Does Menstrual Cycle Affect Athletic Performance?

Do you remember the recent interview of Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui after her team came in fourth in the 2016 Rio Olympics? The skilled athlete had participated representing her home country China, with other members of her team in 4x100m relay.

When asked about her thoughts on her performance, Fu replied, “It’s because my period came yesterday, so I felt particularly tired – but this isn’t an excuse, I still didn’t swim well enough.”

While Fu is an athlete known for her over the top interviews, this one in particular caused quite a stir online. In China, it’s extremely taboo for women to discuss their periods – though it’s often the same with Western cultures. No matter where you are, discussing the menstrual cycle is usually taboo.

Truth About Athletics And Menstruation

There are many stereotypes that are thrown around with regards to (active) women and their periods. It’s common to comment on women who underperform that they must be on their period. In many cases, this is simply a stereotype, but in reality, periods can actually hinder an athlete’s performance more than you

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If you’re a female athlete, being aware of your cycle is a must!

Three Sex Hormones That Play With You

Do you know about the three main sex hormones that your body produces (testosterone, estrogen and progesterone)? Do you know how they fluctuate during your menstrual cycle, and how it affects you?

When you first begin menstruating, these three hormone levels are incredibly low. And as you start menstruating, these hormones vary during your cycle. These hormones don’t just affect your period, they also play a part in how other parts of your body work. Low levels of testosterone in particular can lead to low energy and a decrease in stamina. Lower athletic performance anyone?!

Understanding The Cycle: In Depth

The 1st – 14th days of a woman’s menstrual cycle is called the follicular phase. The first five to seven days are when you’ll see bleeding, though some women can experience longer or shorter bleed times. The 14th/15th – 28th (or more) days is called the luteal phase.

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This is when ovulation occurs and estrogen is increased by a significant amount.

Just before you begin to ovulate, your testosterone levels are rising and peaking. During ovulation, your progesterone follows suit. From here they all decline when the cycle starts over again and are at their lowest point right before your period starts.

Counterbalancing The Effects

Now that we know that your cycle affects your athletic performance, what can you do to mitigate your body’s changes? Remember two main points.

1. Understand Your Body

First, understand that being on your period doesn’t mean you need to throw the towel. Exercising and cardio are best during your follicular phase, and they help alleviate cramps during menstruation. Strength based workouts are best during your luteal phase.

2. Balance Your Diet

Increase the amount of carbs you eat during your luteal phase and you’ll find that you perform better. During this phase your body contains more estrogen that uses fat for power, so it’s important to counterbalance this with more carbs in your diet.

A woman’s recovery time can also suffer during the luteal phase due to a drop in

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plasma volume. Make sure you stretch properly and warm up in order to try and keep your lactic acid level low. Sweat is also slower during this time, so consider drinking something which contains sodium before working out.

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