This is a topic that has been shrouded in mystery for far too long—the impact of the menstrual cycle on female athletes. With the rise of female sporting stars such as our very own Matilda's, Opals and others as well the growing success of the AFLW it is the perfect time to demystify and destigmatise periods in sports, fostering understanding for both men and women.
So, grab a cuppa, and let's explore the incredible journey of the female athlete through her menstrual cycle.
The Menstrual Cycle 101
Menstrual Phase (Days 1-5):
The start of the cycle brings with it the menstrual/period/bleeding phase. Oestrogen levels are at their lowest, which can affect energy levels and recovery ability. Some women may experience discomfort or even pain during this phase or feel quite off. Appetite is often decreased too.
It's crucial to recognise that modifying workouts to how well the woman is feeling during this time is perfectly okay. Consider incorporating lower-impact or less vigorous exercises and allowing for ample rest.
Follicular Phase (Days 6-14):
As oestrogen levels rise during this phase, generally so does energy and capacity. Appetite is back to being strong and restful sleep comes easier which helps recovery. This is the time to seize the opportunity for more intense training sessions. Embrace the strength that comes with these hormonal changes.
Ovulatory Phase (Days 15-17):
The ovulatory phase marks the peak in oestrogen, creating a potential window for optimal performance. Be mindful of increased core body temperature and stay hydrated during vigorous workouts. Some women may experience discomfort with Ovulation so be mindful of an 'off' session.
Luteal Phase (Days 18-28):
The luteal phase is where the Oestrogen levels initially decline rapidly and then have a quick surge around day 24 before plummeting to trigger the next cycle. This variability may present challenges like mood swings, headaches and progressive fatigue. Listen to your body and adjust training intensity accordingly. Incorporate magnesium-rich foods to support mood stability and, of course, keep that hydration game strong.
Open dialogue between athletes and coaches is paramount. Discuss how you feel during different phases to adjust training plans accordingly. Communication is the key to a successful training partnership.
Having coaches recognise that one size does not fit all when it comes to training. Tailoring workout plans to individual needs, accommodating energy levels and potential discomfort is the key to successful working with a female athletes menstrual cycle. Having flexibility in workouts ensures that each athlete can perform at their best.
This may mean having a series of programs depending on where an athlete is in her menstrual cycle.
Breaking Down Stigma
Historical stigma has cast a shadow on menstruation in sports, hindering open conversations. Positive initiatives, including athletes speaking out and organisations promoting menstrual health awareness, are paving the way for change.
Education is our most potent tool against stigma. Dispelling myths and fostering a supportive environment begins with understanding. Coaches, teammates, and sports organisations, it's time to actively engage in menstrual health education.
Understanding and supporting female athletes throughout their menstrual cycles is not just about sports—it's about empowerment. By breaking down barriers and embracing open conversations, we contribute to the overall well-being and performance of every athlete, regardless of gender.
So, let's champion menstrual health awareness in sports, one conversation at a time. Share this knowledge, support your teammates, and together, let's redefine the game.
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