Do you exercise on your period? Or wondering if it’s safe to exercise during your time of the month?
It doesn’t matter where you are in your menstrual cycle, once you’re equipped with some exercise essentials, like one of the best sports bras for running (opens in a new tab) – if you feel like it – there is nothing stopping you from exercising, even if you have your period.
But don’t just take our word for it. Science has shown that exercising during your period is safe. In fact, it could be very beneficial. However, you may experience a number of different physical symptoms, such as feeling that your psychological energy levels are lower.
To find out everything there is to know about exercising during menstruation, we turned to science and asked an expert to weigh in on the subject.
How does your period affect energy levels?
Your period can affect your energy levels in a number of ways.
First of all, if you experience heavy bleeding and lose more than 80 milliliters of blood during a menstrual period, it can lead to iron deficiency. Iron helps our body make red blood cells. But if our body doesn’t have enough iron, it can’t make enough red blood cells, which can lead to anemia. (opens in a new tab). According to the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (opens in a new tab)the lack of red blood cells means that our body receives less oxygen, which in turn makes us feel ‘weak and tired’.
Second, changing hormone levels play a big role in our energy levels.
Tamara Hew-Butler, associate professor of exercise physiology at Wayne State University (opens in a new tab)explains that women and menstruators tend to have lower energy levels during the second half of the menstrual cycle, known as the luteal phase, which occurs between days 15 and 28. But why is this?
Tamara Hew-Butler is a podiatric physician and associate professor of sports and exercise science at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology from the University of California, Los Angeles, CA; She is Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA; and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. She is a member of the American College of Sports Medicine (FACSM) and specializes in both sports medicine and exercise physiology.
“Physiologically speaking, the first two weeks of the menstrual cycle, the follicular phase, is characterized by low levels of the two main female sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone,” says Hew-Butler.
“The second two weeks, after ovulation, called the luteal phase, are characterized by high levels of progesterone and a smaller increase in estrogen. These high levels of progesterone, followed by a sudden drop in progesterone just before your period, seem to trigger an inflammatory response that precedes the onset of ‘premenstrual’ symptoms,” adds Hew-Butler.
“Research (opens in a new tab) suggests that the perception of low energy during the second half of the menstrual cycle is mainly due to negative mood states. That is, irritability, anger and tiredness that increase the perception of tiredness”.
How does your period affect sports performance?
There is a desperate need for more research examining how menstrual cycles affect athletic performance. However, there are some questionnaire-based studies that shed light on how periods typically affect people who exercise. This is what we found:
1. Could Affect Stamina and Strength
Many people believe that their period can affect sports performance. Specifically, people who menstruate believe that it affects their strength and stamina.
A 2022 study, published in the British Association for Sport and Exercise Medicine (opens in a new tab), found that 65.6% of elite female athletes agreed that their menstrual cycle affected their training performance when it came to tests related to endurance and strength. While 58% of these athletes stated that their period affected their competitive performance.
2. It can increase physical and psychological distress.
A small study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (opens in a new tab) asked 15 international rugby players how the menstrual cycle and menstruation affect sports performance.
Of note, 93% reported symptoms related to the menstrual cycle, 33% perceived heavy menstrual bleeding, and 67% felt that these symptoms affected their performance.
The report stated: “The most frequent physical symptoms included stomach cramps/abdominal pain (80% of athletes), reduced energy levels, flooding and general malaise. Psychological symptoms manifested as worry, distractibility, negative moods, crying and excitement, reduced motivation, and feelings of agitation.
These symptoms are likely to have a negative impact on performance, so don’t be surprised if you find it more difficult to achieve your usual running time or lift the same weights when you have your period.
3. It can make you feel tired
Another way your period can negatively affect athletic performance is through the development of iron deficiency and anemia due to heavy menstrual bleeding.
Hew-Butler explains: “Heavy bleeding can deplete total body iron stores, which can negatively affect aerobic performance, especially in long-distance runners.”
One study, published in plus one (opens in a new tab), found that heavy bleeding is very common in elite athletes, with 37% of those included in the study reporting the symptom. This was also associated with self-reported anemia in athletes, a condition related to fatigue. And you’re unlikely to hit your personal best when you’re feeling tired.
4. It affects everyone differently
While periods are likely to affect athletic performance, each woman and menstruator will experience this differently.
Research in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (opens in a new tab) reviewed studies investigating the effects of menstrual cycle phase and found: “Studies examining objective performance (using anaerobic, aerobic, or strength-related tests) do not report clear and consistent impact effects of menstrual cycle phase in physical performance. Overall athletic performance can be influenced by both perceived and physical factors.
That’s why Hew-Butler says, “Although scientists make broad generalizations from the (very limited) scientific findings available, each woman is her own experiment and must investigate what works, and what doesn’t, during training and competition.” .
Is it good to exercise on your period?
According to Hew-Butler, it’s neither good nor bad to exercise during your period and is largely an individual decision, based on your symptoms and comfort level.
“Exercising during menstruation is not physiologically harmful,” Hew-Butler tells us.
In fact, some research, such as this article published in The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (opens in a new tab) – Suggest that regular exercise might reduce menstrual pain. While another study published in the British medical journal (opens in a new tab) found that increased fitness levels have also been associated with lighter menstrual flow.
“Therefore, regular moderate exercise and increased fitness levels may lessen the severity of menstrual cycle symptoms,” adds Hew-Butler.