Cycle Syncing Foods: How to support each phase of your menstrual cycle through nutrition

May 30, 2023

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Cycle Syncing Foods

Our hormones ebb and flow each week, rising and falling, cycling like the seasons, month after month. And, whether we like it or not, these hormonal fluctuations impact our mood, energy levels, appetite, brain, and so much more! 

If you’re someone who menstruates, my guess is you know exactly what I am talking about. 

One day you’re feeling on top of the world, racing around like the Energizer bunny, checking off everything on your ‘to do’ list only to wake up the very next morning feeling crampy, moody, and depleted. A gallon of coffee to go? Yes please! (But, really coffee isn’t the solution…more on that in a future post.)

For most of my life I just “suffered” through the ups and downs of these “random” bouts of moodiness, fatigue, crampiness, etc. I knew they were somehow related to hormones but I really had no idea why or what was causing this hormonal rollercoaster ride I was on – because, honestly, that’s what it felt like. 

However, this all changed when I learned about cycle syncing. 

I was first introduced to the practice of cycle syncing about five years ago when I came across Alissa Vitti’s book, The Woman Code. Since then I’ve been digesting as many science-based publications, books, and podcasts on all things hormone health and cycle syncing. Even going as far as reading publications that dismiss the cycle syncing method. I am doing my best to leave no rock unturned. Bottom line: I am passionate about cycle syncing. 

What is cycle syncing? 

The cycle syncing method, a term trademarked by Alisa Vitti, “starts with deepening your familiarity with your 28-day hormone cycle and then tailoring your food, movement, supplements, and lifestyle choices to your unique strengths, weaknesses, and needs during each phase of your cycle.”

In short, cycle syncing is the practice of syncing your diet, exercise, social calendar, etc. to the strengths and weaknesses of the four phases of your menstrual cycle. 

Cycle syncing has truly been a game changer in my life. Not only has it opened my eyes to the importance of hormone health but it has also helped me better understand the changes taking place in my body each week

It’s a practice that has given me the tools to support and balance my hormones naturally while also providing me with the knowledge and confidence to effectively track my cycle. Best of all, cycle syncing has helped me experience less painful, more regular periods after years of menstrual irregularities. 

How does cycle syncing work?  

To truly understand how to cycle sync we have to start with the basics – the four phases of your menstrual cycle. 

Four Phases of your Menstrual Cycle 

Understanding this simple concept is key to helping you cycle sync. While the typical cycle is 28 days, everyone’s body is different. Some women experience longer luteal, follicular, or menstrual phases than others. So, it may take a few months of tracking your cycle to get a better understanding of what is “normal” for you and your body.

But, generally speaking, here’s how it’s broken down. 

Phase 1: Follicular (usually lasts 7-10 days)
Phase 2: Ovulation (usually lasts 3-4 days)
Phase 3: Luteal (usually lasts 10-14 days)
Phase 4: Menstrual (usually lasts 3-7 days)

Cycle Syncing & Seasons

I find it easier to remember each phase by likening them to the four seasons of the year, a concept based on Traditional Chinese Medicine, which uses seasonality to differentiate the phases — inner winter (menstrual phase), inner spring (follicular phase), inner summer (ovulatory phase), and inner autumn (luteal phase).

Using the seasons to define each menstrual phase is a beautiful and gentle way to visualize and embrace the continual ebbing and flowing of our hormones. 

Cycle Syncing Seasons

You have your energizing follicular phase (inner spring), followed by the sexy ovulatory phase (inner summer), your introspective and introverted luteal phase (inner autumn) and of course, your cozy menstrual phase (inner winter).

Important Note: Using seasonality to differentiate between each phase of your menstrual cycle should be used more as a guide rather than a hard and fast rule. Everyone’s body is different. For instance, a few days after I ovulate I sometimes experience a bit of anxiety as my hormone levels drop, my estrogen level drops, to be more specific. Did you know your hormone levels drop twice in one cycle? More on that below. 

