By David Stache
The menstrual cycle is known to affect our bodies in many ways. It can trigger emotions, physical discomfort, and a noticeable increase in the desire to indulge in sweet treats.
Many women reach for the sweet cupboard more than usual in the lead-up to and during periods. This is due to a combination of factors, including changes in blood sugar and hormone levels. While succumbing to these cravings is tempting, it’s essential to be wary of sugar intake and not overload the body with chemicals and unnecessary preservatives. Muscle and Health spoke to David Stache, nutritionist at sports nutrition brand Warrior who offers expert advice on managing sugar cravings and why you might have more of a sweet tooth at different times of the month.
CHANGES IN BLOOD SUGAR LEVELS
Many women experience spikes in their sugar cravings 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 the sugar content in your blood might be lower than usual. With these changes taking place during the menstrual cycle, women are expected to crave what their body is lacking – in this case, sugar.
Menstrual cycles typically last 28 days or less; 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 why some women might experience increased 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), usually lasting less than a week. For example, some might lose more blood, up to a cup’s worth, while others may lose less. However, blood loss 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 hormones 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 during and following a menstrual cycle. Women might be more likely to crave sugary treats if there is a deficit in these vitamins.
It’s important to realize that not all sugary foods are bad for you – fresh fruit juices and smoothies without added sweetness are always great options 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.