#85: How An Athlete’s Menstrual Cycle Impacts Her Performance With Erica Suter

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How does your female athlete feel during her menstrual periods? What can we do to alleviate some of the things that affect them while training during their period? Is it always a burden or an advantage?

We’ll shed some light on all these questions because in this episode we are going to be diving into female athletes’ menstrual cycle, how that impacts their training, and how it impacts their performance. 

We are joined by Erica Suter once again, a female athlete performance coach for 11 years. She works on a female athlete’s speed, strength, conditioning, deceleration, and agility.

Here are some insights to help empower your daughter to use her menstrual cycle to her advantage.

Erica’s insights:

The four phases of our menstrual cycle

Our periods should not be used as a crutch— instead, they may be quite empowering. Many folks felt our periods were always a hassle when we were younger. And that seemed like something we had to work around.

Our menstrual cycle is divided into four stages. These are the various events that occur during each phase of our hormones. And each phase offers a unique opportunity to improve our female athlete’s performance.

The menstrual phase.

It happens during the four to seven days of bleeding. And this is the stage when ladies may experience bloating or cramping, mood swings, and exhaustion. It’s the stage that many of us dread. 

The follicular phase.

This is when estrogen starts to build gradually. It is also when progesterone levels stay low. And this is the stage where she is gradually emerging from menstruation and gaining vitality.

The ovulation phase.

And this is the shortest, which is unfortunate since this is when you feel “ready to take on the world”. You’re in a social mood. You want to do more sprints. Maybe your testosterone is at an all-time high and you’re feeling like a total boss. But, as we all know, this is one of the shortest phases. It typically lasts around four days. Because of the testosterone levels at this time, we urge female athletes to take advantage of strength and power training.

The luteal phase.

And this is when all PMS symptoms manifest. So estrogen levels rise again, and anger, weariness, mood swings, poor reaction times in games, and a general sense of being off may ensue. 

It’s critical to understand what’s going on at each stage so that we can adjust our approach to training and nutrition.

The US women’s soccer team is a fantastic example. When they first started charting the menstrual cycle, Don Scott, their performance coach, did an incredible job of just making sure that during the phases where exhaustion, irritation, or sleep was disrupted, they concentrated extra on proper recovery to keep the ladies on the team healthy. And to ensure that they were performing to their full potential.

Things female athletes should be aware of

It would be beneficial if female athletes could track their menstrual cycles. Downloading free tracking applications on mobile phones is a great place to start.

And while you’re tracking, you just want to make sure that it all starts and ends on the same cycle or day. Some girls are on a 28-day cycle, while others are 32 or 35.

Also, be aware of missed periods. That could happen because they’re either not getting enough fuel into their body. They’re not getting enough calories, and they’re overexercising. Maybe they’re super stressed out, and they can’t handle school and athletics and all these other things. It can also be a symptom of having an eating disorder and extreme situations. So, those are some things to just look out for.

Why is it so important that an athlete does have a regular cycle?

Not having a regular menstrual cycle could;

  • Hinder sleep. 
  • Increase anxiety
  • Wane bone mineral density 
  • Cause stress fractures, or soft tissue injuries

Those are just some of the things that are a result of a missed period. And all these are highly avoidable if we’re training and eating correctly. 

Ways to optimize menstrual cycle phases

When a female athlete is on her period, the greatest thing she can do is optimize each phase.

One thing is not pulling back too much on training, but more so being proactive about how we’re eating and how we’re sleeping. 

When it comes to the luteal phase, for example, this is when girls tend to have performance-decreasing symptoms. Every month, they enter their luteal phase, and we can’t always stop them. Instead of reducing the load during that period, spend some extra time practicing some nasal breathing before or after the workout.

Make certain that they are in a relaxed state so that they can obtain a good night’s sleep. This is because sleep might be disrupted during the luteal period. If they’re experiencing muscle protein breakdown, make sure you’re giving them more protein than usual.

Know the symptoms and increase the recovery methods.

We have to be proactive. And to be proactive, we’ve got to know what’s happening in the body and have an idea of where they’re at. 

So it’s going to come down to the right nutrition, as well as taking rest days and getting enough sleep. Do all in your power to stay rested and energized during that period. You don’t have to be brimming with energy like during the ovulation period. It’s simply not doable. However, you may improve your luteal phase experience by sleeping more, consuming more protein, and getting more carbs and energy into your body.

Tips to alleviate common (but not normal) period symptoms

We do not have to have these crippling symptoms of PMS. Just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s normal. 

So if your female athlete is in a situation where she feels like her PMS is crippling, focus on their nutrition to make some powerful changes and alleviate a lot of those symptoms. 

It’s okay to feel a little bit “off”. You can’t completely get rid of all the negative symptoms of the menstrual cycle. If she feels like not being sociable during these times, let her be alone. She doesn’t have to always keep up with everyone.

She might need that time to herself and just be in a peaceful environment. 

The pros and cons of using birth control pills to regulate periods

Using birth control pills is the “quick fix” and the pharmaceutical way of dealing with irregular periods. Other things can also be done, like focusing on lifestyle.

Before deciding on going for the quick fix there needs to be more education about the lifestyle, the nutrition, the workouts, the stressful practices, and the sleep.

Birth control or hormonal contraceptives creates a fake period/ovulation. And there are so many health benefits to ovulating.  

I don’t want female athletes to go on the pill and then ignore everything else. They can’t just go on the pill and expect to be stronger. You have to train to be stronger and to reduce injury during these certain phases. I don’t want it to be a thing that causes them to ignore nutrition.

In summary

It is important to know the following four phases of the menstrual cycle;

  • Menstrual phase
  • Follicular phase
  • Ovulation phase
  • Luteal phase

Track each phase and optimize by being proactive and being extra mindful of proper rest, healthy nutrition, and a peaceful mind. 

You don’t always have to use the pharmaceutical option and risk the pros and cons. All our female athlete needs may be a healthy habit and strong mental capability to be more self-aware.


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