Have you ever wondered whether running on your period is a good idea or not? Does it make you question whether your great run or really crap one could be directly related to your menstrual cycle?
If you’re wondering what the answer to that is, then YES you should run on your period. We now have more evidence of what happens inside our bodies during the different phases of our cycle, and your periods may actually help improve performance.
So first, let’s set aside that you can’t perform well on your period. In fact, you might be at your peak the day you start or shortly there after.
Case in point, Paula Radcliffe set her first marathon world record on her period.
I recommend runners keep a journal to see how their periods are affecting them, because at the end of the day, it will vary from one person to another, but understanding the different phases of your cycle and tips on how to run on your period that be priceless for any female runner.
So if that sounds like something you’re interested in, keep reading this article to learn exactly what the different phases of your periods are, how they affect you, and my top tips as a running coach for running on your period.
What is a Menstrual Cycle?
Your periods start on the first day of your menstrual cycle. And as the name suggests, it’s a cycle with different phases that all have an impact on your body.
The two most important hormones in the menstrual cycle are progesterone and estrogen. The cycle starts on the first day of the period and ends on the day before the next one. It can last anywhere from 25 to 35 days.
“Following the onset of menstruation, both hormones remain low for most of the first (follicular) menstrual phase, until a sharp spike in estrogen that precedes ovulation”, says Alex Hutchinson from Sweat Science.
“During the second (luteal) menstrual phase, both hormones rise and progesterone takes over from estrogen as the dominant one,” he explains.
If you’re dealing with peri or post menopause running <<— you’ll want to read this.
Tips for running on your period
- Start tracking your symptoms monthly, so you know what to expect and aren’t surprised by an off run
- Continue to remind yourself that during your period you may not feel great, but can perform
- Shift your training schedule around those low and high days so you can maximize your training (i.e. I know a few days before I start I will be really sluggish, so I might schedule a rest day and save the speed workout for the day after I start).
- Remember that it’s ok to be flexible in your training, it’s about the total consistency. Can you plan ahead to make the week of your period your monthly cutback week anyways?
- Ensure that a few days prior to starting you are taking high quality fish oil and magnesium, this will help with cramps and inflammation.
- Utilize tools like a very low dose melatonin or cherry juice to improve sleep in the days before you start your period, which will make you feel better during
Cycle Syncing for Athletes
Should you be syncing your training to your cycle? This is one of the biggest trends right now and you need to know exactly what it means and how to use it.
Coach Laura Norris and I dove in to the deep en on this during our recent Tread Lightly Podcast. As with all trends, it’s really important to understand the nuances. While some are telling you to only do yoga at certain times of the month, we’re telling you that your body is not weak and you need to figure out how to work with it.
How Running Changes During Your Cycle (Cycle Explained)
Now let’s better understand how your period impact your performance the day of, before, after and well all month long. Once you better understand this, training is a lot more fun.
Suddenly you aren’t berating yourself for a bad day because you understand it was hormones!
- Best runs: Could actually happen as your period starts and through the first week or two after
- Worst runs: Likely in the final days prior to your period beginning
- BUT as noted, you can figure out how to run through all of it and benefit from showing up regardless
Plus, we need to understand the different phases of the menstrual cycle and how they affect energy levels, hormone levels, nutrition needs, and so on. There are 4 phases in your menstrual cycle, which are as follows:
- The Menstruation Phase
- The Follicular Phase
- The Ovulatory Phase
- The Luteal Phase
1. Menstruation Phase (Day 1)
Day 1 of your cycle is when you get your period. The uterus lining sheds during the period. Low estrogen and progesterone hormone levels may make you more capable of performing.
According to Dr. Stacy Sims, who has done extensive research on periods and their effect on athletic performance, your estrogen and progestogen levels naturally drop during your period.
Your core temperature drops and your heart and perspiration rates vary more widely, which may improve your performance.
In addition to improving your mood thanks to the release of endorphins, running during your period may also ease the cramps and back pain that often accompany it.
