A women’s menstrual cycle (MC) is very individualist: menarche will occur at different ages, we can experience a variety of symptoms, have different cycle lengths, begin perimenopause, and reach menopause at different ages.
I also want to mention that the research surrounding this topic is quite minimal and many more consistent studies are needed before a conclusion is made on the impacts of the MC on sport performance and recovery in females. Therefore, please remember when reading this post to keep an open mind. I have written a blog post dedicated to explaining the overview of a women’s menstrual cycle, click here to read it.
Impact of the MC on Sport Performance and Recovery:
The relationship between the MC, sport performance, and recovery is a complex one. There is still so much research which needs to be undertaken before a complete conclusion can be made on the subject. As I have previously mentioned it is important to remember that every women’s MC is different, and thus so will be their experience when participating in sport.
From the current literature I can tell you that a women’s MC does impact her sport performance and recovery, it is just not clear how significant this impact is (Carmichael et al., 2021). Studies suggest that the fluctuating levels of sex hormones (i.e. estrogen and progesterone) throughout a women’s MC may be an important factor when considering a women’s sport performance. However, this does need to be explored further as many studies do have conflicting results. For instance, some studies suggest that a women’s strength is greater during the follicular phase of her MC in comparison to the luteal phase, whilst other studies demonstrate that there is no significant difference between the two phases in terms of a women’s strength (Sung et al., 2014).
It is well known that there are several behavioural and psychological symptoms associated with the MC; namely fatigue, abdominal and back pain, headaches, lethargy, as well as poor concentration and coordination – all of which can adversely impact a women’s sport performance and recovery (Brown et al., 2021).
In a study comprising 430 elite athletes (all of which were not on any hormonal contraception) it was stated that 77% of them reported similar adverse symptoms associated with the MC (as mentioned above) which negatively impacted their sport performance (Findlay et al., 2020). Moreover, in some cases women can experience quite heavy bleeding during menstruation, in a different study 37% of female elite runners and rowers (n=90) mentioned that their heavy menstrual bleeding impacted their athletic performance (Findlay et al., 2020). These two studies show that the symptoms associated with the MC can greatly impact a women’s sport performance, but it is still unknown how the MC itself impacts sport performance. It is also important to note that many of the studies which have been carried out thus far have been focused on elite athletes, so the results do not necessarily represent the whole population. Therefore, as I have previously mentioned it is critical that further research is undertaken.
I appreciate that this does not fully explain the impact of the menstrual cycle on sport performance and recovery but that is because there is just not enough research and evidence for me to say that it definitely does or does not, I do not want to mislead you when I am not a 100% sure on the relationship myself. I will continue to research the topic and if I come across any new evidence then I will update my blog post and let you know.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this post and found it interesting, whatever your gender, as it is becoming an increasingly spoken about topic and rightly so. Many personal trainers are men (not all) and it is vital that they too understand how the MC impacts sporting ability as much as women.
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Love, Mais x
BROWN, N., KNIGHT, C. J. & FORREST NÉE WHYTE, L. J. 2021. Elite female athletes’ experiences and perceptions of the menstrual cycle on training and sport performance. Scand J Med Sci Sports, 31, 52-69.
CARMICHAEL, M. A., THOMSON, R. L., MORAN, L. J. & WYCHERLEY, T. P. 2021. The impact of menstrual cycle phase on athletes’ performance: a narrative review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18, 1-24.
FINDLAY, R. J., MACRAE, E. H. R., WHYTE, I. Y., EASTON, C. & FORREST, L. J. 2020. How the menstrual cycle and menstruation affect sporting performance: experiences and perceptions of elite female rugby players. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 54, 1108.
SUNG, E., HAN, A., HINRICHS, T., VORGERD, M., MANCHADO, C. & PLATEN, P. 2014. Effects of follicular versus luteal phase-based strength training in young women. SpringerPlus, 3, 668.