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5 ways to enhance training around the menstrual cycle
01. KNOW YOUR CYCLE
Track your cycle and symptoms
Tracking periods allows players to prepare and identify their menstrual cycle characteristics (e.g. cycle length), as well as to spot and get help if their cycle becomes elongated or stops.
However, at FitrWoman, we encourage players to also track their symptoms through the whole cycle (not just during menstruation). From this, players and coaches can really understand the effect the hormonal fluctuations that occur during the cycle have on players, and implement strategies or small lifestyle tweaks to help mitigate these symptoms.
Everyone’s cycle is a bit different, so this will help players to identify specifically about theirs.
02. FUEL PERFORMANCE
What you eat through the cycle can play a huge part in how you feel. Certain nutrients have been shown to be particularly important, and some things may make symptoms worse.
In our work with the USA and England, we have always encouraged players to have a daily smoothie with different ingredients depending on their current menstrual cycle phase.
For example, using our FitrWoman app: in phase 1, players need plenty of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory foods, as well as carbs, so they could add some berries, oats, and flaxseed.
In phase 2, the key is keeping fuel consistent, ensuring enough carbs and including vitamin C, so orange, strawberries and banana could be a good option.
In phase 3, protein before and after training is particularly important, so a scoop of protein powder could be added with some nut butter and frozen fruit.
Finally, the top things to include in phase 4 are protein, antioxidants and complex carbohydrates – blueberries, oats and yogurt make a great post-training smoothie. During this phase, the body goes through big changes to bring about menstruation, so encourage your players to be proactive in this time.
03. TRAIN SMART
Be savvy around training
You don’t have to change your training around your players’ menstrual cycles. While some do this effectively, particularly when it comes to strength work, it isn’t always practical. The individual approach is essential – the more you empower your players to learn about, monitor and be proactive around their cycles, the better.
Things players should think about include:
- If you feel more fatigued or lethargic at points in your menstrual cycle, injury risk could be increased due to overload and insufficient Sustainable and regular fuelling (being particularly proactive around recovery), evaluating sleep, strategically including caffeine if necessary and incorporating a more targeted warm-up and pre-hab could be considered.
- Some evidence shows soft tissue can change at times in your menstrual cycle, causing ligaments to become more lax in line with an increase of oestrogen prior to ovulation. Risk could be mitigated by making pre-hab more targeted with an emphasis on neuromuscular activation and build up progressively to short sharp changes in direction.
- Some feel any exercise is impossible at certain times of their cycle. However, yoga, pilates and moderate aerobic exercise has been shown to help with PMS symptoms. Start with some gentle stretching and mobility as a sort of gateway and you might start to feel better.
04. HAPPY AND HEALTHY IS KEY
Menstrual cycles a sign of health
It can feel like having a menstrual cycle and bleeding every month or so is a real pain. But actually, it’s a sign the body is in a reproductive state and has enough energy to do all that is being asked of it.
Remind your players that any changes in menstrual cycle characteristics, such as their cycle being longer than usual or stopping completely (‘secondary amenorrhea’), can be an indication their body is under excess stress.
This stress may come from a sudden increase in energy expenditure, insufficient fuelling resulting in an energy deficit, increases in psychological stress, reduced sleep quality and quantity, and/or disturbances to your natural circadian rhythm (e.g. travelling across time zones).
Players should know that if their period stops, or they skip a period, they should seek advice from a medical professional. They may need some support looking at diet, training and exercise and/or lifestyle.
05. TALK ABOUT IT
Conversations help break taboo
For years, menstrual cycles and periods have been seen as a taboo, but yet 50 per cent of the population will experience them.
In 2019, research we conducted in partnership with Strava in more than 14,000 exercising women found that, in the UK & Ireland, 81 per cent of those with a coach never discuss their menstrual cycle with them. Yet we know symptoms associated with menstrual cycles can affect performance – so we need to start facilitating the conversation between female athletes and their coaches and team-mates in order to normalise the topic.
You shouldn’t feel embarrassed. Instead, try to encourage your players to embrace the power of their cycle and hormones. It’s easier said than done, we know, so maybe you and your players can look for some resources, or download FitrWoman and have a conversation about some of the topics we address. From there, you can work towards optimising performance with a holistic point of view.