2. Follicular Phase
This is the period between the first day of your period and ovulation, which typically happens around day 14. During this time, estrogen rises and peaks as an egg prepares to be released. When your period is done, the uterus lining begins to build back up again.
Your performance won’t be affected during this period so you can follow your running routine as usual without any concerns.
3. Ovulation (Mid Cycle)
Around day 14 of your cycle is when you ovulate. Estrogen is the highest right around this mid-point of your cycle and can give you a boost in distance running because the body begins utilizing more fat than carbs for energy.
Additionally, progesterone is highest in the middle of your cycle, which raises your body temperature.
I feel like this explains my night sweats, but more importantly, explains why sometimes you feel like you’re overheating on a run! The hotter you feel, the higher your heart rate goes, and usually the harder the effort will feel.
A few ways you might see this play out:
- Decreased thirst, so you take in fewer fluids (not good)
- Increased core temperature by 0.5 degrees Celsius, making it harder to cool down (higher HR)
- Increased blood vessel vasodilation, which results in greater heat absorption when exercising in the heat
- Decrease in blood plasma volume by 8%, so your blood is less efficient at delivering oxygen and nutrients and clearing lactic acid (higher HR)
- Increased sodium losses because progesterone competes with aldosterone (get on those electrolytes!)
- Increased muscle breakdown (see below for how to mitigate this)
Muscle Breakdown from Estrogen
We know that distance runners have to stay on top of nutrition to maintain muscle, but your cycle plays an even bigger impact on this.
Estrogen and progesterone are catabolic, which means they increase muscle breakdown.
Maintaining a high enough protein intake will help with production of serotonin and melatonin, meaning you’ll sleep better and be less moody on your period.
It’s recommended, during that last 10 days prior to starting your period to consume 25 – 35 grams of high-quality protein within 30 minutes of exercise.
4. Luteal Phase (Last Two Weeks of Your Cycle)
The late luteal phase is the last two weeks of your cycle. You’ll want to plan your easiest workouts in the 3-4 days prior to starting your period.
As your hormones continue to increase, during the last two weeks of your cycle, it may become harder to breathe.
Your phrenic nerve, located in the neck, becomes activated and this triggers the diaphragm thus speeding up your breathing.
- Perception of effort increases
- Breathing feels more difficult
- Fatigue tends to increase
“Progesterone stimulates ventilation independent of the intensity of the run, which can increase the perception of effort since runners typically link their perception of effort to how much they’re breathing,” according to Dr. Jason Karp.
We know that distance runners have to stay on top of nutrition to maintain muscle, but your cycle plays an even bigger impact on this.Your cycle could be behind both your GREAT and your AWFUL runs, find out more! #runchat #letstalkpms Click To Tweet
How to Run On Your Period
It’s happened to all of us at some point. We have a run planned, but find ourselves curled up in the fetal position instead of pondering how we’ll ever move again, let alone run.
The good news is that there are a number of natural PMS relief tools you can implement to keep running because as we know consistency is a key to results!
1. Take a Nap or Sleep Late
Umm yes counter to what I just said about moving, you also need to not move more! Your body is doing extra work and requires extra sleep during this time.
Check out my tips for natural sleep aids, if this time of the month happens to throw you off.
2. Use CBD Cream
When my cramps hit me hard a few months ago, I pulled out my CBD sports cream and lathered it on because what did I have to lose?!
It friggin worked and now I don’t hesitate to get that menthol smell going as soon as I feel them coming and especially prior to any run during my period for extra relief.
3. Go Workout
I know it sounds horrific, but it’s true that movement actually helps muscles relax.
It makes sense, movement increases blood flow throughout the body, which brings in oxygen to reduce cramps. It can indeed also simply work as a distraction…play the I will just go for 5 minutes game and then see how you feel.
4. Enjoy a Detox Bath
I love a hot soak, check out this recipe for a homemade detox bath.
It’s a great way to relax your muscles, help with fluid retention and ya know…sweat it out. I’m not sure that helps with PMS, but the relaxing sure does. Additionally, the magnesium will get things flowing so if you’re feeling constipated this a go-to.
