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Eating and Exercising for Your Cycle

What can you do to roll with the punches of your menstrual cycle? Eat right! By knowing what your body needs and when, you can adapt your diet and exercise regimens to embrace better wellbeing – not to mention enjoy relief from common symptoms like cramps and low energy.

Hormonal Shifts in 4 Phases

Cycle syncing – have you heard of it? The main idea behind cycle syncing is adapting your lifestyle (diet and exercise!) to best suit the changing needs of your body throughout its menstrual cycle. It considers specific elements, like what/how/when/why hormones change, to anticipate which foods and activities the body can benefit from the most. In a nut shell, cycle syncing can help you make sure your body is getting the nutrients, rest, and relief needed at each stage of your cycle.

This scientific approach – which also feels intuitive – is not a basic distinction between being on your period or not. Rather, it takes a closer look at all 4 stages of the menstrual cycle, breaking down the subtle changes and hormonal surges happening throughout.

Menstruation (Day 1-5)

The day your period starts is considered the first day of your cycle. During this time, estrogen and progesterone levels are low, and the body can benefit from a restock of rich nutrients to replace what’s lost during menstrual bleeding. Bonus: finding relief from cramps and overall discomfort.

  • What to Eat – Foods high in magnesium and iron; Foods rich in essential fatty acids. Think: dark green vegetables, leafy greens, avocados, fish, nuts and seeds. Avoid salty foods, caffeine and alcohol, which can make bloating worse. Warm, soothing teas like chamomile and lemongrass may help with cramps and promote better sleep.
  • How to Exercise – Light exercise is ideal, but rest can be rejuvenating, too! While movement can sometimes relieve cramps, this isn’t the best time to push yourself with high-intensity workouts. Instead, stick to yoga, power walking or stretching – if you’re feeling up to it.

Follicular Phase (Day 6-14)

Estrogen and progesterone levels are rising during this phase in preparation for ovulation, so nourishment remains important. Even if you aren’t trying to conceive, egg release helps regulate other hormones, like progesterone, which can ultimately influence mood and cycle schedule.

  • What to Eat – Protein and whole foods. Avoid foods that can cause blood sugar spikes.
  • How to Exercise – Level-up workouts with short bursts of aerobic activity, cardio and movement.

Ovulation (Day 15-17)

During this time, estrogen levels peak, while testosterone and progesterone continue to rise. It’s common to feel warmer than usual and extra-energized, as well as experiencing stiffness around the lower back, hips and abdomen.

  • What to Eat – Anti-inflammatory foods. Think: fruits, veggies, almonds, oats, and berries, with a variety of raw and cooked items.
  • How to Exercise – Now’s the time for circuit training, high-intensity workouts, and exercises that require stamina.

Luteal/Pre-Menstrual Phase (Day 18-28)

Here we go again! The body is gearing up for another round of menstruation. During the luteal phase, progesterone is on the rise, while testosterone and estrogen are depleted.

  • What to Eat – Protein and healthy fats; Foods that produce serotonin. Think: leafy greens, brown rice, roots, fish and ginger. Avoid dairy and carbonated drinks, which can intensify pre-menstrual bloating, digestive pain, and cramps.
  • How to Exercise – Regular cardio and strength training.

Remember, everyone’s cycle is unique! This timeline is approximate, and not everyone experiences the same shifts in mood, energy, pain, and digestion. Listen to your body to help determine the best diet and exercise adaptation for your cycle.

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Dr. Candice Seti


California-licensed Clinical Psychologist, Certified Nutrition Coach, and Certified Personal Trainer

Dr. Candice Seti

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