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Though conversations with your best running friends can stray into girl talk about sex and relationships, you might be awkward to speak to professionals about the topic—so we will do it for you! Women’s health specialist Laura Borgelt, PharmD, is a professor at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in the Departments of Clinical Pharmacy and Family Medicine. As co-founder of Maxim Sports Nutrition, USA, she travels the world talking with female athletes.
We spoke with Borgelt to find out the top questions female athletes ask about sex, running and the menstrual cycle, so you can find the right method to suit your lifestyle and what you want from your athletic performance. Here’s the top questions that we ask behind closed doors:
Is it okay to have sex the night before a big race or run?
Yes. Everything that we know so far would indicate that it is completely fine. There are some things with regard to having sex, though, that may potentially interfere with the psychological aspects of running. For example, if this was a first encounter with a new partner, part of an unstable situation or not part of the regular routine of that person’s life, it may be a disruption. But the act of sex itself is not problematic from a performance standpoint.
Will using the pill affect athletic performance?
As far as we can tell, using the pill—with the current doses and strengths that we have available—there would not be a negative impact with athletic performance. There can be side effects that occur, so depending upon the woman, there may be side effects experienced, but athletic performance would not be an indicator of whether to use it or not. It is based on whether someone tolerates the pill or not.
Is my performance affected while on my period?
When looking at physiologic performance—oxygen consumption and muscle strength—it is not affected when someone has her period. Having said that, there are (as we all know) symptoms that can make a day of racing or training uncomfortable due to pain, moodiness, cramping and more, not tied to physiological performance. How you feel or are able to perform can be affected.
Is it okay to not have my period? What forms of contraception allow me to not have my period?
If a woman is not having her period because she is training so much that her systems and hormone regulation is shutting down, that can have negative consequences. Overtraining or too much exercise can shut down those regulatory mechanisms. In the other scenario, if you are using contraception and the right things are happening, it is fine to not have your period. This can happen safely as long as you are in your reproductive life. There are several methods that allow women to not have a period. The most effective is the progestin-only intrauterine devices (IUD). These devices are good for roughly 3-5 years, depending on the device. This device is simply inserted and within about 6 months, a woman will not have her period as long as the IUD is in. Also available are birth control pills, which can be used in a continuous manner where active pills are taken every day and the placebo pills are never taken. These birth control pills have estrogen and progestin combined. Progestin-only pills stop women from having a period, but they are rarely used as a routinely birth control. Finally, the Depo-Provera shot can be given every 3 months to eliminate a period, but it is not recommended often because it can cause weight gain.
What forms of contraception are best for female athletes?
A lot of it comes down to what the woman needs or wants. Many women don’t want their period or have to remember something every day. From that standpoint, the best options are the progestin-only IUDs. This also happens to be one of the most effective methods available. Another option is an implant that goes into the upper arm, which is good for three years. One of the most common side effects of this is erratic bleeding. Some women want to have their period to ensure they aren’t pregnant, and in that case, they could use a birth control pill that is routinely taken.