Twice a month, Yahoo Health’s Hormone Whisperer Alisa Vitti, HHC, is answering the most common questions about hormones and how they relate to weight, sex, acne, bad moods, low energy, and everything in between. Read her introductory column to learn more about Alisa’s approach to stopping hormonal chaos and getting into hormonal flow.
THE QUESTION: I’ve heard that changing the way I eat and exercise throughout the month can help regulate my cycle and manage some of my hormonal symptoms. Is this true? How can I start planning smarter meals and workouts?
ALISA’S ANSWER: Let me start by saying a resounding “YES!” Anyone familiar with the work I do at FLO Living knows that I regularly extol the benefits of cycle-syncing when it comes to food, but I’m also a big believer in tailoring your workout plan to your monthly flow. The problem many women come up against, of course, is that cultural messages tell us we should always be pushing ourselves to the limit when it comes to physical fitness. And sometimes, this drive to sweat hard and achieve personal gym records can feel great. But at other times, it can be the worst thing for your hormonal health.
Do you find yourself exhausted after a spinning session some days, while other times, the same sweaty workout gives you a great boost of energy? Of course you do! Different times in your cycle set you up to feel differently at varying points in the month. Your body is primed and ready for certain kinds of exercise — like intense cardio versus yoga — depending on where your hormones are.
When it comes to exercise, it’s so important to change your routine according to where you’re at in your cycle. Sometimes, you can’t always push as hard as you might want to or feel like you should, and other times, the pushing can feel really good and benefit your body and mind. While science works to catch up with the wisdom of women’s bodies, there are ways you can work with your own endocrine system and hormonal changes to reap real benefits from exercise.
The FLO Science: Why is it important to cycle sync your diet and exercise?
When it comes to our hormonal health, you have probably heard that too much exercise or working out too hard can cause irregular cycles, missing periods, endometriosis, and more. You’ve probably also heard that too little exercise brings on the symptoms of PCOS, can raise your risk of cancer, and makes your periods heavy and painful. We are overwhelmed with advice, tips, and research.
Thankfully, your hormonal patterns provide all you need to figure out your optimal exercise. The cyclical pattern of our bodies sets up the perfect architecture to plan out the best workout. During each phase of our menstrual cycle, our bodies are primed and prepared for different kinds of exercise. At certain times, our stores of nutrients and hormones go into building the lining of your uterus, making enough progesterone, for example. At other times, we have everything at our disposal to channel into a really strong workout.
Related: Exhausted? Maybe It’s Your Hormones
During the first part of your cycle, your energy will naturally be higher and optimized for high-intensity exercise. During the second part of your cycle, your hormonal ratio of estrogen and progesterone shifts again, making more restorative physical activities more ideal. Cycle awareness and cycle syncing your workouts can save you from exhaustion, burnout, hormonal imbalance-based health issues, injury, and boredom! The best part is, you don’t have to work out harder; you just have to work out smarter.
The FLO Fix: How to cycle-sync your diet and exercise
Eating and exercising according to your cycle is so much easier than you think. All it takes is a little bit of planning and a basic understanding of the four phases of your cycle: follicular (before you ovulate, after your period), ovulatory (when you’re ovulating), luteal (before your period), and menstrual (your period). Once you’ve got those down, all you have to do is include the following foods during each appropriate week-long phase to make sure your body has all the micronutrients it needs to thrive:
Follicular phase: artichoke, broccoli, carrot, parsley, green peas, string beans and zucchini
Ovulatory phase: asparagus, brussels sprouts, chard, escarole, scallion, spinach
Luteal phase: cauliflower, collard greens, daikon, onion, parsnip, radish, squash, sweet potato
Menstrual phase: beet, kale, kelp, mushrooms
And to complement your four-phase diet, follow the guide below for your cyclical workout plan:
Follicular phase: Try a new dance class, but keep it light and limited to one hour or less.
Ovulatory phase: You can pick up the pace and do an intense HIIT class, running, spinning, or weight lifting.
Luteal phase: Dial back the intensity and try walking, yoga, or Pilates.
Menstrual phase: Rest and recover by doing light stretching, easy walking, or restorative yoga.
If you’re not menstruating at all or are very irregular: If you’re someone who hasn’t had a period for months (or even years), you might want to consider adjusting your workout routine or easing up on it. In some cases of amenorrhea or irregular cycles, over-exercise is a big factor. Extreme exercise, prolonged workouts, and intense cardio can interfere with your sensitive adrenal glands, forcing them into high stress mode. Disrupting your cortisol disrupts your ovulation. Stress hormones affect your reproductive hormones in a major way and impact your cycle. Instead of pushing yourself, try gentle yoga or freeform dancing in a community with other women to calm your nerves and restore your hormonal balance.
Need more hormone help? If you’re needing some health upgrading, it’s time you started you looking into what’s going on with your hormones. I’ve designed a four-day hormone detox and evaluation to help you understand exactly what’s out of whack and how you can start getting back to balance so that your hormones no longer have to suffer. Click here to get your FREE detox and evaluation.
ABOUT ALISA: Alisa Vitti, HHC, is an integrative nutritionist, best-selling author of WomanCode, creator of the WomanCode System, and the founder of FLOLiving.com, a virtual health center that supports women’s hormonal and reproductive health. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University and the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, Alisa has been featured on The Dr. Oz Show, has a web series on Lifetime, and has been a regular contributor for CBS, Fox, Shape, Women’s Health, MindBodyGreen, and the Huffington Post. She’s also presented at TEDx, Talks@Google, Summit Series Outside, Hay House, WIE Symposium, and SHE Summit.