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Fact or fad: Do you burn more calories on your period?

You might have heard you need to eat more on your period, but is there any truth to this?

Do You Burn More Calories On Your Period? | Juniper

There is no doubt that being on your period can be a difficult time for your body.

Menstruation is different for everybody, and while for some it might only be a slight inconvenience, for other women it can be a lot more serious.

Some might experience mood swings, fatigue, extreme pain or cramping, which can make it difficult to exercise or function normally [1].

You might also experience cravings or feel hungrier at that time of the month — and you might have heard that your body is burning more calories, and you need to eat more on your period.

But is there any truth to this?

Do you burn more calories when you're on your period?

Before we examine whether or not you burn more calories during your period, let's make sure we understand what a period — also known as menstruation — actually is.

Periods are bleeding from the vagina that happens (roughly) once a month as part of the menstrual cycle [1].

Throughout the month, the lining of the uterus thickens to prepare for a potential pregnancy, but if you do not become pregnant, the lining sheds.

For some people, particularly those with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) or conditions such as endometriosis, periods and the days before a period starts can be both physically and mentally difficult [2].

Our bodies go through a lot during the menstrual cycle, and changing hormones can impact many aspects of life including mood, sex drive, energy levels, hunger, and basal metabolic rate — that is, how many calories your body burns as it functions each day.

Research into menstruation and whether you burn extra calories during your period is somewhat limited (like many aspects of women's health), but there have been some studies.

One small study examined women's resting metabolic rate during the different stages of the menstrual cycle, and found wide variation, with some experiencing more change than others [3].

Other research has found metabolic rate actually decreased during menstruation, meaning subjects burned fewer calories during their period and ovulation [4]. Subjects' metabolic rate then gradually rose up until the beginning of the next period.

In short, research indicates that you probably don't burn more calories during your period — but it is totally normal to feel more intense hunger and crave high fat or more carbs than usual.

Does your metabolism speed up during your menstrual cycle?

So we've established that on the question of 'do you burn more calories on your period', the answer appears to be no.

But what about during other stages of the menstrual cycle, when your hormone levels are changing?

Some research has found a slightly higher resting metabolic rate during the luteal phase (this begins around the middle of your cycle and ends the week when you get your period) of the menstrual cycle [5][6].

This indicates your body might burn slightly more calories at rest when you're actually not on your period.

Research has also found energy intake (i.e the amount of food eaten) appears to be slightly lower during the follicular phase (which begins on the first day of your period and lasts until ovulation) compared to the luteal phase — meaning participants in this study actually ate less while on their period [7].

In short, it does appear your metabolism may be slightly faster at some points in your menstrual cycle.

Do you need to consume more calories during your period?

As we've discussed above, the body does appear to have slight changes in resting metabolic rate at different stages of the menstrual cycle and to burn more calories during the luteal phase.

However, these changes in metabolic rate appear to be quite minimal, and would not dramatically change the nutrition you need during this time.

What this means is you do not necessarily need to increase your calorie intake or make an effort to eat more food — unless you are also doing vigorous exercise (and you definitely don't have to be attempting personal bests or pushing yourself if you're not up to it).

So, do you burn more calories on your period? Generally, no.

Should you eat a little more if you feel particularly hungry? Yes! Dealing with your period is not fun, and the last thing you need is to deprive yourself of food at this time.

Why do you feel hungrier during your period?

If you tend to feel hungry and experience intense food cravings during your period, you're not alone.

One small study examined the food habits of women during their period and found the desire for sugar, salt, and fat, such as chocolate, pastries, snacks, and desserts was higher [8].

If you experience particularly strong food desires in the lead-up to your period, these could also be symptoms of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) [9].

It is believed that approximately 5% of women of childbearing age suffer from PMDD, and it can cause a range of symptoms including severe irritability, feelings of depression or anxiety, difficulty focusing, and food cravings or binge eating.

If you think you might have PMDD, you may want to speak with a medical professional for the best advice and support.

Another reason for craving certain foods could also be simple human nature.

When we feel emotional, tired, or uncomfortable (all of which are common during that time of your cycle) it is common to crave foods that are high in fat or sugar — which for many of us, are 'comfort foods'.

In this case, the craving is more emotional than physical.

Another thing that could be influencing your hunger levels or dietary preferences during this time is society, and what we have been taught.

Pop culture and maybe even physical education have told us that women want sweets and less nutrient-dense food on their periods, so subconsciously, this could be what you think you want — even if your body doesn't really need it.

Tips for dealing with period hunger and cravings

There are a few ways to deal with hunger and cravings during your period.

Of course, everybody is different, so it is important to try a few options and see what works best for you.

  • Make sure to eat foods high in protein for both snacks and meals. Not only is protein important for general health, but it is also satiating, meaning it will keep you fuller for longer — especially when paired with healthy fats.
  • Eat small, frequent meals and opt for healthy snacks. Think whole grain crackers with avocado and boiled eggs, Greek yoghurt with fruit, nuts, or homemade protein balls.
  • Stay hydrated and make sure you are getting enough sleep.
  • Don't restrict yourself too much. Sometimes, the healthiest thing you can do is to allow yourself to eat the food you are craving. If you are craving chocolate, for example, sometimes fruit and nuts just won't cut it, and you'll end up eating a lot more than you would have in the first place. Be gentle as well; periods can be hard enough and punishing yourself will just make you feel worse.

While of course, it is ok to eat the foods you crave sometimes, this can be a little more complicated if you are also trying to lose weight.

For more support, both physically and emotionally, you could consider a programme like the Juniper Weight Reset.

This programme combines weight loss medications with the support of the health coaches and community, so you can achieve lasting results and lifestyle changes that last.

Weight loss, period cravings and everything that comes with your menstrual cycle can be difficult to manage, but with the right knowledge and support, it is possible.

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