We partnered with P.volve at their NYC studio for a slow & steady paced Strength & Sculpt fitness class instructed by their Lead Trainer and Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, Maeve McEwen. As an expert in the connection between physical movement and women’s hormones, we were excited to sit down with her to answer some of your (and our) burning fitness questions. The conclusion? We should all try cycle syncing our workouts.
Cycle syncing is the process of altering your diet, lifestyle, and workouts according to the phase you’re in in your cycle (menstrual, follicular, ovulatory, luteal), to support the fluctuations of your hormones.
1. What’s your workout philosophy?
My philosophy is that there is no one size fits all approach to working out. Every day, every person, every body is bio-individual! Our bodies have different needs, we all have different intentions in why we're working out, and our energies ebb and flow from day to day, so my goal as a trainer is to give clients tools to better understand their own body and empower them to take ownership of their health and wellness.
2. We’ve been hearing a lot about cycle sync workouts – what are your thoughts on that and what’s the best way to try it out?
I personally love cycle syncing my workouts - I have struggled with hormonal imbalances for years and did not get a period. After cycle syncing for a few months, I got my period back naturally! I used to be someone who would push my body in HIIT workouts and overexert myself every single day, so cycle syncing has taught me how to work with the natural hormonal shifts throughout my menstrual cycle and optimize my energy (and time!).
3. I love high intensity exercise but it’s negatively affecting my hormone levels. What are the best exercises/routines to break a sweat without spiking my cortisol?
I love P.volve Sculpt & Burn or Cardio Burn classes! P.volve is a high intensity, low impact functional fitness method that focuses heavily on mobility, stability and strength. The classes are programmed to give you an efficient and sweaty workout without overstressing your body! I personally always break a sweat in any workout when I focus on the mind to muscle connection for optimal muscular activation. I try to flex my muscles with 100% effort and visualize as if I am moving underwater to create more resistance. It makes a huge difference!
4. During my period, I’m not that motivated to workout but I still want to be healthy – what should I do?
This is a great time in your cycle to honor rest, prioritize sleep, and anti-inflammatory foods so as to not exacerbate any lingering PMS symptoms! Your hormones are at their lowest so you naturally may feel lethargic during this time. I like to incorporate gentle stretching and go for walks to increase circulation and get a natural boost of endorphins that comes with movement. I then gradually increase intensity in my workouts as I feel inclined throughout my menstrual phase.
5. What are the best things to eat throughout my cycle for better hormones and to support my fitness goals?
Keeping in mind that each phase leads into the next, here are a few tips to optimize your energy, hormones, and support your fitness goals during each phase:
Menstrual phase: Focus on energizing carbs, healthy fats, protein, and low glycemic fruits & veggies. You may notice you crave more warming foods during this time like soups and stews! Also be sure to incorporate iron and zinc to replenish nutrients lost from your period!
Follicular phase: Focus on light, fresh, vibrant foods. Estrogen is rising, and so is insulin sensitivity so your body is able to readily use glucose from energizing carbohydrates during this phase. As activity and workout intensity increases, be sure to fuel in a way that supports that activity. This means that you can enjoy more grains, potatoes, fruit and other higher-carbohydrate foods this week and be sure to get ample protein for hormone production and muscle recovery. Fermented foods like sauerkraut & kimchi are great for supporting gut health, and greens and cruciferous veggies for detoxing as hormone levels rise.
Ovulatory phase: Focus on water, raw foods, fat and fiber. As estrogen drops off after ovulation and progesterone begins to rise, so will insulin resistance (meaning, your body is less able to metabolize carbohydrates effectively). In this phase- replace some of those simpler carbohydrates from the follicular phase with healthy fat. Be sure to maintain proper intake for workout recovery here, especially protein. Focusing on non-starchy carbohydrates (veggies!) and protein are great for weight loss if it’s a goal.
Luteal phase: This is typically when PMS and cravings show up, so try focusing on roasting/baking sweet root vegetables and healthy fats (for fuel and) to curb those hankerings for junk food. Try to have some dark chocolate and a couple of dates when the sweet tooth arises. As always, listen to what your body is asking for - hint: this may include some magnesium-rich foods. This week, try to limit caffeine & alcohol which can exacerbate PMS symptoms and affect the absorption of vitamins/minerals.
6. Do you have any mental health/mindset tips for the natural hormonal ebbs and flows throughout my cycle?
With the hormonal fluctuations within each phase, here are a few mindset tips to tap into:
Menstrual: Great time to take a pause and turn inward. Low hormone levels and the resulting decrease in energy will allow you to listen in and put you in the perfect position for reflection.
Follicular: Be a YES woman and let new ideas and experiences take charge during this phase. Brainstorm, create, meet new people, set big goals!
Ovulatory: All hormones present are boosting your communication skills this week by stimulating the social brain to work at its highest output. This is the time to be a social butterfly and utilize your high energy - throw a party, communicate your needs, ask for a raise, attend group fitness classes!
Luteal: This is the time to get things done - organize, clean, reset and complete those tasks you dreamt of in the follicular phase!