Calling All Female Athletes

Being a female is amazing until it’s not….during that one week every month when everything gets more difficult, emotional and exhausting. Yes, I am talking about the week of your cycle. Now, symptoms ebb and flow at varying times for all women within the menstrual cycle. Personally, I notice chocolate cravings, back pain and bloating for one day, the week before I am going to start. Then those symptoms go away for a few days and come back when I actually start. Those pre-period symptoms the week before are new after having my two kids. Before kids, I always just had symptoms during my cycle. After having two kids my body has changed outwardly as well as inwardly. For about 4 glorious years, I didn’t have a period due to being pregnant and breastfeeding with our two boys. I obviously had a few cycles between boys and breastfeeding in order to get pregnant, but we were blessed with a quick pregnancy after Everitt so I hadn’t had many cycles since 2018. Learning my bodies new routine, as well as, how my cycle impacts my training has been interesting this year.

I am not citing scientific support to prove these things are all related, but these are symptoms I have personally noticed during my cycle:

  1. RPE (Rating of Perceived Exertion) during training is way higher than it should be in all sessions no matter what time of day it is or the intensity of the session.
  2. I have more general fatigue even though I focus on getting more sleep.
  3. Regulating emotions and recognizing they are heightened is important to not overreact.
  4. Iron helps with my fatigue.
  5. Staying hydrated helps manage my physical symptoms like cramping and back pain.

There are two main questions I am going to address in this blog. They are about symptoms and regularity. These are two areas about the menstrual cycle I get asked most frequently and some dietary choices can actually impact both of these areas.

First Question: 1) So what are common symptoms during your cycle? If you haven’t paid attention to how your body responds during your cycle, take some time and learn more. I was recently asked by one of my female athletes if lack of appetite could be related to her cycle. YES, for sure! So how do you manage your intake along with training along with lack of appetite? You have to turn to “mechanical eating”. Basically to me, that means you eat what you know your body needs rather than rely on hunger cues. It is tough, but important to remember, just because you aren’t as hungry doesn’t mean your body needs less. You still have to fuel the work. Below are some other common symptoms and dietary solutions that might help you.

Common Symptoms – Dietary solutions:

  1. Lack of appetite – Turn to mechanical eating because hunger cues can’t always be relied on during this time.
  2. Abdominal cramping – Foods with vitamin B1 and magnesium may help reduce severity.
    1. Food sources: Nuts, seeds, whole grains, spinach, kale, avocado, asparagus, oranges
  3. Emotional rollercoasters – Foods with calcium and vitamin B6 may help.  Eating on a regular basis and balanced meals can also help by regulating blood sugars. Irregular blood sugars can cause elevated levels of irritability or mood fluctuations.
    1. Food sources of calcium or vitamin B6: Dairy, leafy greens, fortified orange juice, fish, chicken, turkey, fruit
  4. Fatigue – Eating balanced meals, staying hydrated and limiting alcohol.
  5. Bloating – Limit foods that increase bloating naturally, stay hydrated and continue being active.

Isn’t’ being a female awesome 🙂

Second Question: 2) Is it normal to miss a period? No, not unless you have been diagnosed with particular medical conditions. PCOS, Diabetes, Overactive Thyroid, Pre-menopause or menopause are a few medical conditions that could impact your cycle. Other causes could be hormonal irregulars, under eating, significant weight changes and severe chronic stress. These other causes listed are not healthy for your body and should be addressed.

In the athletic community, some of your friends may say it’s normal to miss a cycle. It is not and it is not healthy for your body to have irregular periods without a diagnosed medical cause. Why is missing a period or going months without one so important to address? It can take a toll on your bone health and over time lead to osteoporosis. It could be sign you are under fueling in conjunction with training volume. Amenorrhea, especially in the elite athletic community is common, but that doesn’t mean it is healthy for your body. If you are not having a monthly cycle and not on any hormonal medication, you need to seek help to address the irregularity. You could also be at risk of RED-S. Click HERE for an article about RED-S.

Lastly, I wanted to share some tips that have helped me manage my monthly fun. This is all on a personal basis and not necessarily backed by science.

  1. Rearrange training –As much as possible, I align recovery weeks with my cycle. Soon after I stopped breastfeeding Liam, I realized the correlation between my cycle and difficulties in training. Every training’s RPE was much higher than it should have felt during my cycle. Training sessions that should have been doable were now about survival. Rearranging is optimal if possible for my training.
  2. Water – Staying hydrated seems to help reduce my back pain and cramping severity.
  3. Iron – Helps immensely with my energy levels.
  4. Sleep – I try to prioritize sleep more during my cycle.
  5. Red Raspberry – It seems to help reduce my severity of cramps.
  6. Evening Primrose – It seems to help reduce my overall symptoms.
  7. Grace – I try to give myself grace in regards to training during my cycle. Some sessions just aren’t going to be stellar and that is okay but I will still do the best I can in the moment.
  8. Menstrual cup – I love using a cup! It reduces the mess I have to deal with all day, reduces waste and I can train in it without any issues. Click HERE for a link to the one I got if you are interested in trying one out.

I hope this blog has shed some light on what most women have to deal with every month. It is an inevitable event but hopefully this blog has left you considering what changes you might make to reduce symptoms or be able to train stronger. If you don’t have a regular period and think you might be under fueling, reach out and we can chat.

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