Menstrual Cycle and athletic performance
The Menstrual Cycle has always been taboo in any social environment in the past, however, is a main factor when it comes to athletic performance in female athletes. The scientific community has researched the menstrual cycle in female athletes and many articles have been published in the past decade. Many professional’s try to find the absolute truth and the “RULE” that applies to all athletes, however, absolute truths are not common when it comes to practical applications in athletes (every individual is different). This article tries to be a practical guide for coaches, female athletes and non-athletes for the manipulation of this variables for training.
- Menstrual cycle and Injury prevention.
Injuries, in relation to the menstrual cycle, is the main interest for many athletes. Some studies have reported a higher rate of ligament related injuries in female athletes in comparison with male athletes. Research is still unclear on this issue, since some studies have also reported not to have found any differences in reported injuries between males and females.
Some studies found a higher rate of ACL injuries during the follicular phase, with a higher amount during the ovulatory phase (10th to 14th day), this could be due to an increase in fatigability of the muscle during this phase, provoked by estrogen, progesterone and relaxin.
Another factor when it comes to ACL injuries is the increase of ligament laxity, a really controversial issue, since many studies reported different results. Some studies have reported a larger ligament laxity during the ovulatory (10th-14th day) and luteal phase (14th -28th day) associated with an increase in estrogen, progesterone and testosterone levels.
The use of oral contraceptive pills has been reported to decrease the risk of traumatic lower body injuries during the pre-menstrual and menstrual phases. However, the use of this contraceptive method has encountered some conflicts when it come to testing for PED’s.
Science is still far from finding what is the main reason to ACL injuries, and many other factors, not related with the menstrual cycle, could be greater contributors to these injuries.
So, a more holistic approach is needed when working on preventing ACL injuries (stress, training volume, chronic fatigue…).
- Athletic Performance
When it comes to athletic performance, most of the research divides in aerobic and anaerobic capacity.
In terms of aerobic capacity, some studies suggest that, there is a slight decrease during the mid-luteal phase and female athletes performed better during the follicular phase. These findings were reported to happened due to the cyclic increases in endogenous female steroid hormones.
In terms of anaerobic performance, the same study that reported that the follicular phase may be better for aerobic performance, also reported that no changes where observed in jumping and sprinting performance. Other studies suggest that strength levels are higher during the follicular phase and reported that a higher intensity resistance training during this phase, resulted in larger gains in strength and muscle, in comparison with the same training during the luteal phase.
Science hasn’t found the final answer to this question, and this might be because of the individual necessities and responses of every athlete. Every athlete will react differently to hormonal and physiological changes within their body.
- Practical applications:
- Injury prevention should be our main concern when periodizing, taking menstrual cycle as a reference. Limiting hard contact situations during the ovulatory phase (days 10-14), as well as the pre-menstruation days.
- Is not totally clear that ACL laxity is the main reason for injury, muscular fatigue, seems to be a more relevant reason when it comes to ACL related injuries.
- Aerobic performance seems to decrease during the mid-luteal phase (days 21-28), where many athletes also report neural fatigue and bad sleep during these days.
- Anaerobic performance could be increased during the follicular phase (days 1-14), this might be a great time to increase strength training and obtain the best results.
- Practical limitations:
- A good relationship should be established prior to implementing this method, if not, the player could feel intimidated when asked about her menstrual cycle.
- If the athlete Is underage, parents should be aware of the application of this method and give their consent to the coach.
In conclusion, this research will not always apply to every individual, but we can establish a clear path for establishing a plan. Individual wellness surveys could also be implemented in order to fill the gaps between science and practical applications, and study individual results and reactions during the different phases. Every athlete is a whole world, and before we conclude if any of this data could be apply to them, a good coach-athlete relationship needs to be established.
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