body makes so “hormone imbalance” is a very broad term.

“If you think that there is a change in your menstrual cycle or in your health and you have persistent symptoms, don’t balance hormones on your own. You should see a physician and get a comprehensive evaluation and diagnosis,” Woo emphasizes.

The longer you try tips you find online instead of seeing a medical professional, the longer you’re delaying treatment for what could be a real medical issue, she adds.

Can you cycle sync after menopause?

Cycle syncing isn’t possible after menopause because the definition of menopause is not having any more cycles, and as a result of not having any more cycles, your progesterone and estrogen levels will start to stabilize, Woo says.

While the levels of hormones during menopause are a relatively new area of research, Woo says she’s not aware of any evidence of cyclical hormonal changes in menopause.

Does cycle syncing help with fertility?

While there’s no evidence that changing your diet and workout routine to align with different phases of your menstrual cycle can boost your fertility, Woo says that having an in-depth knowledge of your menstrual cycle can certainly help with becoming pregnant.

“If you know where you are (in your cycle) and when you’re about to ovulate, that will help," she explains. "Again, the takeaway point is it’s always good to know where you are in your cycle, to know your body (and) to also know if there’s any red flag indicators to go see a fertility doctor."

Should you try cycle syncing?

While all the experts say they wouldn’t specifically recommend cycle syncing to their patients, they believe tuning into how your body feels during the various phases of your cycle is wise.

“The menstrual cycle experience is different for each individual. There are many variables including lifestyle, weight and other medical issues (such as hormone dysfunction) that can impact one’s cycle,” Ahmad says.

It’s important to note that some frequent side effects of the menstrual cycle can also be signs of a larger underlying issue, Ahmad adds.

“If someone is feeling off or doesn’t feel quite right … they know their body best, and I think it’s always a good idea to bring up these symptoms with their OB-GYN or another health care provider,” Ahmad says. “Sometimes these symptoms can be secondary to hormone fluctuations, like low estradiol or even anemia secondary to heavy bleeding from your period.”

And before embarking on a cycle syncing routine, the experts suggest consulting your doctor. Seeking out the help of a dietitian is also a good idea if you’re serious about adjusting your diet to cope with menstrual cycle side effects.

“What I do tell my patients is to listen to their bodies, and when these symptoms are occurring, modify their activities to limit the toll on their bodies when energy levels are low,” Ahmad says.