We often hear the word ‘metabolism’ in relation to weight loss. Our body, even at rest, is always active–always expending energy. We know the food and drinks that we consume help in giving us energy. Our metabolism helps in allocating this energy to our body for use. To that end, there are two metabolic processes:
1. Anabolism: Stores energy, supports new cells, and maintains body tissues
2. Catabolism: Breaks down energy and energizes the body.
There are also differences among men and women when it comes to metabolic processes. Men have more lean muscle mass, and burn visceral fat reserves faster, using more of that energy for activity.
Women, on the other hand, are genetically predisposed to store energy for certain activities, such as pregnancy and breastfeeding. During menstruation, metabolism slows down further which leads to women feeling hungrier than usual. Yes, your menstrual cycle impacts your metabolism. Here’s how…
The relationship between your metabolism and menstrual cycle
There are four stages of the menstrual cycle, each with a specific function and different impact on hormones, metabolism, physiology, and mood. Yes, you got that right: changes in each phase have a different effect on the metabolism and a woman’s ability to lose weight and her level of energy.
- Menstrual phase
This is actually the first phase of the menstrual cycle. It’s the time when a woman gets her period. During this time there is also a drop in oestrogen and progesterone levels, which are responsible for regulating the female reproductive system. The metabolism during this time of the cycle slows down. There can also be an increase in cravings during this time. It is important to eat foods rich in protein and iron such as chicken/fish, and vegetables like spinach, broccoli, peas, sprouts, cauliflower, and carrots. These vegetables are rich in iron, fibre, and magnesium. You can also do light exercises such as yoga, walking, or even cardio at the gym without any heavy lifting.
- Follicular phase
This is the second phase of the cycle that simultaneously starts on the first day of your period. It lasts until ovulation (the third stage of the menstrual cycle) which is about 16 days. During this stage the pituitary gland with the help of the hypothalamus releases follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). This hormone helps the ovaries develop 5 to 20 small sacs called follicles in which each follicle contains an immature egg. Only one, or in some cases two, eggs mature. There is an increase in oestrogen that thickens the lining of the uterus. Oestrogen is a vital hormone that serves more functions than just reproduction. In general, this is the time when women have the energy to exercise and train hard, and also gain muscle and/or lose fat. The best diet during this phase would be to increase protein and carbs and reduce fat intake.
- Ovulation phase
With the help of oestrogen, the pituitary gland releases luteinizing hormone (LH). The mature egg then travels to the uterus and is ready to be fertilized. This happens in the middle of your menstrual cycle (i.e. if your cycle is 28 days then ovulation will happen on the 14th day). During ovulation, food cravings usually go up as the metabolism increases. Women should eat a protein-rich diet during this time and reduce their intake of carbohydrates. It is also important to keep a balanced diet and not overeat during this time. The body is also more prone to injury so it is important to exercise carefully.
- Luteal Phase
This is the last phase before you get your periods. If the egg doesn’t get fertilized the corpus luteum (a structure that releases oestrogen and progesterone to help in securing the pregnancy) shrinks and gets absorbed. After this oestrogen and progesterone levels fall and lead to the ever dreaded PMS (premenstrual symptoms). This is a tough week for women but all is not lost. Women can still lose a good amount of fat even from light exercises such as walking, yoga, pilates and so on. It is important to reduce carbohydrate and sugar intake as the metabolism is slow and cravings for these are high.
Each phase of the menstrual cycle brings about a variety of changes in your body. These physical and psychological changes affect our metabolism and food cravings. When you know these changes and needs of the body, you can make healthy choices that have a positive impact on your health.