SHOULD YOU EAT MORE WHEN YOU HAVE YOUR PERIOD?
Before jumping into this topic, we need to go through a mini-crash course on how the female menstrual cycle works. People commonly think that the menstrual ‘cycle’ is purely the event where a woman experiences a period or, more correctly put, a bleed. A woman’s cycle is the entire cycle from the end of a bleed to ovulation and cycles back toward a new bleed or better described as menstruation, the follicular phase, ovulation and the luteal phase.
- Menstruation, or period, is normal vaginal bleeding that occurs as part of a woman’s monthly cycle.
- The follicular phase is the part of the menstrual cycle that occurs between the first day of a period and lasts until ovulation. During the follicular phase, the body produces more estrogen — a hormone — and prepares to release an egg.
- During ovulation, part of the ovary called the ovarian follicle discharges an egg. The egg then travels down the fallopian tube, where it may encounter a sperm and become fertilised.
- The luteal phase occurs after ovulation and before your period starts. During this time, the lining of your uterus typically gets thicker to prepare for a possible pregnancy, and estrogen begins to decline while progesterone increases. Again, this is to help the body prepare for menstruation.
Energy requirements during menstruation
Basal metabolic rate does, in fact, increase just before menstruation and steadily decreases after that. But not by a whole lot. An increase in BMR equates to approximately 100-200 calories per day. Still, it’s less for some women, which makes it hard to quantify accurately for each woman. Nonetheless, this increase in BMR may lead to an increase in hunger for some women.
So then why do women tend to ‘crave’ highly calorie-dense foods (insert chocolate, burgers, fries etc IYKYK)?
This seems to come down to hormonal changes rather than energy requirements. Sure, energy requirements may increase slightly, but it can feel like you reach a point of insatiable hunger for some women. I mentioned earlier that during the luteal phase (the period between ovulation and menstruation) that estrogen starts to decline, and progesterone begins to increase. Estrogen seems to link to our satiety hormone leptin and can even mimic the action of leptin. So, as estrogen begins to fall, our appetite increases. Sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) also increases, increasing the desire for fatty and sweet foods.
So should you eat more just before your period?
Well, it depends. Do your attempts to limit your food intake lead to binge-eating episodes? If that’s the case, maybe it’s worth adding 100-200 calories per day a few days before menstruation. On the other hand, do you desire more calorically dense foods such as chocolate or fried foods before you bleed? Maybe it’s a good idea to plan these foods into your diet around this time in your cycle. Also, remember to prioritise iron-rich foods and other macronutrients during this time.
To wrap this blog post up – there’s no right or wrong. It depends on the individual and what works best for them.
Yours in health,
Head of Nutrition