7 Good Reasons for Runners to Start Tracking Their Periods
These pros and coaches have learned to use menstrual cycles to their advantage—here’s what they recommend.
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Most runners keep tabs on stats like their mileage, paces, and heart rate; some are even diving in to glucose monitoring. But increasingly, both elite and everyday athletes who menstruate are plugging yet another crucial bit of data into their training logs: the timing of their cycle. And, they’re talking a lot more openly about what it means to track your period.
For Boulder, Colorado–based coach Jessica Broderick, the conversation about menstruation represents a welcome shift. When she competed as a pro triathlete from 2013 to 2018, few of her fellow competitors discussed their periods. Those who did mainly celebrated being lean enough not to have them, a mindset she now knows is extremely unhealthy.
These days, she asks her athletes at Forever Endurance to log their periods in Training Peaks, right next to their other training data. “I address it from the start with my athletes, because if we can create comfort around it, then it’s a conversation that can be implemented more strategically,” she says.
The latest research results on how the menstrual cycle affects athletic performance suggest it’s highly dependent on the individual athlete. That’s all the more reason for each person to track their own cycle.
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And thanks to apps like FitrWoman and SpotOn—not to mention wearables like the WHOOP strap and Garmin watches, which now have menstrual-tracking features (and, in WHOOP’s case, even menstrual coaching) —the process is easier than ever. Doing so can have a wide range of benefits, as these coaches and athletes can attest.
7 Reasons to Track Your Period
Here’s the lowdown on period tracking from running coaches and pros.
1. You can ensure you’re not overtraining or underfueling.
Olympian Elise Cranny sees her period as a monthly reminder of how far she’s come. The Bowerman Track Club runner stopped menstruating in high school because she wasn’t consuming enough calories to support her training load—a condition known as relative energy deficiency in sport, or RED-S.
Her sophomore year at Stanford University, Cranny sustained a sacral stress fracture as a consequence of the condition. To recover, she began working with a support team that included dietitians and sport psychologists. In addition to nutrition changes, the process included monitoring her cycle.
“Starting to track it gave me more ownership over it,” she says. She started to feel curious about what “healthy” meant for her individual body; knowing the average length of her cycle gave her a valuable tool for defining it. That spark kept her moving forward even on days when the process was challenging.
Now, Cranny uses the FitrWoman app and also tracks her period by hand, making notes about when she’s bleeding and how she’s feeling next to her workout stats in her Believe Training Journal. “It’s good to have that written in the same spot, so I can see or identify patterns,” she says.
If her period comes later than normal, she recognizes quickly that she might need to adjust something, whether that’s adding more calories and healthy fats or dialing back her intensity. “It’s such an incredible indication that I’m fueling properly and doing things the right way and giving my body what it needs,” she says. “It’s really nice to have that sign.”
2. You’ll get a jump-start on relieving PMS symptoms.
Fluctuations in hormone levels affect each athlete differently‚ a fact that’s clear to Nell Rojas, a pro runner for Adidas as well as a coach. Some of her athletes barely notice their periods, whereas others have significant cramps that interfere with their ability to complete regular daily tasks, let alone knock out a tough workout.
For many who menstruate, drops in estrogen and progesterone the week before their periods produce a wide range of premenstrual syndrome symptoms, from cramps to headaches to gut troubles. Tracking your cycle can help you predict—and preempt—them.
For instance, Cranny knows she’ll have trouble sleeping in the days before her period comes. So she prioritizes a calming nighttime routine, winding down a little bit earlier with non-caffeinated tea and some meditation.
Josette Norris, a pro runner with the Reebok Boston Track Club, tracks her cycle using her WHOOP strap. When her body temperature and heart rate stay elevated for a week, she knows her period is likely to follow the week afterward.
To prepare, she’ll take extra doses of supplements like magnesium, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids to support sleep and reduce inflammation. She also knows she’s likely to get a little low back pain around the time she’s menstruating, so she proactively asks her physiotherapists to work on that area.
These days, there are many reputable sources for information about managing symptoms during training, including the Stanford Female Athlete Science and Translational Research (FASTR) Program as well as individual dietitians (Norris follows pro runner and registered dietitian Maddie Alm’s Fueling Forward, for one), exercise physiologists, and researchers.
“Everybody’s different, and everyone’s going to react differently,” Norris says. “But I think it’s worth it to try to absorb all that information and then see what works best for you as an athlete.”
3. And, a heads-up about health problems.
Diane Nukuri, a Flagstaff, Arizona–based pro runner for ASICS, got her first period late, around age 18. From the beginning, she had significant pain, nausea, and bloating.
Her mom and sisters had similar symptoms, so Nukuri assumed some of the cause was genetic. She tracked her cycle using an app called Flo, which helped her anticipate when her painful periods would arrive. Tracking also reinforced the fact that they only worsened the older she got.
It wasn’t until she had an MRI for a hamstring tear in 2019 that doctors saw something in her abdomen. She had a follow-up ultrasound, and was told she had fibroids, non-cancerous tumors that can cause heavy bleeding, pain, and other symptoms.
Soon afterward, she had surgery to remove them, a procedure she describes as “life-changing.” “I realized it was affecting my mental health; I was a lot more angry because I feel like nobody could understand my pain,” she says.