Let’s dive in. 

Follicular Phase: Welcome Inner Spring

Hello spring. Budding flowers, new leaves are sprouting, birds building nests, the world is slowly coming back to life. This is how you could describe your follicular phase — the phase that starts on the first day you’re no longer bleeding and continues until you ovulate. Generally speaking the follicular phase lasts anywhere from 7-10 days.

What’s happening:

During this phase your pituitary gland releases follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). FSH helps to activate your ovaries to start producing follicles, the fluid-filled sacs where your eggs can mature. 

Each month, one “lucky” follicle (known as the dominant follicle) will beat out all the other follicles and begin to grow. As the follicle matures, it starts to secrete more estrogen. This increase in estrogen triggers the pituitary gland to decrease, or inhibit, the release of FSH produced. The negative feedback of FSH causes the other follicles to begin to wither away and reabsorb into your body allowing for the dominant follicle to reach full maturity. 

Quick reminder: estrogen is a sex hormone that plays an important role during your menstrual cycle. During the follicular phase, estrogen, which is primarily made in a woman’s ovaries, helps to thicken and prepare the lining of the uterus, the endometrium, for potential implantation. 

Follicular Phase Foods

Follicular Phase Foods

During the follicular phase you’re looking to support your body with foods that will help support rising estrogen levels, egg quality, and estrogen metabolism. 

What is estrogen metabolism?

The metabolism of estrogen takes place primarily in the liver through two phases – phase 1 (oxidation pathway) and phase 2 (conjugation pathway). These phases help estrogen to be detoxified and excreted from the body via urination and defecation. If estrogen is not metabolized efficiently it gets reabsorbed back into the body. This can become problematic as high estrogen levels can lead to irregular menstrual periods, anxiety, headaches, acne, hair loss, fatigue, as well as digestive issues. 

While diet and lifestyle modifications are not the only changes you can make to support estrogen metabolism, it’s a great place to start. 

Foods you might consider including in your diet to support estrogen metabolism include foods rich in phytoestrogens, vitamin C, vitamin B, folate, and magnesium.


Eating cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli or broccoli sprouts, brussel sprouts, or watercress, “have been found to help promote C-2 hydroxylation (the “good” estrogen) over C-4 and/or C-16α hydroxylation of estrogens.” Cruciferous vegetables are rich in 3,3-Diindolylmethane, or DIM. This compound has been shown to reduce high estrogen levels and support estrogen detox in the liver, which helps balance estrogen levels overall.  DIM has been found to be most supportive of Phase 1 detoxification of the liver. Although, you’d need to eat a whole lot of vegetables to obtain the medicinal values of DIM. 

Eating foods rich in phytoestrogens, plant-derived compounds with both estrogenic and anti-estrogenic effects, such as flaxseeds, pomegranate, berries, pumpkin seeds or grapes, have also been found to help balance estrogen levels in our bodies.

Ground Flaxseeds

Flax seeds are one of the richest source of phytoestrogens (lignans). Lignans are phytoestrogens, plant-derived compounds with both estrogenic and anti-estrogenic effects, which are abundantly available in fiber rich plants. That being said, while lignan-rich foods are part of a healthy diet, the roles of lignans in the prevention of hormone-associated cancersosteoporosis, and cardiovascular disease are not yet clear, shares the Linus Institute. Flax seeds also contain healthy fats (omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)) and fiber, both soluble and insoluble dietary fiber. Note: Ground or crushed flaxseeds are easier to digest and absorb than whole.

Fermented Foods

In general, eating foods rich in probiotics, such as kimchi, sauerkraut, or yogurt, helps to support your overall gut microbiome. But when it comes to your endocrine system probiotic-rich foods have also been found to help to support your estrobolome. The estrobolome is the aggregate of enteric bacterial genes (i,e. gut flora) capable of metabolizing estrogens. These bacterial genes sole mission is to help your body regulate it’s estrogen levels, especially during the first half of your cycle. Adding more fermented foods helps to increase the diversity of microorganisms found in your gut which in turn helps to support your estrobolome and regulate your fluctuating estrogen levels.

