By David Stache
The menstrual cycle is known to affect our bodies in many ways. It can trigger emotions and physical discomfort, as well as a noticeable increase in the desire to indulge on sweet treats.
In the lead up to and during periods, many women find themselves reaching for the sweet cupboard more than they usually would, and this is due to a combination of factors, including changes in blood sugar and hormone levels. Whilst it’s tempting to succumb to these cravings, it’s important to be weary of sugar intake and not to overload the body with chemicals, and unnecessary preservatives. Muscle and Health spoke to David Stache, nutritionist at sports nutrition brand, Warrior who offers his expert advice on how to manage sugar cravings and why you might have more of a sweet tooth at different times of the month.
CHANGES IN BLOOD SUGAR LEVELS
One reason many women experience spikes in their sugar cravings is due to fluctuations in their blood sugar levels. During the menstrual cycle, the body cannot regulate blood sugar levels the way it usually does, which means that the sugar content in your blood might be lower than usual. With these changes taking place during the menstrual cycle, it is common that women might crave what their body is lacking – in this case, sugar.
Menstrual cycles typically last 28 days or less and many women suffer from Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS). Those suffering from PMS may experience anxiety, irritability, or a need for certain foods in the days leading up to their period. Cravings can include fatty, sugary, or carb-heavy foods. So, PMS can often be the reason why some women might experience an increase in their sugar cravings in the lead up to their period. As soon as menstruation begins, these symptoms can vary or stop altogether.
LOSS OF BLOOD
Loss of blood during a period is another explanation for why sugar cravings are affected by the menstrual cycle. It is estimated that on average, a woman will lose approximately 80 milliliters of blood during this phase (about 1/3 of a cup), which usually lasts for less than a week. Some might lose more blood, up to a cup’s worth for example, whilst others may lose less. However, the loss of blood can cause light-headedness and a strong need for sugar.
CHANGES IN HORMONE LEVELS
During the menstrual cycle, women are more likely to crave sugar due to changes in hormone levels. One explanation for this, is that the rise in estrogen and progesterone that occurs before the menstrual cycle causes an increase in overall hunger levels. Estradiol and leptin are two other hormones that are linked to cravings for sugary and carbohydrate-rich foods during the menstrual cycle.
LACK OF NUTRIENTS AND NOURISHMENT
After the onset of bleeding, some women might crave sugar due to a lack of nourishment. Vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin B12, folic acid, and iron, are necessary to produce new red blood cells in women’s bodies during and following a menstrual cycle. If there is a deficit in these vitamins, women might be more likely to crave sugary treats.
It’s important to realize that not all sugary foods are bad for you – fresh fruit juices and smoothies without added sweetness are always a great option to satisfy a sugar craving. You could also try swapping your favorite chocolate bar for a protein snack, such as the Warrior CRUNCH bars, which contain just 2.3 grams of sugar per bar. Alternatively, if you fancy something a little different but still have a sweet tooth, you could opt for the Warrior RAW protein flapjack which contains 8.5 grams* of fiber and are just 259 calories per bar.