Menstruation, often viewed as a negative experience, can have disruptive symptoms that affect daily life and participation in physical activities. A recent study found that 78% of teenage girls avoid exercise during their period. Even elite athletes have reported a negative impact on their performance during this time. So, how can we reduce or manage period-related symptoms? The first step is understanding our menstrual cycle.
The menstrual cycle consists of different phases based on hormonal fluctuations, with the follicular phase and luteal phase being the main ones. These phases are divided by ovulation, which occurs approximately halfway through the cycle. A normal menstrual cycle should last between 21 and 35 days, with menstruation marking day one and the number of days until the next bleed.
It’s important to note that those taking hormonal contraceptives experience a different cycle, as their natural hormone levels are suppressed by synthetic hormones. Any bleeding they experience is known as a “withdrawal bleed” and is not equivalent to a period.
During the follicular phase, hormone levels are initially low, but there is an increase in estrogen prior to ovulation. This phase can bring positive symptoms such as increased confidence, energy, and motivation for some individuals. After ovulation, hormone levels rise, with a peak in progesterone and a secondary peak in estrogen. This is when negative symptoms like bloating, fatigue, and mood changes are frequently experienced.
Fortunately, there are ways to improve menstrual-related symptoms through diet, sleep, stress reduction, and exercise. Taking a proactive approach can help promote sports performance throughout the entire menstrual cycle. Here are some tips:
1. Track your cycle: Keeping a record of your menstrual cycle and related symptoms is crucial for taking a proactive approach. Note the first day of your period to ensure regularity. This information is important for both reproductive and holistic health. Record any symptoms and life events to determine what’s caused by the menstrual cycle.
2. Improve your diet and hydration: Eating a well-balanced diet provides energy for training, reduces bloating, and helps manage cravings. Adjust your diet according to the activity you’re participating in. Avoid processed foods and aim for at least five portions of fruits and vegetables daily. Stay hydrated to reduce bloating.
3. Get better sleep: Lack of sleep or poor sleep quality can worsen menstrual cycle-related symptoms. Practice good sleep hygiene by maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, starting the day with sunlight, and limiting caffeine intake.
4. Reduce stress: Stress can increase the severity and duration of menstrual cycle-related symptoms. Find stress reduction strategies that work for you, such as socializing with friends or meditating. Plan these activities in advance to prevent stress.
5. Stay active: Even when experiencing symptoms, try to engage in activities like walking or yoga to manage symptoms like stomach cramps. Take advantage of days when you have more energy and motivation. Use heat and pain relief methods for symptoms like stomach cramps and adapt training sessions if needed.
It’s time to change the narrative around the menstrual cycle. Symptoms can be managed or reduced, allowing women to continue participating in sports and other activities. Don’t feel ashamed of your period – take control and be proactive in managing it.