Historically, discussing the female menstrual cycle has been off-limits and never considered to hinder or enhance performance. Research from industry experts like Stacy Sims and Asker Jeukendrup allows us to better understand the physiological differences between men and women and how to use that knowledge to enhance athletic performance.
Thankfully we are in a new era, and females are being recognized not as much by how they look but by what they say, how they perform and their valuable contribution to society. Women are taking their rightful place at the training table, standing proudly on center stage with their equal male counterparts. Treating female athletes with the same sports fueling and training plan as male athletes is a massive injustice. It’s time to acknowledge, treat, train and fuel women according to their unique physiology.
Tips for mastering your cycle:
Sports Hydration and Fueling
Ideal hydration solution per 8oz to optimize hydration, provide energy and offset GI distress for the female athlete:
- 3-4% carbohydrate solution (7-9.4g carb per 8oz)
- Sugar substrate from glucose and sucrose
- Sodium 180-225 mg
- Potassium 60-75mg (co-transporter of sodium)
Headaches: Just before the start of menstrual flow, hormones drop, causing a change in blood pressure due to the dilation and constriction of blood vessels. The best way to mitigate these hormone-induced headaches is to stay adequately hydrated and eat foods rich in nitric oxides such as beets, pomegranate, watermelon, and spinach in the days leading up to your period.
Cramping: 5-7 days before your period, you can reduce the effect of cramping by taking magnesium, omega three fatty acids, and a low dose (80mg) baby aspirin. NOT ibuprofen or Advil®. Make sure it is aspirin, which suppresses the production of prostaglandins where NSAIDS do not.
Take the following each night for seven days before your period starts to reduce premenstrual side effects and optimize performance.
250 mg magnesium (glycinate or citrate form)
45 mg of zinc
80mg aspirin (baby aspirin)
1g or 1000mg Omega 3 fatty acid (combo of DHA and EPA)
Track your cycle
Most females don’t track the menstrual cycle phases but loosely track cycle duration and period length. Thanks to technology, FitrWoman is an app that provides personalized training and nutritional tips tailored throughout each phase. All you need to get started is to plug in the first day of your last period, estimated period length and cycle duration.
By Susan Kitchen. Susan is a Sports Certified Registered Dietitian, USA Triathlon Level II Endurance Coach, IRONMAN Certified Coach, published author and founder of Race Smart, a sports nutrition and coaching company.