- How can women use their menstruation to benefit training for sporting events?
During Ovulation there is an increase in testosterone and this can lead to increases in athletic performance. Strength and endurance gains can be made during these few days and on occasion can be highlighted by an increase in libido. One strategy would be to maximise your increased capacity for intensity and training volume at the mid-point of your cycle. Del Vecchio et al., (2019) found that rapid force and maximal force is at it’s highest during this time, so if you perform a power or explosive movement sport, prepare for a personal best. As you head into the luteal phase, some people will need to reduce training intensity/volume and offer your body some nutritional flexibility. This is because your mood and hunger may vary, very often allowing an extra 100-400 kcal during this phase to account for increased hunger will be particularly useful both physically and psychologically to the athlete. Quite interestingly, the elevated body temperature that some experience may actually help exercise performance but here comes the caveat, it’s only when no one performs a warm-up, otherwise it’s a level playing field (Somboonwong et al., 2015).
- How can athletes better understand their periods to enhance their performance?
Understanding your menstrual cycle is actually the most beneficial aspect for performance. There are distinct variations in the impact of the menstrual cycle on performance, with a rough 50/50 split in the research, some stating that there is no effect and some saying there is a clear negative effect. Therefore, understanding how you feel during the month, what to predict, expect and identifying correct coping strategies will be the best solution. Being able to discuss this openly is key so make sure you’ve got yourself an empathetic coach!
Very often the greatest impact is psychological perceived challenges rather than physical factors. Numerous pieces of research have found little to no physiological impact on performance from your period but the perceived impact on performance is consistently evident. Therefore put a strategy in place to boost your confidence, to trust the process!
To do this, monitoring of your cycle is key, therefore, get an app to track your cycle and rather than comparing weight and measurements month to month, instead compare weeks of a cycle to the corresponding month for a more accurate figure and pattern of performance.
- Is it more beneficial to train during your period, or when off your period?
It is going to be more beneficial to continually exercise, in performance sport this is firstly going to be vital to succeed. The time away from exercise will not allow you to improve performance otherwise. However, it’s well recognised that exercise reduces the pain experienced during menstruating, therefore where possible, continuing exercise would be advised, although I appreciate hearing this from a man may make you feel differently! Although the evidence is far from conclusive, there are some suggestions that the human body may be more susceptible to injuries during certain phases of the menstrual cycle, it’s important to note there are several studies suggesting the opposite as well but it’s best to be aware of the topic at least. The suggestion is that both soft muscle tissue and tendon stiffness injuries which could occur from short sprints and jumps (plyometrics) could be more susceptible to injury during the luteal phase (Sung and Kim., 2018).
- Is there scientific fact to back this up?
Yes absolutely, although the area of science has been neglected, pace is picking up and there definitely needs to be further research in the area to conclusively identify whether physical performance is effected significantly. However, what’s really interesting is that Hooper et al., (2011) found that those who were active in the follicular phase had lower rating of perceived effort and pain.
You must understand the difference between feelings and ability.
The scientific literature can sometimes seem a little cold, give yourself a little bit of breathing space. Perhaps, your performance is impacted or may be you’re lucky and you don’t have any negative physiological traits. However, the sensation of bleeding, the discomfort, the self-perception of bloating, mood, elevated hunger and the thought of socialising with all that going on, wow, that’s hard. Sometimes, you won’t feel like training, that’s OK, may be you need something a little less strenuous that day. I actively encourage my clients to increase their calories in the week in which they are most hungry and I have found this prevent’s binges and generally makes them happier and more motivated. As a man, I just congratulate you all and can’t imagine stepping onto an Olympic stage knowing I am about to start my period, I applaud your strength.
Remember this, be kind to yourself.