Is your running affected by your period? - Women's Running

Is your running affected by your period?

Author: Women's Running Magazine

Read Time:   |  September 10, 2015

Modern woman first evolved into the genus of Homo Sapiens 50,000 years ago, yet it wasn’t until 1972 that women were officially allowed to run a marathon, and it took until the 1990s for a woman to be allowed to fly a combat aircraft.

Women, traditionally, have been seen to be incapable of coping with the same responsibility as their male counterparts due to their hormones. Does your period really have such an impact on your life, and could it be affecting your running?

While there are no rigorous studies to show running performance is altered by menstruation; both physical and mental performance may be affected depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle, according to Nitu Bajekal, a consultant gynaecologist at Spire Bushey Hospital and an advocate of women’s health (womenforwomenshealth.co.uk).

“Hormone levels released by the brain and oestrogen and progesterone (female hormones) released by the ovaries vary during the menstrual cycle and can be associated with symptoms that some women find troublesome.”

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Significant premenstrual symptoms (that typically start in the second half of the menstrual cycle and disappear with the onset of periods) such as low mood, irritability, anxiety as well as feeling bloated, an extreme sense of fatigue and breast tenderness can all have a negative impact on your general sense of wellbeing.

“It’s the rapid drop in oestrogen levels [in the last week of your cycle] associated with PMS that may have a detrimental effect on athletic performance,” says Dr Mark Bonar, a specialist in hormone therapy at the Omniya MediClinic in Kensington (omniya.co.uk).

“For me, running in the seven days prior to my period is a shambles!’ says club runner Alethea Adair-Stantiall, 38. “My performances at two cross-country races this winter were testament to this; my friends couldn’t believe how badly I ran. After each run my period started within two days.”

However, Alethea has found that if she is running just after her period starts she is flying. “At my local 10K I was feeling rubbish in the week leading up to it, yet I had an amazing race, running quicker than I ever thought possible [reducing her 46:15 PB to 43:54]. I couldn’t make sense of it, then my period started later that day.”

The best time to run

Despite all the symptoms, exercising regularly helps reduce painful periods. “This is probably due to the washing away of pain-inducing prostaglandin chemicals released by the womb,” explains Nitu. “However, the best time from a performance point of view is probably a week or so after bleeding has finished and energy levels are back to normal.”

In the first two weeks prior to ovulation, you may notice an increased level of energy, clear headedness, positivity and improved performance. This, believes Natalie Lamb, nutritional therapist for Bio-Kult, is the time to plan stricter exercise regimes or longer runs.

“Then, for the following two weeks post-ovulation you may notice slightly less determination and concentration,” says Natalie. “Not giving into sugar or refined carbohydrate cravings at this time could help to keep blood sugar, energy levels and mood more balanced.”

Listen to your body

The hormone progesterone also increases after ovulation, causing your peristaltic muscle movement in the intestines to relax and slow down. For some this can cause constipation. “This can result in sluggishness and bloating which may not be conductive for optimal exercise,’ says Natalie. ‘Be gentle on yourself if you are not achieving the goals you could the previous week.”

Focus on slower forms of exercise. Menstruation should be a time of listening to your body. The more you respect your cycle at this time, the better your performance will be when you enter the pre-ovulatory phase.

Dr Bonar suggests you boost your oestrogen levels naturally by increasing your dietary intake of soya and seeds, which both contain phyto-oestrogens. “Women can also supplement their female sex hormone levels by taking a pre-cursor hormone called DHEA (prescription medicine in UK but available over the counter in US) or natural supplements such as wild yams or black cohosh.”

Minimise the impact

It pays to be aware of your menstrual pattern. “Track your periods on an app and see if you performance is affected by your menstrual cycle,” says Nina. Not all women are. To gain the clearest picture, track your basal body temperature – it will rise after ovulation until the start of your period.

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Follow a healthy diet, get enough sleep, take painkillers (NSAIDs) starting a day before the period for maximum benefit, or as soon as it starts. “Do a thorough warm-up and stretch after exercise to reduce injury to your back and other muscles, as well as adopting relaxation techniques and practising mindfulness,” she says.

Gamma-linolenic Acid (GLA), an omega 6 fatty acid found in starflower oil, evening primrose oil and pasture-fed meat is said to help support healthy hormonal function and reduce the severity of PMS.

Cope with period pain

If you can, try to keep running. “Using a heat pad and taking NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications) such as ibuprofen help to counteract the pain-inducing prostaglandins, if there are no contraindications,” suggests Nitu.

Taking packs of the oral contraceptive pill back-to-back or having a hormone implant/hormone containing coil/hormone injection (providing there are no contraindications) are also methods of ironing out hormonal fluctuations. Nitu advises you speak to your GP or a specialist for more advice.

It is also important that our bowels are moving regularly throughout the month to support the natural clearance of waste material in the body, including spent hormones. If these are not excreted, the body can reabsorb them.

In the case of oestrogen this could lead to oestrogen dominance, where elevated levels of oestrogen are often seen in those with extremely painful periods and conditions such as endometriosis. “Eating a wide range of fibrous vegetables, consuming plenty of liquid and taking a multi-strain probiotic such as Bio-Kult could help keep bowel movements regular,” advises Natalie.

For more articles by Tina Chantrey, you can find her blog here. Follow Tina on Facebook.

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