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Menstrual Syncing - How to use your hormones to your advantage

Being a female can sometimes feel like hard work. We’ve got monthly periods, pregnancy and menopause to deal with along with the fluctuating hormone levels.


It can sometimes feel like your hormones are working against you, making everything that bit harder, or sometimes, a lot harder. In this week’s blog post, I want to cover how we can get our hormones working with us and how we can use them to our advantage using menstrual syncing.

Although it may not always feel like it, hormones, when they are working for you, can feel like a superpower you never knew you had. Oestrogen gives you confidence and lifts you up, whereas progesterone is like your natural chill pill keeping you calm and zen.


You might have noticed that there are some days when you just feel utterly drained, or times when you surprise yourself by lifting heavier weights effortlessly. Whilst of course there are other factors involved in this e.g. how stressed you are, how much sleep you’ve had or what you’ve eaten, but your hormones also play a big part in how we feel each day.


Unlike men, our hormones (during menstruating years) fluctuate on both a 24 hour and a 28 day cycle, and we can use these fluctuations to our advantage. Here’s how.


What happens during a menstrual cycle

There are four phases to every cycle and the length of time will vary person to person.


The below timelines are based on a 28 day cycle so there will be some fluctuation as to when you move into the different phases.


Days 1 - 5 - Menstruation phase

This marks the first day of your menstrual cycle (a.k.a the first day you start bleeding)


Days 6 - 14 - Follicular phase


Days 15-17 - Ovulation phase


Days 18 - 28 - Luteal phase


There are four main hormones involved in your cycle which fluctuate throughout the month. They all cue off each other which creates a beautiful ebb and flow of your energy, mood, social preferences and performance throughout the month.


Oestrogen dominates the first half of the cycle and is responsible for thickening the lining of the uterus ready for pregnancy in case it occurs. Progesterone takes over during the second half of the cycle and has a lovely calming and anti-anxiety effect on the body.


Luteinising hormone (LH) and follicular stimulating hormone (FSH) are the other two hormones which take part and are both produced in the brain. FSH stimulates the maturation of the ovarian follicles which prepares the body for ovulation. LH then triggers ovulation at the midpoint in your cycle and supports the development of the corpus luteum, which then goes on to produce progesterone for the second half of your cycle.


How to use each phase to your advantage

As the hormones fluctuate during each phase, we can use these hormones to our advantage to prioritise the type of exercise we do, what our energy levels are like, what social activities we take part in and even how we alter our diet.


Menstruation

All four hormones are low during this point which means our energy levels are also low. The lining of the uterus is being shed which causes bleeding which can also reduce our iron stores, again contributing to lower energy levels.


It is a time for hibernation and nourishment. Think duvet days, Netflix marathons and snuggling up on the sofa reading a good book. It might also be a time when you want some alone time so if you can schedule a few hours or are lucky enough to have a day to yourself, now is the time to do it.


We are also a lot more intuitive during menstruation so it can be a great time to reflect on the previous month and journal what feels right and wrong in your life. It isn’t the time to be making changes but it is the time to assess what might need to change.


If the first few days of your period fall on a work day, try to take it easy, complete easy and not too demanding tasks and keep stress levels low. Avoid anything too physical if you have a manual job and avoid being the centre of attention like giving a presentation if you can.


Exercise intensity should also be kept low. Think of activities like gentle walking, meditation, yoga, tai chi and stretching are all brilliant during this phase.


As menstruation is all about nourishment you want to focus on getting in as much goodness as you can and a good balance of all three macronutrients and lots of veggies. Especially in winter, soups and stews make the perfect food during menstruation and add in some red meat or dark leafy greens to up your iron intake. Limit caffeine, sugar and alcohol if you can as these will deplete the bodies resources.


Follicular Phase

As we head out of menstruation, oestrogen starts to rise and is the star of the first half of the menstrual cycle. As oestrogen starts to rise, so does your energy, so you will probably find you have more capacity to take on tasks as the follicular phase progresses.


It is the perfect time to start new projects, make new changes and wrap up projects that you didn’t have time to finish before menstruation hit. The higher oestrogen levels also make your brain more logical so it is an excellent time to sort out your monthly planning and get everything organised.


As oestrogen increases you will find you have more stamina. Start out in the follicular phase focusing on light cardio, flow-based yoga and gentle jogs but you can build the intensity as you head into ovulation.


Carbohydrates can actually be kept quite low during this phase and can be useful especially if you are wanting to lose weight. Do not cut out carbohydrates completely but focus on including smaller amounts of starchy and fibrous carbohydrates found in vegetables instead. Make sure to include good amounts of protein and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, radishes, rocket) needed for detoxification.