Why eat lighter and “cooling” foods during your follicular phase? 

Interestingly enough, some studies have found that women’s basal metabolic rate (BMR) varied significantly throughout the menstrual cycle.

For instance, during your follicular phase your metabolism slows down, as opposed to your luteal phase where you tend to burn (and consume) more calories – PMS cravings anyone!!? While more research needs to be conducted around the intricacies of how our hormones impact our metabolism (most studies have been done on a small sample size of women), it’s believed that our BMR tends to be at its lowest a week before ovulation, in other words, our metabolism slows down. 

According to a small study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, “Basal metabolic rate decreased at menstruation and fell to its lowest point approximately 1 week before ovulation subsequently rising until the beginning of the next menstrual period.” (PMID: 7124662

Another study published in the European Journal of Nutrition , which examined 259 healthy regularly menstruating women aged 18–44, found that  there was not only an increased intake of protein, and specifically animal protein, during the luteal phase but a significant increase in reported food cravings. Thus suggesting, according to the researchers, a “plausible link between macronutrient intake and menstrual cycle phase.”

In short, many women tend to experience a decrease in appetite during the follicular and ovulatory phase due to rising estrogen. This is one of the reasons why health experts recommend eating lighter foods such as chicken or raw (uncooked) fruits and veggies and using lighter cooking methods, such as steaming and sautéing, during your follicular and ovulatory phase. 

Ovulation Phase: Hello inner summer

Ovulation Phase Cycle Syncing Image

You’re feeling energized, social, active and a tad bit (or a lot) frisky? Sounds like you just entered your ovulation phase. Or, as some call it, your inner summer phase. Generally the ovulation phase lasts anywhere between 1 to 3 days. 

What’s happening?

During ovulation, the dominant follicle continues to secrete and produce estrogen. As estrogen levels reach their peak, the pituitary gland releases luteinizing hormone (LH). A surge in LH causes the ovarian follicle to rupture and release a mature egg from the ovary. Your matured egg will make its way from your ovary through your fallopian tube to your uterus leaving behind the empty follicle known as the corpus luteum.* It can take anywhere from 1 to 2 days for the egg to leave the follicle. 

During this phase, testosterone levels also rise and fall. This surge in testosterone helps to increase your sex drive. Which explains why your libido may be higher than usual. 

Did You Know?

Estrogen levels rise during the mid-follicular phase and then drop precipitously after ovulation. This is followed by a secondary rise in estrogen levels during the mid-luteal phase with a decrease at the end of the menstrual cycle. (PMID: 25905282) If you’re someone who is “sensitive to dropping levels of estrogen,” shares Gabrielle Lichterman, an award-winning health journalist, in her book 28 Days: What Your Cycle Reveals About Your Moods, Health and Potential, “the first few days of week 3 can be a bit more challenging….These cycle days can be accompanied by a bit of irritability, the blues, anxiety, and/or increased physical discomfort as estrogen sharply descends.”

Ovulation Phase Foods

Ovulation Phase Foods

During the ovulation phase you’re looking to metabolize any excess estrogen, support egg quality, and reduce aberrant/abnormal inflammation (inflammation during the ovulation phase “has a physiologic role creating a weakening in the follicle wall and eventual rupture.” But too much inflammation can become problematic.). 

Foods you might consider during this phase include foods rich in zinc, folate, magnesium, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids, to name a few. 

