Okay, guys…this is another article you might want to skip. Remember my last let’s talk article about peeing? Yeah…you’ve been warned.
So you have a big race coming up. You are looking at the calendar and you realize in horror that “that time of the month” falls right after or during your big race! Bloating, cramps and PMS during the big day? Oh no!
I know women who plan races around their menstrual cycle. I actually know some who manipulate their cycle (with birth control, for example) because of a key race. There has to be a better way.
Finding out what your body needs is the best way to deal with your monthly cycle. Amanda McCracken, D3 Multisport triathlon and running coach, wrote a couple articles dealing with this subject. Her articles on Active.com and Runnersworld.com cover the factors in the women’s cycle. The female reproductive system goes through two main phases: the luteal phase and follicular phase.
- The follicular phase: Occurs from days 1 to 14 of the cycle. During days 1 to 5 or 7 (on average), bleeding occurs.
- The luteal phase: Occurs from days 14 or 15 to 28 on average. During this phase ovulation occurs as well as a sudden surge in estrogen. Several important changes occur during this dramatic increase in estrogen that could potentially negatively affect performance.
Your body needs different things during each of these phases. It uses more carbohydrates during the luteal phase. Maybe that explains some of those cravings during the latter days of this phase? Eating well is key to giving the body these extra carbs. Fruit, vegetables and moderate amounts of whole grains are an important part of your diet during this time of the month. During races or intensive training that falls during the luteal phase, women should consume 40 grams of carbohydrates per hour. Low blood sugar can result in decreased lactate thresholds. This may affect your recovery time as well as your performance.
There is also a shift in thermoregulation and fluid retention. This is caused by a change in plasma volume. According to McCracken, “plasma is primarily what allows us to sweat.” It also can cause slower recovery time due to increased build up of lactic acid. This can be particularly apparent during hotter weather. Experts advise women in the luteal phase to pre-load on sodium-laden drinks.
The surprising thing about the research is that the actual “time of the month” doesn’t affect performance as much as the shifts in hormones during the two phases. For some women who bleed heavily, those 5-7 days a month can be very difficult. However, for most of us, the actual bleeding does not cause us to be as anemic as we might otherwise believe. McCracken reports that “the average drop in a woman’s hemoglobin and hematocrit (iron) levels is not significant enough to affect performance.” That time of the month might be more of an annoyance than an actual deterrent to performance. This surprised me. I have talked to plenty of women who notice real effects of menses during a race.
Women should track their cycles and their performance. Every woman’s body is different. Each woman needs to know how her phases affect her performance. As you train, log where you are in your cycle and your performance and recovery. Our cycles might explain some of those runs that feel crappy for no apparent reason. Knowing what is going on with your body is the first step in making adjustments to improve your running (or other athletic endeavor).
Do you notice a difference in your running during different phases of your cycle? What do you do about it?