Ovulation

As oestrogen peaks, ovulation hits. FSH and LH levels also peak during this time and progesterone is on the rise. Although testosterone isn’t intimately involved in the monthly menstrual cycle, it does also peak at ovulation so you might find you have more drive and strength during ovulation.


Your energy levels should be sky high during ovulation. You feel more confident, motivated, outgoing and social. Now is the time to schedule a night out with the girls, a work presentation or group activities as you will thrive in these situations. You will be great at connecting and listening to people, however just avoid making long-standing commitments during this phase, as you might feel like superwoman right now, but you may well regret your decision as your energy levels drop in future phases.


During ovulation you also have more capacity for high intensity exercise such as HIIT or spin classes. Thanks to testosterone you can also bank some PBs at the gym lifting weights.


As all hormones are high during this phase, focus on foods to support detoxification. Think lots of fibre for gut health as well as foods high in antioxidants such as cruciferous vegetables, berries, olive oil, garlic, herbs and spices.


Luteal

Progesterone takes over in the luteal phase creating a chill vibe, so you might notice you are calmer during this phase. Oestrogen levels dip slightly before rising again and you might notice your energy levels start to drop with the dip.


Energy levels naturally decline as you approach the menstruation phase once again so you might start out strong during this phase, but listen to your body and dial it back if required. It can be helpful to split this phase into two phases to get the benefits. From day 18 - 23 your energy will likely be similar to the ovulation phase and then from day 23 onwards, your energy will likely drop. This of course will be unique to you so taking note and tracking can be useful.


Focus on strength training, pilates and more intense yoga classes, but listen to your body and pull back where needed.


As your body prepares for menstruation you also have a higher requirement for carbohydrates. So whilst these could be kept quite low during follicular and ovulation, now is the time to add a little more to your plate to sustain you. Also load up on healthy fats and good quality protein to help reduce PMS cravings. Getting in more magnesium rich sources such as dark leafy greens, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate can help to relieve such PMS symptoms, as well as lots of oily fish for its omega 3 content.


You have a drive for structure and order during the luteal phase, so don’t be surprised if you get the urge to clean or clear out that cupboard that has been bugging you (I usually do!). It is a time where you are focused and can often wrap up projects or complete tasks that have been hanging around. If time runs out however, and you enter menstruation, park those tasks until the follicular phase where you will have a lot more energy and enthusiasm to complete them.


How to get started

First you need to start tracking your cycle if you aren’t already. You can do this manually but there are many great apps now, I personally like Flo.


Record either manually or on the app the date of your monthly period, how long it lasts for, and most apps also give you the option to record how you are feeling. Tracking on a daily basis what your energy is like and how you are feeling can start to give you clues where you are in your cycle.


You can also use ovulation sticks or thermometers to understand further where you are in your cycle, as well as using your body signals to give you clues. For example, just before ovulation your cervical mucus will turn clear and slippery, whereas on the lead up you may notice it is normally thick, white and dry instead.


What happens if you are on the pill?

The hormone contraceptive pill suppresses the natural production of your hormones. So the beautiful natural ebb and flow of hormones throughout the month remain flat. This is because you are getting a continuous dose of synthetic oestrogen and/or progestin. Birth control commonly prevents ovulation by suppressing LH and FSH and you aren’t producing your own progesterone since ovulation isn’t happening. So you might not experience much fluctuation in your energy, mood or performance throughout the month. So women do, others don’t. It depends on the type of contraceptive and you as an individual. If you have a break in your pill and experience a bleed, this isn’t actually a period, just a withdrawal bleed from the contraceptive pill so this shouldn’t automatically be considered the menstruation phase.


What if you have irregular cycles?

If you aren’t already, first start tracking your cycles to understand if there is actually a pattern to your cycles or are they completely irregular. If there is some sort of pattern then pay close attention to tracking your symptoms, cervical mucus and consider using ovulation sticks or thermometers to know what phase you are currently in.


Seed cycling is something that can be useful to help make cycles more regular and even out the phases if they have gone a bit astray. The premise is including certain types of seeds during particular phases of your cycle to encourage the production of the star hormone during this phase.


For example, flax and pumpkin seeds encourage your body to produce oestrogen and sunflower and sesame seeds help with progesterone production which you need during the second half of your cycle.


It is as simple as including 2 tbsp of each ground flaxseed and pumpkin seeds on days 1 to 14, and 2 tbsp of each sunflower and sesame seeds on days 15 - 28. Remember day 1 of your cycle is the first day you start to bleed and the changeover should happen at ovulation. This can be around day 14 but you track your own cycle and change over when your ovulation occurs.

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