She only learned later that Black women were three times as likely to be diagnosed with fibroids as white women, and also tend to have more severe symptoms. Now, she’s passionate about telling women of all backgrounds with painful periods to not only monitor their cycle, but to speak up loudly and ask for an ultrasound or other tests if they suspect a problem.
In addition to fibroids, a heavier flow could be a sign of other conditions, including pelvic inflammatory disease or endometriosis. Sharing tracking data with your doctor can help you both pinpoint problems, so you can get timely treatment.
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4. You can align your nutrition and recovery strategies.
In the days before her period, Cranny feels better in workouts if she takes in more fluids and electrolytes—so she’ll haul a bottle of Nuun or a similar beverage to the track to sip between reps. She incorporates more anti-inflammatory foods and drinks, including vegetables and tart cherry juice, and honors her cravings for extra carbs.
Broderick also pays heed to her PMS-linked cravings, and advises her athletes to do so too, in the context of a well-balanced self-care plan.
Personally, she notices that when she prioritizes sleep, hydration, and well-balanced meals—those including healthy fats, carbohydrates, and protein—she feels fewer cravings for foods like sugar. Covering her nutritional bases while also allowing for extra treats when her body calls for them keeps her mood and energy levels more stable.
“All the things that you would normally do to take care of yourself, I just always tell my athletes to turn the dial up one more notch,” she says. “And then, be kind with yourself. It’s a tricky time, and you have to deal with it every month.”
5. You can even adjust your training or racing schedule, if you want.
Thanks to Nukuri’s painful periods, she prefers not to race long distances while she’s bleeding. “Sometimes I’ll make a decision not to do a marathon because I know that it’s going to be around that time,” she says, even if the choice comes with financial consequences. Sitting out a major race like the Boston Marathon, for instance, can mean forgoing significant appearance fees.
Nukuri also lays off hard workouts on her period to avoid injury, taking three or four days of easy running instead, which helps her symptoms. When she’s feeling better, she’ll get back on schedule. “I don’t really force things,” she says.
As Broderick gets to know her athletes’ cycles, she’ll often make similar tweaks. She’ll have them back off hard workouts during times when PMS has them feeling poorly. On the flip side, “I actually apply more pressure when I know they’re feeling like Wonder Woman,” she says (for many athletes, herself included, that’s on the first day or two of bleeding).
This approach allows her to take advantage of the times when athletes feel better, while still balancing their overall training load so they’re never overdoing it. The result benefits athletes physically as well as psychologically, she says.
After all, high-volume training for long events like marathons or Ironman triathlons often produces significant fatigue, meaning athletes don’t feel fresh and sharp until their pre-race taper. Harnessing hormones to have a stellar workout or two in the middle offers a mid-cycle boost, “a little bit of that euphoric feeling, to remind them that they’re fit,” she says.
6. If not, you can at least know what to expect.
Cranny usually feels the worst a couple of days before her cycle begins—in addition to trouble sleeping, she’s bloated, fatigued, and more emotional. The sensations aren’t fun, but knowledge of the underlying cause is powerful.
In the past, her thoughts would spiral to the negative: “What’s happening to my body?” she says. By linking her symptoms to her cycle, “you have an explanation for how you’re feeling, which gives me much more peace of mind.”
Rojas also recognizes that she may not reach her peak as easily the week before her period. “I just don’t have that extra zip. I don’t have as much power, I don’t feel as great, I’m not as motivated,” she says. “I know that I can still have a decent race, but it’s not going to feel good, and it’s going to be tough. I just have to get through it.”
Many of Broderick’s athletes report similar scenarios, so she helps them practice and plan strategies that work for them. “Say your race falls on the day that you feel the worst in your cycle,” she says. “What are some things that we can implement in training and experiment with to make you feel like a six out of 10 instead of a two out of 10 on that day? Then maybe with the taper and the adrenaline and the fact that it’s a race with competitors, you actually end up feeling totally fine.”
7. Most of all, you can derive a huge sense of confidence.
Add it all up, and the self-awareness that comes with tracking your cycle can allow you to bring your best self, regardless of the circumstances.
“I remember one workout that I had at altitude last summer and it was right before I was going to start my period,” Cranny says. “I had pretty bad cramps and just felt like I was breathing a lot harder and felt more fatigued from the start of the workout.”
But despite not “firing on all cylinders,” she still executed well. And she reflects on that fact anytime she doesn’t feel 100-percent, whether it’s because of hormones or another reason.
“That’s helpful, mentally, going into races, because then you don’t feel so out of control,” she says. “I don’t know when my period is going to fall based on a race schedule eight months from now, but I know now how to deal with it if it does fall in a crappy period of time.”
Meanwhile, when a race or tough workout aligns with a hormone-induced upswing, you can start out with an extra spring in your step. Norris notices her pain tolerance is higher just after her period. Most recently, she had her period the week before the Millrose Games; her race on January 29, the WHOOP Women’s Wanamaker Mile, fell right in the sweet spot.
“I was like, ‘Oh, my pain tolerance is pretty high this week, so I think it’s going to go really well,’” she says. And it did—she ran a personal-best 4:20.81 to place second.
Of course, that doesn’t mean she can’t run well at other times. She briefly worried about being more worn out the following week, when she lined up in the 3,000 meters at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix.
But despite being closer to the middle of her cycle, she ran 8:37.91, another personal best that was good for third place, not to mention the eighth-fastest American time at the distance. “I just try to look at it as more information to help me—but it doesn’t hurt me either way,” she says.
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