Professional athletes and menstrual cycles: the reality as told by real athletes
Recently we looked at the link between different stages of your menstrual cycle and how this might affect exercise performance.
In short? It certainly can! For those of us just brushing the dust off our running shoes or those who seriously get their money's worth from their gym membership, knowing how our body is affected physically throughout our cycle can be super helpful.
(Psst! At the end of this article is a printable PDF guide to getting to know how YOUR menstrual cycle affects your exercise performance.)
But what about professional athletes? Are women at a disadvantage compared to their male counterparts? Do they train in accordance to where they are in their cycle? Should they even?
After doing some research, asking a few questions from some top-notch athletes and creating a small survey for Lunette menstural cup users, we discovered this: the knowledge of menstrual cycles altogether is low and it is not common, even with professional athletes, to consider their menstrual cycle when planning their exercise.
Athletic performance and the menstrual cycle: myth busting
A common assumption is that some women suffer from big drops in iron and hemoglobin around the time their periods end and thus should maybe “take it easy” right? Actually research shows that there’s no significant loss of either around this time.
In fact, around this time in your menstrual cycle your body is geared up for the more high intensity training! According to a Swedish study, you can actually gain more muscle mass by training during the first weeks of the menstrual cycle, from the beginning of your menstruation until ovulation. “The group that trained early in their cycles ended up performing clearly better than those who trained in the second two weeks. Their legs grew stronger, gaining more muscle mass and they could jump higher than they could before.” (Source: http://sciencenordic.com/your-period-makes-you-train-more-effectively)
So it looks like things aren’t so black and white after all. What is clear is that you may be more prone to fatigue, dehydration or injuries at certain times in your cycle. Just like there will be times when you’re feeling more powerful and resilient!
(Psst! Check out our previous blog post about all the different stages of the cycle and their effects here).
Not to mention all the extra considerations such as lack of research in this area, stigma around the subject and the other inconveniences that being on your period brings (other than the obvious physical symptoms).
But they’re out there winning gold medals none the less! We got in touch with some of these athletic rockstars and asked them what their experience is with training and their menstrual cycles:
Athlete, Anni Metsola, had a heart transplant in 1994. She says that menstrual cycle does not affect much her training. The important thing is to listen to your body and exercise accordingly.
A diver, Karoliina Blackburn, tells us that the menstrual cycle mainly affects her stamina and overall mood. “I don’t feel like training super hard on the first days of my period when there are more menstrual cramps. Aggression during PMS can be utilized to something useful, for example doing something new and scary – excel oneself.” She also mentions that exercise is good reliever for menstrual cramps and other symptoms: “Exercise eases pain and swelling and makes you feel better. Exercise is like medicine even for intense pain. Water sports are particularly effective.”
A high school freshman MMA fighter/cheerleader/wrestler Trista Stordahl says that she exercises normally during her period. She thinks that periods should not stop you from being you.
The future of athletics and research on menstrual cycles
Finnish doctor Pippa Laukka, who specializes in sports, says that menstrual cycles should be discussed and utilized more in professional training. “I think the best way is to anticipate and make use of your periods. Menstrual cycle is a sign of a healthy hormonal balance. It’s a bigger issue if you don’t have your periods. The wellbeing of the athlete is important thing to follow up and menstrual cycle should be normal part of that.”
Athletes, trainers and institutes are already well-versed in the impact of nutrition and types of training on performance. It seems only natural that research will look more into how hormonal changes during women's menstrual cycles can impact them physically.
Importantly, we look forward to seeing more open conversations about it especially in the sporting industry!
Professional athletes and menstrual cups
As mentioned earlier, it’s not just the hormonal changes that can interfere with performance. Even those of us who don’t train everyday, often in the unforgiving elements, sometimes in front of thousands of people and in tight clothing (oh Lord) we know the inconveniences and troubles the period products themselves can bring us.
The popularity for menstrual cups in the sport industry is growing. Worry-free, stain-free comfort and protection for up to 12 hours? Yes please!
Olympic swimmers in the pool all day, trapeze artists suspended in mid-air, professional cyclists riding non-stop for hours on end are embracing the menstrual cup and, of course we’re totally bias, we think this is totally the future.
But don’t take just our word for it! Here is what the athletes we talked to have to say about menstrual cups:
Surfer Allison Taylor: "Lunette is something you can always have with you, and I think that’s important for athletes who menstruate. For surfers, when you’re paddling to catch a wave you need something that’s always protecting that burst of energy you get from popping up on your board and a menstrual cup provides that protection.”
Yogi Sine Lopez: “Wellness has been a big focus for me in my twenties. Finding practices and products that add sustainable value to my life has been challenging, but life changing every time I've found a match. Lunette, like yoga, has been one of those finds.”
A high school freshman MMA fighter/cheerleader/wrestler Trista Stordahl: "With a cup like Lunette you can be you, limitless. Let nothing hold you back, including your period."
Diver Karoliina Blackburn: “It’s always with you! Even when you have forgotten to buy pads or tampons and there is no shop anywhere near. AND it is very economical, buy one and you are all set for years. A menstrual cup also holds a lot of blood, more than a tampon.”
Transplant athlete Anni Metsola: “A menstrual cup is very reliable. And a deffinate plus: no pad lines in workout tights!”
Your guide to exercise throughout your menstrual cycle
You can download and print your very own menstrual cycle and training guide here for free:
I’m a Zumba fitness instructor, yoga student and heavy bleeder so for me transitioning to the cup was a no-brainer. Tampons are nice but they don’t absorb enough blood for me.