In the process of designing the PMS collection, we wanted to know more about the different experiences of PMS and PMDD. In doing research, we came in contact with PhD student at Northumbria University, Kelly McNulty. Kelly investigates the effects of the menstrual cycle and hormonal contraceptive use on performance, recovery, and adaptation in sportswomen. Furthermore, Kelly is the founder of The Period of The Period which aims to promote awareness and increase evidence-based education on the topics surrounding women's health in sport and exercise.
What is the menstrual cycle?
For decades, female athletes have hinted that the menstrual cycle has the potential to influence performance and training. These effects are not limited to elite athletes, with research reporting thaton average 50 to 90% of sportswomen believe that their menstrual cycle affects their ability to perform or train.
Despite these statistics, for a long time the menstrual cycle has been treated as a taboo and as something we do not openly discuss as women, especially in sport and exercise. If we cannot talk about our menstrual cycle, we will never know what is normal and not normal. On top of this, education is lacking with 72% of women reporting not receiving any education about their menstrual cycle in relation to how it might affect performance and training.
"With this in mind, does our menstrual cycle affect our performance and training? If so, how? And how can we use this information to work with and not against our physiology?"
These effects might not necessarily be negative, and by understanding these effects, alongside tracking our menstrual cycles, we can gain a better understanding of where we are in our cycle and the physiology at that point, as well as how we might adjust our performance and training accordingly. Let us see how we can do just that. Walk through the phases with us.
"There is no right, or wrong way, to exercise whilst on your period and instead it is important to listen to your own body and adapt exercise if you feel it is necessary."
"It is interesting to think that we could potentially make the most of our physiology at this point in our cycle to gain these types of advantages however, at the moment there are only four studies which have investigated this and there is a difference in findings between these studies, so be cautious when directly applying this research to your own practice."
Although the science is currently conflicting, an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, and only you know how your body is feeling. Therefore, the best advice for now is to take a personalised approach, whereby your individual experiences of the menstrual cycle inform how you might adjust performance or training. It can be nice to know that it is not all in your head and there might be a plausible reason why maybe you cannot lift as much, or you are not achieving your usual 5k times at certain points in your cycle.
* Please note that most of the research in this area is conflicting and largely of low-quality. Therefore, there is a lack of consensus on whether performance and training are affected by menstrual cycle phase, or not. On top of this, every woman’s experience of the menstrual cycle is different, and this can change across her lifespan. So, if we start to add this up, this means there are currently no evidence-based guidelines for active women or elite female athletes around managing their performance and training across their cycle.