Do Women Perform Physical Activity Better When Menstruating?

From the Show: HER
Summary: Does your period affect your physical performance? How does losing your period affect your body?
Air Date: 11/7/16
Duration: 31:28
Host: Michelle King Robson and Pam Peeke, MD
Guest Bio: Elizabeth A. Joy, MD, MPH, FACSM
Dr. Liz JoyDr. Joy is the Medical Director for Community Health and Clinical Nutrition at Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City. Dr. Joy practices Family Medicine and Sports Medicine at the Salt Lake Clinic LiVe Well Center. She is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Utah in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine. She completed a Family Medicine Residency and Primary Care Sports Medicine Fellowship at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She completed her Master’s Degree in Public Health at the University of Utah. Dr. Joy is currently President of the Female Athlete Triad Coalition, and is the President of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) – having formerly served on the Board of Trustees, and as Vice President. She held 2 terms of office on the Board of Trustees for the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine. She is on the Editorial Board for The Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, and is Associate Editor for Current Sports Medicine Reports. She serves on the Exercise Is Medicine Steering Committee for the ACSM, and chairs the EIM Clinical Practice Committee. She developed and directed the Primary Care Sports Medicine Fellowship Program at the University of Utah from 1998 until 2011. She has authored many journal articles and textbook chapters on a wide variety of topics in sports and exercise medicine. Her research and advocacy interests lie in the areas of physical activity assessment and promotion, the Female Athlete Triad, sports injury prevention, and diabetes prevention. Dr. Joy is married to Dr. Jim Macintyre, and they have 2 children. 

Do Women Perform Physical Activity Better When Menstruating?
Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui told a reporter at the 2016 Summer Olympics that she was suffering from menstrual pain. This publicly acknowledged how periods affect sports performance.

Some reports suggest that women are at greater risk for injury during menstruation, like tearing an ACL. Women who lose their menstrual cycles are at much greater risk for bone and tendon injury due to estrogen deficiency. Heavy menstruation can hinder sports performance.

But, not all women have issues with physical performance and menstruation. Athletes are always training or competing, even during their periods.

There is no literature that says physical performance will be better or worse during menstruation.

Being active can help alleviate some menstrual pain. If your period is so strong and painful you can’t handle physical activity, see a doctor so you can function at the level you want. There may be something causing that pain that can be treated.

Speaking of physical performance, there are people who take it to a higher level. Fitness affects how they eat, body composition and menstrual cycle.

The Female Athlete Triad defines three distinct but interrelated conditions.

First is low energy availability. This happens when you disrupt your body’s energy. How much energy is stored in your body? Also, are you meeting your caloric needs for your daily activity? How much energy are you expending outside of workouts? If you have insufficient dietary energy intake, low stored energy and high energy expenditure your body will have too little energy to function properly.

Second is menstrual dysfunction. This is where your periods start to phase out. Frequency of a regular cycle reduces until the period disappears. This is a defense mechanism by the brain. If the brain perceives there isn’t enough energy in the body then it turns off your reproductive capacity. This prevents further energy loss. You lose your periods and your ovaries stop making estrogen. Most females are highly dependent on estrogen, especially for bone density.

Third is low bone mineral density. Athletes with low bone mineral density are at higher risk for stress fractures. Some people need two to six weeks to recover. Stress fractures end careers for others.

It’s important to treat the Female Athlete Triad for the best physical performance possible. It has less to do with body composition and more to do with the body’s ability to function at the optimal level.

Listen in as Dr. Liz Joy shares the relationship between menstruation and athletics.


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