Photo Credit: Ben Lonergen/USA Today Images
Your period is the biggest indicator of your health. Women are so lucky that we have this beautiful, natural way to measure our health, so take advantage of that.
Your period is your superpower. How many times have you heard that one? Not many, right?
I used to think that it was not only okay, but normal, to lose my period as a high level athlete. For three years, I had either no menstrual cycle or an irregular one. This is also known as amenorrhea. Amenorrhea is a part of the female athlete triad, which is now more commonly referred to as Relative Energy Deficiency (RED) in Sport.
In high-level distance running, irregular periods are sadly overlooked for women because of how "characteristic" it has become to see a female athlete with an irregular or lost menstrual cycle. From my own personal experience, despite appearing conceringly underweight and trapped inside of an eating disorder, my loss of a period was dismissed as "okay" more than once. And when it was finally recognized, it was not handled in a serious or urgent manner.
It wasn't until I seriously sought help for myself because I knew that my body was struggling, that things got better for me.
I share this to educate on the importance of a period. Your period is the biggest indicator of your health. Women are so lucky that we have this beautiful, natural way to measure our health, so take advantage of that. Your period is your body speaking to you. When you get one, it says to you: "I am healthy", "I am strong", "I am fueled", "I am capable", "I will support you" and "thank you." I am not the first person to share the long lasting damage that amenorrhea has done to my body, so if you struggle with a similar issue, I strongly urge you to speak up and get help before it impacts your running career and your future as a woman.
And if the subject has been overlooked or taken lightly, I recommend that you advocate for yourself and take it seriously, as hard as that may be. I wish I had somebody to tell me that because it would have saved me from multiple bone injuries when my body couldn't support me.
Another thing I learned is that although we feel crappy on our periods, you can have a superpower, metaphorically speaking. Your superpower is your health. But I didn't learn that until recently.
Have you ever realized that you've gotten a personal best on your period? Or have you felt terrible going into a workout on your period because of your PMS symptoms but then actually crushed it? This is because your hormone levels are actually the lowest on the first day of your period. Scientifically, this means that our exercise physiology is most like a man's during your period (Cit. 2). In addition, your estrogen levels are high during the beginning of your cycle which "increases our reliance on fats for energy during sub-maximal exercise" and delays tapping into glycogen stores. This can help "delay fatigue and improve overall performance" (Cit. 1).
Your superpower is your health. But I didn't learn that until recently.
Of course, PMS symptoms and body physiology does differ between people. Some people need to manage symptoms more than others. But it makes it a whole lot easier when you feel crappy on your period to mentally show up to train knowing your physiologic super power.
It also helps you believe that whatever you think you can't do on your period. You can!
Periods are a taboo subject, but that can change. They are a beautiful and an important part of womanhood and that includes females who train and compete athletically. In fact, it is especially important for those women, because it is our superpower of health and strength.
1. Griffin, Inez. "How Does the Menstrual Cycle Affect Performance?" How Does the Menstrual Cycle Affect Performance? by Precision Fuel & Hydration, Precision Fuel & Hydration, 19 May 2022, https://www.precisionhydration.com/performance-advice/performance/menstrual-cycle-affect-training-and-performance/.
2. Sims, Stacy T. Roar: How to Match Your Food and Fitness to Your Unique Female Physiology for Optimum Performance, Great Health, and a Strong, Lean Body for Life. Rodale Books, 2016.
Jessica is a 2019 graduate of Old Saybrook (CT) High School and a junior at the University of Delaware. She was a multiple-time CIAC State Open and CIAC Class Class S Championship qualifier and placer, and held PRs of 2:22.78 in the 800m and 5:07.42 in the 1,600m. This is a monthly series where Jessica writes about important and wide-ranging subjects involving young and developing runners.