5. Magnesium Increase
I wrote in-depth about how runners need magnesium, but it becomes even more important during this time.
As noted above, it both helps to ensure your relaxed, reduced cramps and helps with getting the bowels moving. Sorry, I know that’s not the most glamorous thing to talk about.
All my tips and recommendations for magnesium and how much athletes need >>
6. Use a Tampon or Menstrual Cup
Many runners don’t prefer using pads while running as it can lead to chafing and feeling really uncomfortable. Instead, opt for tampons or a menstrual cup.
Depending on how heavy your flow is, you may need to change your tampon in a porta-potty during a race. This may add a minute or more to your race time so it’s important to keep that in mind and consider tucking a spare one in your running belt.
The other option is a menstrual cup which is a reusable silicone cup that catches the menstrual blood and can be worn for up to 12 hours. Since it’s reusable after rinsing, you won’t have to worry about storing additional ones in your belt.
We also now have reusable period underwear on the market or period pants that can definitely make things more comfortable.
How to Manage PMS Symptoms
Managing Iron Deficiency
One of the biggest issues that crop up at this point is that blood loss can cause iron deficiency issues for some women.
If you have heavy menstrual bleeding, the hemoglobin concentration in your blood may drop. This decrease in hemoglobin can temporarily impair your blood’s ability to carry oxygen because hemoglobin is the component of red blood cells that carries oxygen.
Some women who run while they are on their period can get a condition called ‘false anemia’ or ‘sports anemia’ in which the iron levels in the blood get too low. This contributes to feelings of fatigue.
Check out this post on iron deficiency in runners for tons of ideas to help combat this and to see if it’s part of what’s holding back your progress.
Dealing with Cramps and Fatigue
Beyond that, we know that cramps and fatigue happen so let’s talk through some ideas to help.
Other period-related PMS symptoms that can interfere with your training include headaches, bloating, and diarrhea. You can schedule your long runs or speed work for days when you know you’ll be feeling your best if you know when these problems might bother you each month.
Honestly, I’ve never found anything that worked as quickly for me as the natural product called Jayde. Which is no longer in production and I legit emailed the company repeatedly asking if it would come back or if they had other recommendations.
However, it’s pretty easy to replicate and I have indeed done it:
- Turmeric pills – my go-to for all things anti-inflammatory
- Digestive Enzyme – yup, it helps your stomach
- Boswellia extract – an anti-inflammatory often used for cramps
Of course one of the keys for me is that it’s a natural herbal remedy.
I’ve found that NSAIDs or other anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen make me feel sleepy, lethargic, or of course, as a runner are bad for your kidneys to take prior to running. None of that happens here, I just feel better!
Eating the Right Food
The right foods can absolutely help with PMS! Of course, we’re all craving chocolate and that’s just fine, but if you can fill up with a few other things you’ll help mitigate things! The goal is to go for iron-rich foods and things high in B vitamins.
- Lemon water
Here’s a fun smoothie recipe putting it all together >>
Using Essential Oils
Yup, I’m totally a fan of essential oils now and I’ve shared before how you can use essential oils to improve athletic performance, but here we’re talking about relief!!!
Lavender and peppermint have the biggest boost to help both with mood, cramps, and headaches. Combine to dab on your neck or sniff on the wrist.
Having Hot Tea
Just like putting a hot compress on the neck helps you to relax, sipping hot tea can also work towards relaxing the entire body.
Ginger tea will help with stomach pains, Chamomile helps with relaxation and peppermint is also known for digestion/relaxation.
All right, I hope this gave you some new insights about running on your period and how to adjust your training. There really is so much to say about how our hormones impact training, which is why there are books like ROAR from Stacy Simms that provide even more.
Looking for more training tips:
- Avoiding the Female Athlete Triad
- Understanding CBD For Runners
- Shutting Down the Negative Voice on Your Runs
- Working Out But Gaining Weight – Here’s Why
- Does Cryotherapy Work?
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