  • Zinc: Zinc-rich foods you might consider including in your diet during this phase include lamb, chocolate, eggs, and lentils, just to name a few. According to a study published in Biology of Reproduction, “​An adequate supply of zinc is necessary for the oocyte (the egg) to form a fertilization-competent egg as dietary zinc deficiency or chelation of zinc disrupts maturation and reduces the oocyte quality.”
  • Folate: If you’re looking to add more folate into your diet consider dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, beet greens, or chard), liver (3 oz of cooked liver contains 54% of your daily value (DV) of folate), beets, strawberries, or lentils. 
  • Omega-3s: When it comes to increasing your sources of omega-3 fatty acids, look no further than fatty fish such as salmon (preferable wild caught), mackerel, and herring. Avocados, chia seeds, and flax seeds are also a great source of healthy fats, although those are high in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which is harder for the body to convert to EPA. To learn more about how healthy fats, specifically omega-3 fatty acids, impact pregnancy and women’s overall menstrual health, check out podcast episode 96: 3 Reasons Why Women Should be Consuming More Omega-3 Fatty Acids, with Ayla Barmmer, MS, RDN, LDN.

Liver Supporting Foods

Similar to the follicular phase, during the ovulation phase consider adding liver supporting foods, i.e.  foods that help boost bile formation. One of the many reasons for this is that your liver, also known as your body’s “filter,” plays a large role in the breaking down of and elimination of excess hormones, in this case estrogen. See estrogen metabolism note above.

Liver supporting foods include artichokes, milk thistle, bitter greens (dandelion greens, mustard greens, arugula, etc.), and beets. 

Luteal Phase: Slowing down for Autumn

Luteal Phase Cycle Syncing

The morning air is crisp, leaves are slowly changing colors, and the days are getting shorter. It’s time to pull out your cozy sweaters and to gently retreat indoors with a warm cup of tea and prepare for winter. Your inner autumn is here, you’ve entered your luteal phase. A time for nesting, decluttering, and tying up loose ends. Generally speaking the luteal phase lasts anywhere between 11-14 days

What’s going on?

During the first half of your luteal phase the remnants of the ovarian follicle that enclosed the developing egg form a small yellow structure called the corpus luteumThe primary purpose of the corpus luteum is to create progesterone though it also continues to pump out some estrogen. You can think of the corpus luteum as a “a temporary endocrine gland.” 

The rise in estrogen and progesterone helps to keep the lining of your uterus thickened, preparing the endometrium for the potential of pregnancy. It also signals the pituitary and hypothalamus glands slow down the production of the hormones FSH and LH. Progesterone also prohibits the muscle contractions in the uterus that would cause the body to reject an egg. 

If an egg is not fertilized (no pregnancy occurs), the corpus luteum breaks down thus decreasing the levels of progesterone sparking menstruation. If an egg is fertilized, your body will start to produce human gonadotropin (hCG). HCG enables the corpus luteum to keep producing progesterone (for about 10-12 weeks) until the placenta starts to take over progesterone production. No longer needed, the corpus luteum will then get smaller and break down. 

Luteal Phase Foods

Luteal Phase Foods

During the luteal phase you’re looking to include foods rich in vitamin B, zinc, magnesium, complex carbs, protein, and fiber.

Why are complex carbs so important during your luteal phase?

Complex carbs from whole foods such as sweet potatoes, rolled oats, millet, etc. have been found to help stabilize blood sugar and improve overall mood. They increase availability of the feel-good mood stabilizer chemical serotonin in your brain

In fact, one study I came across in the American Journal of Public Health reported that “increased fruit and vegetable consumption was predictive of increased happiness, life satisfaction, and well-being.”

The key here is to keep your blood sugar levels balanced throughout the entirety of your menstrual cycle but most importantly during the luteal phase so as to help reduce energy and mood dips.

It’s also important to note here that a decrease in estrogen and progesterone levels can also lead to a corresponding drop in serotonin and dopamine levels in women, i.e. our “feel good” chemicals. This is one reason why you may feel more irritable, moody, tired, or depressed the week leading up to your period. (PMID: 28751855)

Supporting serotonin levels with tryptophan-rich foods?

