Playing Through the Game: How to Handle Your Period as an Athlete
Updated: Jan 8
It's no secret that a female athlete's performance can be hampered by her period. Although regular exercise – including exercising during your menstrual cycle – can help alleviate cramps and other symptoms of menstruation, that time of the month can still wreak havoc on your body. Nearly a third of female athletes report that having their period significantly affects their performance. So what do women do when their job involves having to perform at their best any time of the month?
To answer that question, let's look at each challenge a woman faces in turn.
Last year, Kiran Gandhi ran the London Marathon on her period – without using a pad or tampon. She attracted the world's attention by allowing her menstrual blood to run down her leg, to raise awareness of this very issue. For many women, especially swimmers and long-distance runners, controlling blood is the most difficult part of managing your period.
As Gandhi points out, running with a tampon is not particularly comfortable. She also wanted to draw attention to the fact that for many women, tampons are not an option. Furthermore, had she used a tampon or a traditional pad, she would have needed to stop to change them, or endured leaks and discomfort.
So what's the solution? Many women do use tampons or menstrual cups, though now that more women are learning about period panties, they're seeing sanitary pads as a viable option once again. As word spreads, the future may be filled with female athletes this comfortable alternative.
Cramps and Bloating
Times have certainly changed for the better in terms of effective, low-dose pain killers. Ibuprofen and other medicines that reduce muscle cramps are available to help the female athlete perform even during her worst days. But playing through the pain still weakens any athlete's game.
Most professional female athletes train themselves to ignore or work through the cramps and discomfort that comes along with a period. Bloating is especially problematic for gymnasts and those whose sport requires a great sense of balance, so it's important for athletes to train during their periods so they'll know how to compensate properly.
It may seem obvious, but even the minor blood loss or iron deficiency that sometimes comes with menstruation can severely affect an athlete's ability to perform. Dizziness and fainting are possible symptoms that can have a huge impact on the playing field.
It's important for athletes to take measures to prevent these symptoms of blood loss and anemia by taking iron supplements or eating iron-rich foods.
In nearly all situations, female athletes manage their periods by preparing for them and training through them. They learn what precautions they need to take (such as wearing specialized undergarments or taking anti-inflammatory medicines), and learn how to physically compensate for bloating, discomfort, and cramps. They can even build up extra iron in the days leading up to their periods to prevent anemia.
It may seem disappointing that women still face these struggles, albeit better prepared than in years past, but there is a silver lining: Training on your period is like training with weights. If you can perform at your best when inhibited by menstruation, you'll be absolutely unstoppable.