By Coach Wendy
I'm not sure if is the pre menstrual irritability or the dealing with the inconvenience of the actual period that often cause the most hassles for us active women. I would imagine it would depend on who is on the receiving end of the period!!! For the most part, we have probably become used to this monthly ritual and the general feeling associated with it... but for those of you new into the active lifestyle or for those old hand athletes, juggling period needs with being active does have its challenges.
You will all recognise the variety of common symptoms of feeling bloated, or of having a slightly dull ache in your back. The feeling of a deep dull tension in the lower abdominal region (dysmenorrhea) and then there is the general feeling of being tired especially in the first 3 days of the cycle. For some women, their monthly period is accompanied with minimal symptoms and for others it is a time of great discomfort and requires considerable planning when it comes to exercise.
The effect of menstruation on training is varied. Most active women notice minimal change in their 5 day cycle and if anything they comment on their increased awareness as to how the body is feeling during this time. Their heighten sense of body awareness is one of the many benefits that comes from training and listening to their bodies.
Encouraging women to be aware of how they are feeling during this time is extremely important especially when it come to training for longer events such as marathons or ironman triathlons. For events such as these, the training intensity and quality become critically linked to a persons available energy and the balance becomes finer the longer the distances.
It is important during this time that women pay particular attention to their dietary and rest requirements. Due to the blood loss from the menstruation process, combined with the destruction of blood cells in the feet caused by running, women can find their iron stores reduced. An increase in either red meat or other foods high in iron such as silver beet and lentils along with vitamin C plus a reduction in tea during the period week, will enable your body to absorb and store the iron necessary for everyday body cellular function. The necessary chocolate bar/s goes with out saying - and it would be a brave man who questions any women during this week as to whether she REALLY needs them!
For women who encounter heavy bleeding, major fatigue or discomfort - they may be well advised to significantly modify their training during their periods. From experience, by changing the emphasis from say intensity to technique, I have found that women are often able to sustain the training as set in their programme and yet accommodate their levels of fatigue. It is common for women to report a sense of tiredness in the days leading up to the period starting, for this to last for the first three days of their cycle and then they comment of returning back to normal energy levels at the completion of the cycle.
Whilst some women report to having minimal disruption to their training during menstruation - it is often common for active women to notice a reduction in the blood flow especially when the intensity of the exercise increases. Female marathon runners or athletes that reduce their body fat to below 13% often comment on missing periods or becoming period free (amenorrhea). Irregular periods not only means the girl guide motto of being prepared needs to be adhered to but training to the level where you begin to suffer from amenorrhea can lead to significant long term health risks for women.
The day to day training hassles with menstruation raises another issue of comfort and hygiene - riding or running with a tampon in and ensuring that you can regularly change the tampon. During these sessions, ensure that you wear the correct size tampon for the level of flow of blood and plan so that you can stop and change your tampon regularly. When riding and running, women often find a shorter tampon is more comfortable to wear and make sure your ride or runs loop via public toilets to avoid going into the buses and then having to leave a parcel for the next person to find! Carrying a spare tampon in a snap seal bag will ensure it stays free from moisture from your perspiration or the rain and you can tuck it down your bra or in a riding pocket - or if you're like me, I carry a spare on in my bike bag under my seat.
The other challenge with menstruation is the timing of it near races, especially long events. If you discover your half marathon, marathon or triathlon is going to be on the same week as your period go and see you're your doctor and talk to them about "engineering" the timing of it. We know that this is best done at least 4 months out from the event so to create a gradual change in your period timing rather than a stop start approach using medication i.e. the pill.
So bring on the challenges of being perceptive to our bodies needs during this monthly cycle. Bring on the good quality food high in iron, vitamins and minerals. Bring on the quality sleeps and the little afternoon naps. Be gone sore backs and bloated bellies. Like your training goals - take your monthly periods in your stride, plan for them, be prepared, be tolerant to your body's demands and most of all - celebrate it for what it is worth. Good health is a goal worthy of aspiring towards for all women.