Exercise and The Menstrual Cycle

 

As coaches of professional sports teams and athletes seek to maximise performance, a trend among coaches of women’s sports teams and female athletes have emerged where they’re now tracking menstrual cycles.

ABC News in Australia reported, “The Brisbane Lions Women’s team have begun tracking their menstrual cycles to optimise players recovery … Coach Matt Green said the monitoring has given staff important data to understand how each individual athlete is responding to training loads and nutrition.”

He added, “It’s just mainly around a couple of different things — the level of pain that they’re having and if they’re having their period for one.

Then whether it’s light, moderate or heavy makes a delineation for us around what the impact of menstruation might be on them.”

The news report goes on to mention that, “A similar method was used by the USA women’s soccer team, who tracked player’s periods in the lead up to the 2019 Women’s World Cup,” and “In the UK, the Chelsea Women’s Football club also use an app to track their player’s periods … The tracking is used to help the footballers manage weight fluctuations throughout the month and reduce vulnerability to soft tissue injury.”

The Guardian’s post, ‘How period tracking can give all female athletes an edge,’ states, “In the past, an athlete’s period was merely something to be endured, usually in uncomfortable silence, when in fact, a menstrual cycle can have consequences for performance. “Hormonal fluctuations can affect things like biomechanics, laxity of ligaments and muscular firing patterns,” says Bruinvels.”

Common Questions

Below are a few answers to common questions surrounding physical activity and women’s menstrual cycles provided by The Office On Women’s Health in the United States:

Does my energy level change during my period?

Week 1: On the first day of your period, estrogen and progesterone levels are at their lowest. But they begin a gradual rise during your period. It may be easier to get active than in the previous weeks.

Week 2: In the week after your period ends, your energy levels might begin to go up. Estrogen levels begin rising quickly in preparation for ovulation.

Week 3: Estrogen levels peak around the time of ovulation, about two weeks before the next period for most women. When estrogen levels fall quickly after ovulation and progesterone levels begin rising, you may feel more tired or sluggish than usual. This does not mean that you should not exercise. In fact, being active might help boost your mood and give you more energy. Try exercising first thing in the morning, before your energy level goes down as the day goes on.

Week 4: In the week before your next period, you may feel less energy as both estrogen and progesterone levels are falling (if you are not pregnant). Physical activity may help premenstrual symptoms (PMS) get better even if your energy levels are low.

Try keeping a fitness journal to track your menstrual cycle and your energy levels during each workout. After a few months, you should be able to see when you have more or less energy during your cycle.

Does my menstrual cycle affect my ability to exercise?

No. Researchers have not been able to find any differences during the menstrual cycle in a woman’s ability to exercise. The only significant finding was for endurance events, or long sports events, like marathons. In endurance events, women who had already ovulated but not started their period yet had a harder time exercising during hot and humid weather.

Can exercise help menstrual cramps?

Maybe. Researchers have found that some women have fewer painful cramps during menstruation if they exercise regularly. There are over-the-counter medicines for menstrual cramps or pain that work well with very few risks. There are almost no risks to regular physical activity, like walking, which may also help you feel better during your period.

What if I’m working out a lot and I don’t get my period?

Exercising too much can cause missed menstrual periods or make your periods stop entirely. Irregular or missed periods are more common in athletes and other women who train hard regularly. But if you haven’t worked out in a long time and suddenly start a vigorous fitness routine, your period could stop or become irregular. Talk to your doctor or nurse if you have irregular or missed periods. A regular period is a sign of good health. These period problems can lead to more serious health problems, including problems getting pregnant and loss of bone density.

While the majority of this research is based on professional athletes or women with high training volumes, there is certainly some valuable insight provided.

The menstrual cycle is indeed highly personal; therefore, we would recommend working with your coach to track your menstrual cycle along with your training to assess whether there any patterns.

Based on the information in this post, it appears that the benefits of exercising at any point during the menstrual cycle far outweighs any potential risk in doing so.

We hope you found this information valuable. If you know of anyone who you feel would benefit from this post, please do share it with them. If you have any burning questions simply hit reply or contact us here.

References:

1) https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-02-19/menstrual-cycle-tracking-female-athletes-performance/11966194

2) https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/shortcuts/2019/jul/10/how-period-tracking-can-give-all-female-athletes-an-edge

3) https://www.womenshealth.gov/getting-active/physical-activity-menstrual-cycle

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