Sports performance during menstruation is something I wish was talked about more often. I am seeing a large number of female athletes in clinic who tell me that they fear having their period on race day or during a heavy training week because they are worried it will impair their performance.
I know menstruation can definitely be a hard time for some females, they can feel lethargic, bloated, suffer from cramps and can bleed quite heavily. This is quite common but this doesn’t have to be your normal!
I know there are many messages out there that a girl on her period should rest and take it easy, however when we look at the science this is actually not true. The time to pull back and focus more on skills, recovery style training, and optimal rest is actually in our late luteal phase (the week before our period – I will discuss the luteal phase in more detail in my next post).
During the week of our period our sex hormones are at their lowest point and this is actually an advantage for sports performance. Having low hormone levels makes us more resilient to physical and mental stress and is the optimal time for females to participate in high intensity exercise as we recovery much quicker when both our progesterone and oestrogen levels are at their lowest.
That said, some women do not feel amazing during their period because they suffer from heavy bleeding, severe cramps and fatigue. If you do not have a medical condition associated with these issues, then they can often be addressed through diet and lifestyle changes, so you can then perform better during menstruation.
Things that you can do to ensure you have an easy menstrual flow are:
- Fuel adequately in the week before your period! Females athletes need to be consuming up to 300 extra calories per day during the luteal phase, I will explain this is greater detail in my next blog post.
- Please do not limit your food intake the week before your period. Particularly focus on eating before all training sessions and refueling with both carbs and protein within 30 minutes after all training sessions, to ensure you don’t go into your period malnourished and fatigued.
- If cramping is an issue for you, focus on magnesium and omega 3 rich foods and good quality supplements in the lead up and during your period. They help reduce inflammation and prostaglandins, which cause period pain, and help relax the muscles of the uterus.
- If you have heavy bleeding* I highly recommend you work with a practitioner to help you understand why this is happening and also get your iron levels tested. It is likely you will be deficient in iron which will cause you to feel lethargic during your period and can actually cause periods to be even heavier!
*Heavy bleeding is considered a loss of more than 80ml of blood during your whole period. A regular tampon holds about 5 ml of blood so this equates to 10 fully soaked regular tampons throughout your whole period. If you loose more blood than this than it is considered a heavy period.
|Magnesium Rich foods||Omega 3 rich Foods|
|Dark green leafy veggies||Salmon|
|Raw cacao powder or cacao nibs||Trout|
|Banana||Organic egg yolk – small amounts
If you supplement with magnesium, look for the form magnesium bisglycinate and aim to have 300mg daily the week before and during your period. With fish oil supplements please talk to a health care professional as there are a lot of poor quality options on the market!
Hope that helps and please reach out to me if you’d like some more individualised advice on how to eat and train throughout your menstrual cycle 🙂