How do Periods affect running, and what can you do about it?
Understandably, a period can make anyone feel like skipping exercise.
Recent research shows that 69% of women have to change their exercise routine during their period, and 88% think that their training performance is the worst at this time.
Although long runs can be challenging during parts of your cycle, understanding the changes your period causes and managing them will allow you to maintain your training routine throughout the month.
Working with a number of fitness and health professionals, we have put together a quick guide on how your period can impact your running, as well as strategies to help manage and optimise your training routine and performance.
Your body temperature can change slightly throughout your menstruation cycle. It is likely to peak during the luteal phase of your cycle when progesterone is at its highest level. Your plasma levels also drop, causing your body’s cooling systems not to switch on as quickly, and it will take you longer to start sweating.
Tip: Ensure to drink plenty of water during and after your runs to keep your body hydrated. High caffeine intake will also cause your body temperature to rise. Try swapping out your pre-run coffees for matcha tea or lemon water.
Image credit: Jennis Fitness
Karen Fielding, personal trainer and founder of Ready to Glow, says, “Many girls and women find that the best training time is in the follicular phase when oestrogen levels start low and gradually rise and body temperature is lower.
“Whereas in the luteal phase, the phase of the menstrual cycle between ovulation and menstruation body temperature can rise by an average of 0.4 degrees and this potentially could decrease performance if running in a hot or humid climate.”
Ruth Smith, chartered physiotherapist and business development lead at Complete Pilates, added: “A rise in temperature during your period is well known, but this can actually happen before your period, due to the hormonal fluctuations around ovulation. Knowing your body and your usual cycle can really help you to plan training around this.
“You might find it helpful to practice more restorative training, a gentle pace run or conditioning work such as Pilates on days when you are feeling the body temperature rise. This way, you are still maintaining your training but avoiding the sessions, which will raise your temperature.”
Bloating and Cramps
Bloating, abdominal cramps and fatigue are just a few symptoms of the menstrual cycle that can make running more difficult. Although you can’t prevent these symptoms entirely, there are some easy ways to make them more manageable during exercise.
Tip: Limiting alcohol and caffeine intake and drinking more water can all help to reduce bloating. Your diet can also play a significant factor in abdominal cramps and pains. Adding more magnesium high foods to your diet during the heaviest parts of your cycle, such as spinach, avocados and dark chocolate, can help make cramps more bearable.
Karen comments, “Cramps and bloating can impair both speed and endurance, but it is worth noting that running during your period increases the blood flow to your kidneys and increases your glomerular filtration rate, the speed at which your kidneys remove unwanted waste products from your blood circulation, and is excreted through urine. This, in turn, promotes oxygen flow and can therefore minimise any bloating or swelling. “
Ruth added: “We often feel like curling up on the sofa when we have bloating, and cramps but movement and exercise has been shown in research actually to reduce these symptoms and pain levels—keeping active with walking, gentle running, or whole-body activities such as Pilates releases endorphins which help to reduce pain.
Metabolism and Nutrition
During the second half of the period, you burn more fat due to the rise in progesterone. This change makes it harder for your body to access the sugar it needs causing your energy levels to drop, making exercise a lot harder.
Tip: Your metabolism also peaks during this time, so make sure your body is fueled correctly before starting runs to avoid low blood sugar levels. Protein and high fibre carbohydrates can help your body keep going longer, and nuts, beans, and leafy vegetables can raise iron levels that drop due to blood loss.
“During your period, you may find it more difficult to maintain a healthy and well-balanced diet. It is a good idea to ensure you don’t skip breakfast as this can leave you feeling lightheaded and lethargic, both of which your period may exacerbate as well. Aim to have a protein and fibre rich breakfast to keep you full and ready to stay active and exercising,” explains Ruth.
Karen added, “Estrogen may enhance endurance by altering the metabolism of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, and progesterone may oppose these effects of oestrogen. Eating plenty of high-fibre carbohydrates which don’t contain gluten can also help fuel your runs, especially in the follicular phase of your cycle.”
Tracking your periods can not only help to ensure your cycle is running as usual, but it can also help to plan your training schedule so you can get the most out of workouts whilst on your period. Tracking cycle timelines and symptoms can help find patterns in your performance and understand when your period is affecting your performance most.
Tip: It is advised that you plan your heaviest workouts for days 3-14 of your cycle as this is when you are strongest and can recover faster. Towards the end of your cycle, your body temperature is at its highest, and you are most at risk over cardiovascular strains.
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“Start tracking your menstrual cycle by noting the first and last days of your period, then count the days between the first days of two consecutive periods to establish cycle length. Another alternative is to download an app as there are so many on the market now. By recognising these phases of the menstrual cycle, female runners are better equipped to deal with common premenstrual symptoms and achieve their health, training and running goals,” advises Karen.
If you’re looking for a sustainable and more comfortable way to train on your period, we have recently launched a new period knicker called The Defender for mild/light periods, ideal for short durations of exercise.