You may have seen in the news lately a few headlines regarding female athletes and their menstrual cycles. Previously a taboo topic in sports (and particularly with male coaches) this area of womens health and performance is gaining more attention - and it's a good thing too.
It has been known for a long time now in the medical world that females taking part in large volumes of training can start to experience missed or delayed periods. This forms part of a larger condition known as the Female Athlete Triad - an energy deficiency associated with inadequate nutrition, menstrual dysfunction and low bone density.
Each of these components fall on a spectrum from optimal health to disease state and if one or more are affected then for the female athlete their performance is also likely to be compromised.
The other reason for tracking female athletes cycles is related to the normal hormone fluctuations that occur throughout the month. The collection of this data is still relatively new but the more researchers have been tracking it the more we begin to understand the relationship between hormone levels and risks of certain types of injury and on the capacity to recover from training.
Coaches of elite athletes are starting to use this type of tracking to optimise their training plans and nutrition recommendations for each individual. One of the more high profile reports of this style of monitoring is by the USA Womens soccer team who recently won the 2019 Women's World Cup. They credited tracking their players periods as one of the strategies aiding the teams success.
Even if you're not playing at an "elite" level the balance between energy input and output is very important for both health and athletic performance. In teens the relationship may be even more important because this is such a vital time for bone development and energy needs might be higher than expected due to growing bodies and hormones changing more rapidly.
Signs to watch out for:
- Irregular or absent periods*
- weight loss
- reduced concentration
- stress fractures
- recurrent injuries of any type
- signs of disordered eating such as fasting/reducing food intake/binge eating
- decline in sporting performance
*Sometimes young teens won't get their first period at all, so if they are 15 and haven't started yet or are showing any of the other signs it's worth seeking a medical review.
Tips for female athletes:
- Don't skip meals and use snack to increase your intake on days when you train
- keep track of your periods - there are many free apps available that make period tracking convenient
- If you are concerned you might have Female Athlete Triad or are displaying any of the signs then check in with your GP.