We probably don’t have to tell you that a menstrual cycle is so much more than when you have your period. It’s an up-and-down cycle of hormones, emotions, and symptoms that have side effects beyond bleeding.
One of the rumored changes that supposedly occurs is that your body burns more calories even at rest when you’re on your period. Keep reading to find out if this is true.
Researchers haven’t found that you always burn more calories while you’re on your period. Most of the studies on this topic use small sample sizes, so it’s tough to say if the conclusions are definitively true.
This means calorie burn during a period really may depend on the person. Some people may burn more calories while others don’t really have much difference in the average amount of calories burned.
Another research study published in Proceedings of the Nutrition Society found women have a slightly higher RMR in the luteal phase of their menstrual cycle. This is the time between ovulation and when a person starts their next menstrual period.
Another researcher reports that RMR may increase during ovulation itself. This is when your body releases an egg for possible fertilization.
“Resting metabolic rate changes over the menstrual cycle and goes up for a few days during ovulation,” says Melinda Manore, PhD, RD, Emeritus Professor of Nutrition at Oregon State University. “That said, the body adjusts to these small changes in RMR and weight typically doesn’t change during the cycle, except for the water retention that may occur.”
However, Manore says the changes are so small that you don’t really have greater calorie requirements.
While you should still exercise regularly, there’s no data to prove that exercising while you’re on your period makes you burn more calories. But exercising may make you feel physically better when you’re on your period by reducing symptoms like cramping and back pain.
A study published in the European Journal of Nutrition found appetite does increase in the week before your period.
“We found that there are increases in food cravings and protein intake, particularly animal protein intake, during the luteal phase of the cycle, which is the last week or so before your next period begins,” says Sunni Mumford, PhD, the Earl Stadtman Investigator in the Epidemiology Branch of Intramural Population Health Research at the National Institutes of Health and study co-author.
A 2010 study found women with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) are more likely to crave high-fat and sweet foods during the luteal phase than women who don’t have the disorder.
PMDD is a condition that causes severe irritability, depression, and other symptoms right before your period.
The reasons you’re hungry right before your period may be part physical and part psychological.
First, high-fat and sweet foods can satisfy an emotional need when changing hormones may make you feel lower.
Another reason may be related to survival. Your body may crave these foods as a means to protect your body and give you the energy you need.
Researchers have found other symptoms that may occur as a result of changing hormone levels in the menstrual cycle. These include:
- A study published in the journal Physiology & Behavior found women have greater sensitivity to smells during the middle of their luteal cycle phase.
- A study published in the journal Psychology found women spend more money on appearance and cosmetics while they’re ovulating.
When you’re craving sweet or high-fat foods, your menstrual cycle could be a potential cause. Usually, a small amount of these foods can quench the craving. A small piece of dark chocolate or three fries may be all you need.
“[Try] to choose healthy snacks and alternatives,” Mumford recommends. “So, go for a serving of fruit to help fight the sugar cravings or whole-grain crackers or nuts for salty cravings.”
Other steps to take include:
- eating smaller, more frequent meals
- having a protein-rich snack with some carbs, such as half of a turkey sandwich, half of a whole grain bagel with peanut butter, or several cubes of cheese with a handful of almonds
- exercising, walking, or moving around
- staying hydrated with plenty of water
Studies have found changes in RMR during the menstrual cycle but results are limited, inconsistent, and depend entirely on the person. You may have a slightly higher RMR during the luteal phase before your period.
Usually, the changes in metabolic rate aren’t enough to increase calorie burn or require more calorie intake. Plus, some people have cravings or more hunger at this time, which may offset any slight increase.