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Between cramping, bloating, irritability and fatigue, your period can throw a serious wrench in your training routine—making even the most experienced athlete feel like she is starting from scratch. So how does a girl cope with all of the delightful cycle symptoms? When Mother Nature pays a visit, is it best to take a breather or just run with the flow?
We got the low-down from Dr. Mona Shangold of the Center for Women’s Health and Sports Gynecology in Philadelphia on how to sail through these monthly setbacks.
Women’s Running: How does your period affect running performance?
Dr. Mona Shangold: Your period itself should not affect your running performance, but the symptoms can make a difference. Cramps, bloating and fatigue can impair both your speed and endurance. Additionally, the irritability that accompanies your monthly cycle makes it difficult to get in the mood to exercise.
WR: Do women need to ease up on training during their periods?
MS: No. There is no medical reason to modify your running schedule. Although, unfortunately for certain women, heavy periods become even heavier while running. Therefore, runners may prefer to avoid or reduce running when bleeding is heavy, but it isn’t necessary to do this. Depending on your symptoms, you may find some workouts are gentler on the body than others. For example, if your period is accompanied with cramps or back pain, non-impact exercises, such as cycling, swimming or yoga, may work better. Ultimately women should listen to their bodies and go with what feels best. And as with any training, a proper diet is essential. Fend off the urge to gorge yourself with unhealthy foods, no matter how badly the hormones are raging.
WR: What is the best way to deal with symptoms, like bloating and cramping?
MS: The good news is runners are a step ahead of the game: Regular exercise reduces period symptoms. Since running releases endorphins, a natural painkiller, many women find relief during a workout. Try going for an easy run to reap these benefits. Many birth control pills, especially low-estrogen types, can reduce bleeding, cramping, bloating and fatigue. Anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, offer the most effective prevention and treatment for menstrual cramps, since they prevent the formation of the prostaglandins that cause pain. As with any medication, be sure to read the label for the appropriate dosage, and consult your doctor with any concerns.
WR: Is there ever a time when you shouldn’t run while on your period?
MS: From a medical standpoint, there is never a time when you shouldn’t run during your period. But depending on the severity of your symptoms, don’t be ashamed of taking a day off. It’s okay to give your body a rest. If your symptoms create a constant struggle or if you notice any significant changes in your cycle, be sure to consult your physician.
How The Pros Deal
In her book Running for Women, the long-distance superstar says, “Some of my best races have come right after having my period. Train through it!”
The pioneer of women’s running recalls racing a marathon wearing a pair of wool tights underneath her shorts due to fear of an accident. In her autobiography, Marathon Woman, she says, “There was no way, even if it were 100 degrees, that I’d not wear those tights.”
In the 1996 Boston Marathon, the German runner raced to victory in spite of heavy flow, accompanied by diarrhea visible to the cheering crowd. At the time she stated, “After four miles, I was thinking several times to drop out because it hurt so much. But in the end, I won.”