|A taxing period
Research shows that a woman's physical performance
declines when she is premenstrual.
THE makers of tampon ads
are seemingly obsessed
with making women run,
jump, swim -- even snorkel --
their way through their periods.
But for many women, the problem with exercise doesn't come
with menstruation, but in the
run-up to it, when even the
most dedicated gym-goer skips
the odd session. Who really
feels like trampolining with tender breasts and a bloated tummy?
Research shows that, generally speaking, women's physical performance
declines when they are premenstrual.
Hormones released during the three stages of the menstrual cycle may
create these differences in performance. Between
days one and 13 - the menstrual or follicular stage - levels of oestrogen are low, but as follicles start to grow in the ovaries,
oestrogen levels increase.
At ovulation, usually on day
14, more hormones are
released. If pregnancy doesn't
occur, from then on, levels of
progesterone increase while oestrogen levels start to drop.
In terms of exercise regimes, some women have reported that, during the
first two weeks of their cycle, tempo work, speed runs and interval training
feel better, while in the second half, longer, slower runs seem easier.
Different people are affected by hormones to differing degrees, as Dr
Karen Birch, a lecturer and researcher into exercise physiology at Leeds
University, Britain, explains: "Some individuals respond worse to hormonal
fluctuations, but the consensus is that elite athletes aren't affected.
Women with hormonal irregularities - loss of periods, irregular cycles, or
post-menopausal women - have more problems."
Rosalyn Carbon, team doctor r for the Great Britain triathlon team,
agrees that elite athletes are affected less by hormonal changes.
"Most women find that prior to their period, they'd much rather not have
to compete in a major competition, and for those, we do suggest that they
might go on the contraceptive pill, which irons out hormonal fluctuation
significantly. There are also legal drugs that will stop a woman bleeding
when she does come on; that might be appropriate for an athlete who doesn't
want the hassle of bleeding on a major competitive day in a national
Some women do use the Pill to help their performance, although the trend
varies across sports.
For those of us exercising on a more mundane level, working your training
around your menstrual cycle can still help man-
age performance highs and lows.
Keep a diary of how you per-
form and train for a few months
- and of premenstrual symptoms such as breast tenderness,
bloating and slight weight gain, which affect up to 30% of menstruating women.
If the two coincide, tailor your training to fit. Not only will you keep to
your gym routine, but the right exercise could even help alleviate your
period cramps or PMT.
Are there any sports you shouldn't do while menstruating?
"It's generally thought
by most yoga teachers that
its not a good idea to do
handstand or headstands
while having periods, as
some say it can cause the
blood to flow the wrong way
and possibly contribute towards
endometriosis," says Pierre Bibby of the British Wheel of
According to scientists, this is
nonsense. Dr Gerry Conway,
consultant endocrinologist at
University College London, says:
"There's no real reason physiologically how you could affect
your blood flow adversely by
standing on your head."
If you suffer from severe
cramps while menstruating,
though, it's probably best to
move away from a high-energy
If you do feel premenstrual,
try switching from long cardio
sessions at full pelt to slower,
longer workouts, doing lower-
impact sports - swap running
for the cross trainer, recumbent
bike or rowing machine.
And make sure you are well
fuelled before your workout -
women are less tolerant of
sugar crashes when premenstrual, so have a high-carb snack
before and after. Make sure you
keep hydrated: even if you are
bloated, you need to drink
In fact, looking after your nutrition throughout your cycle can help
reduce premenstrual symptoms and help you work out better.