Supporting your diet with foods rich in Tryptophan (TPH), an essential amino acid found primarily in proteinaceous food such as cheese, eggs, tuna, turkey, oats, cheese, nuts, and seeds, is one possible way you can support your serotonin levels. Note: tryptophan can be converted into a molecule called 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan), which is used to make serotonin. (PMID: 26805875)

How much tryptophan-containing foods can affect serotonin levels in the brain is ongoing! And, as Kathleen Robins, RDN, notes: “No one amino acid or vitamin or mineral is the cure all for anything… especially happiness, i.e. serotonin in the brain. It’s a healthy combo of food, good sleep, exposure to natural light, exercise, and being around family and friends!”  

Vitamin B6-Rich Foods

Another important vitamin to include in our diets during this phase (and anytime really) is vitamin B6. Vitamin B6, a water-soluble vitamin, may help increase and support progesterone levels. 

According to a study published in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine, women who experience PMS seemed to experience fewer overall symptoms when taking vitamin B6. In fact, the study states, “Administration of vitamin B6 at doses of 200-800 mg/day reduces blood estrogen, increases progesterone and results in improved symptoms under double-blind conditions.” (PMID: 6684167)

Foods rich in vitamin B6 include fish, beef liver and other organ meats, chickpeas, and other starchy vegetables, and fruit. Note: vitamin B6 must be obtained from external sources such as foods or supplements as our body can not produce it on its own. 

Menstrual Phase: Time to cozy up for winter  

Sit yourself by the fireside, read a good book, rest by the hearth while the cold wind blows outside. Winter is here, your menstrual phase has begun. During this phase your hormone levels are at their lowest and your bleed has begun. So, give yourself permission to rest. Your menstrual phase is also a good time to tune- in with yourself, to journal, and spend some quality time reflecting. Saying ‘no’ to social events and setting boundaries to protect your inner peace and energy during this phase is more than OK. Your body needs it –  winter is a time to hibernate. This phase generally lasts anywhere between 3 to 7 days. 

What’s happening? 

About 10 days after the egg has left the dominant follicle, if no fertilization has taken place, the corpus luteum will start to break down. With this breakdown comes a drop in progesterone and estrogen, which leads to the shedding of your endometrial lining.

Your hormone levels are at their lowest the week of your period, i.e. the phase where you shed the endometrial lining if conception hasn’t occurred.

On average, a “normal” menstrual period lasts anywhere from 3 to 7 days, with the first 2 to 3 days being the heaviest. Blood loss during this phase generally ranges between 30 to 72ml (5 to 12 teaspoons), although some women bleed more heavily than this. Note: See your doctor if you’re concerned about your period health.

Menstrual Phase Foods

Menstrual Phase Foods

While there are various reasons as to why and how much women may bleed during their menstrual phase,  eating foods rich in nutrients such as iron, zinc, copper, and healthy fats can help to re-mineralize and restore nutrients lost during your period. 

Some of my favorite foods to help me restore lost nutrients during my period include:

1. Oysters: Great source of iron and omega-3 fatty acids

2. Seaweed: Rich source of several vitamins, including vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids) and minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, and copper. Also a good source of iodine. 

3. Beets: Great source of folate, magnesium, potassium, vitamins c, betalains, dietary nitrates, and fiber.  

4. Sardines: Great source of Vitamin B-12, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, and calcium. 

5. Liver: Packed with zinc, choline, iron and vitamin A. Note: You don’t need to eat much, 3 oz weekly is plenty!

6. Buckwheat: Great source of complex carbs. Eating foods rich in complex carbs has been found to help stabilize blood sugar and improve overall mood. Eating complex carbs increases the availability of the feel-good mood stabilizer chemical serotonin in your brain.

7. Dark chocolate: Rich in magnesium, which has been found to help alleviate period cramps. 

Not sure how to incorporate these foods in your diet? Good news! I am working on a cookbook packed with delicious and simple recipes that include all these ingredients and more! 

In the meantime check out the following recipes: 

To learn more, check out the following episodes of The Wise Consumer Podcast: 

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