Friday, October 19, 2012

Another one just for the ladies: the P word and sports

All derby girls know the truth of this statement, but here goes if you've been living under a rock for your derby career.  When a group of women spend inordinate amounts of time together, they're menstrual cycles will ultimately synch up and it's possible for the whole league to have their periods at the same time.  It can be nightmarish experience, but what else can your menstrual cycle control?  Can it have a direct effect on your sports performance?  Can your sports performance directly affect your period?

There have been a lot of ridiculous myths in the past that have been connected to periods.  My two favorites are the  "Don't wash your hair during your period" and "don't exercise during your period."  I don't know if these are just some weird leftover from when "science" thought women were incapable of doing any kind of physical labor because we were the inferior sex.  It's funny; if you exercise regularly before, during and after your period, it can actually reduce a lot of the unpleasant symptoms some women get.  Take that, 1950s era doctors!

So, can your period control your sports performance?  The answer seems to be yes.  Evidently, the week before you actually menstruate, your psychological health can take a nose dive.  Some women tend to feel slightly depressed or fatigued during this time, with lower back pain, and feeling that way absolutely can change how you perform in derby. Also, female athletes are also more prone to joint injury during this time in their cycles due to hormonal fluctuations.  What does it mean for female athletes?  It means that the feelings of fatigue and depression and clumsiness that many women feel during PMS is real.  You need to understand what your body is going through in order to play at your best level.

On the flip side, during this exact same time in the cycle, women have a 10% increase in their endurance.  According to some studies, such as the one found here, women are capable of storing more glycogen in their legs, which leads to greater endurance.  It even suggests that women who are in training to run should consider running a marathon during that exact window.  Unfortunately, this exact same benefit takes away your ability to sprint as well as you do in the other part of your cycle.  Also, exercising during extreme heat can be detrimental to women in the premenstrual phase of their cycles because most women already are experiencing an elevated body temperature.  Whoopee!

Aren't hormones weird?  Oh yes, if you're on the pill, none of this really matters to you because you have a continual and low dose stream of hormones that avoid these peaks and valleys.  Yea you!

If you are suffering from obnoxious PMS, it might be because of your diet.  Many women are not getting the amount of calcium needed to keep their bodies running smoothly, and your PMS might be a signal that you are in need of certain dietary changes.  If you are big into eating fruits and vegetables, your PMS symptoms might not be as bad as someone who runs screaming from salads.  Also, if you stop smoking, drinking a lot of caffeine and generally avoiding red meat, you might alleviate some of the more cumbersome symptoms, such as the water retention, cravings and fatigue.  See?  Quitting smoking has allllllll sorts of benefits! (Sorry for the mini-lecture, not really.)

If you are an athlete who works out so much you have less than 17% body fat, you're in danger of not getting your period.  It's not a healthy way to be, since it can actually lead to early onset osteoporosis.  Luckily, most derby girls don't have this issue since we like having muscle mass and some solidity to us, but if you know of someone who is over training, remind them that some fat is necessary for a healthy life!  I'll take mine in chocolate and peanut butter form, thanks!

As more women get more involved with sports, there will be more studies of how our hormone fluctuations can affect our performance, but for now, the best thing you can do is listen to your body.  You are the best expert on you that exists!  Learn your ups and downs and learn how to work with them!   Also, I find that soaking in a tub and reading a really sappy book when I'm all hormonal helps, especially after a tough practice.  That's not supported by any research, but it helps me feel better.  :)


  1. Ba ha ha--this is when I first suspected I was pregnant at the end of this season. I had synced up with several of my teammates (despite the fact I'm usually long in my cycles, not normal length) and then suddenly unsynced. Yup: baby. I think it's crazy that this happens, but also kind of neat that women connect even on a physiological level to one another! Talk about teamwork...

  2. "they're menstrual cycles will ultimately synch" - I heard that was a myth.

    I also heard that during the 1980(?) Olympics, that many of the women in the women's swim team were having their periods, they took gold that year.

  3. I was seriously wondering about this (ie. if leaguemates' cycles fell into sync) a couple of weeks ago... and... whoa. That's kind of spooky that it *does* happen. o.O

  4. Oh yes. I hope everyone takes this seriously! On June 30th this/last summer (2012) I broke my arm (super minor) at a bout that I was SUPER excited for. I had a brace on for a month and got back to skating a little slowly after that. So by this point it's the first week of August. On August 27 I broke my leg and ankle at practice and I was super excited to skate that night cuz we had a bout two days before. SO LAME. I had a cast past my knee for a month, then a regular cast, then a boot. So now I've been walking (more like limping, I'm such a derp)for about four weeks, and the Dr. said I'm clear to skate whenever I'm ready, and he estimates three weeks. So ANYWAYS. The point of this big, long, stupid story that no one asked to hear is that I realized both times I was on my period, and a few people and I feel like that may have been what set me off. I actually also posted this to know if you have good ways to get my endurance back and strengthen my muscles so this doesn't happen again. I also have a very important game in February and we're in our off season between now and then, so it's totally on me and I could use some help. THANKS!