Think of your period as your monthly check-in. You should have it, it should be painless, with little to no impact on your daily routine. Yet, this isn’t how it goes for so many of us. Sometimes I only feel like I get one good week a month after all is said and done. As a whole, we need to be checking in with ourselves as athletes and women participating in high-intensity fitness, that things are in working order.
Most, if not all of my friends are on birth control in some form. While I totally understand the need for this I do not understand the absence of a period, for any reason. Studies show that women who lead sedentary lives tend to experience long and painful periods. On the opposite end of the spectrum women, who participate in high-intensity exercise or have a body fat less than 22% experience amenorrhea- or the absence of a period. Neither situation is ideal.
Should You CrossFit On Your Period?
Yes you should. What matters more is the type of exercise you’re doing. One week before your period your BMR (basal metabolic rate) hits an all-time low. This is an excellent time to incorporate high-intensity training or CrossFit in the form metcons, sprints, and going for a heavy PR’s in your routine in order to counteract this change and boost your metabolism. During the first half of your cycle, you need less insulin in order to keep blood glucose levels stabilized and carbohydrates are used more efficiently, therefore keep your carbs moderate to low. During this time carbohydrates are used more efficiently by your body because of the influence of estrogen and progesterone on cortisol and the ways in which your body utilizes and stores fuel. (2)
The second half of your cycle known as menstruation is a time of insulin resistance.
Slow steady-state exercise, (think: recovery biking, rowing, or weight training with moderate/heavy loads at lower intensities) are ideal for this time in your cycle. Different phases of your cycle are made for different demands on your body so yes, weighting training at moderate intensities is safe and encouraged during your period.
Does Weight Training Affect Your Period?
In short, no. Research suggests that strength training during your follicular phase (also known as the menstrual phase), or the first day of your period results in higher increases in muscle strength when compared to training during your luteal phase (the first day of your next cycle until ovulation or until menstruation begins 1-14). (4) During this time estrogen is peaked and our bodies are primed to move heavy weight around, with only one caveat. Ligaments can become more lax during this phase leading to increased incidence of ACL tears (4 to 8 times more likely). This is a great time to consider supplementing collagen into your diet in a post workout shake or your morning coffee. (5)
Can Exercise Cause Your Period To Come Early?
As we all probably know, intense exercise can cause your period to stop completely, come early, or become irregular. Stress and weight fluctuations can also disrupt hormone levels and cause irregular periods. However, no research exists that exercise alone, unless performed excessively resulting in extreme calorie deficits, as the sole cause of an early or irregular period. Usually, an early period is caused by extraneous factors including hormonal birth control, change in normal routine, or more serious issues such as STDs, polycystic ovarian syndrome, or endometriosis. (3)
A Period. Should You Have It?
Having your period is actually a wonderful thing. Women who exercise regularly regardless of the medium are generally more in tune with their bodies. They can sense when something isn’t right which is a cornerstone in disease prevention. A change in your flow can indicate more serious issues such as heart disease, reproductive problems, and diabetes. Those first few days of your cycle can be an emotional roller coaster when estrogen is at an all-time low. You may experience sadness and overly emotional moments. However, as estrogen levels begin to rise they release feel-good endorphins that leave you feeling more refreshed and alert. Also, fun fact: your period is a natural cleanser. Going through your cycle allows your body to flush out toxins naturally. It also keeps you younger through the release of iron, which is associated with a decreased incidence of stroke and heart disease. Finally, (and you’re welcome) it allows you to orgasm easier as your vagina becomes tender and sensitive. (1)
Having Your Period Increases Lean Muscle Mass. True Story.
There is also a strong correlation between being able to hold onto muscle mass and naturally experiencing your period every month. Over the years I’ve noticed trends among my female counterparts at the gym. Women who were not on hormonal birth control and experienced regular monthly periods carried more muscle mass than their counterparts on birth control. Almost every single time. The menstrual cycle has a huge impact on the basal metabolic rate and hormonal contraceptives disrupt normal levels of progesterone, estrogen, and a slew of other hormones. A rise in estrogen occurs during days 12-14 of your menstrual cycle promoting a rise in testosterone, which induces muscle growth and fat loss. Women who take hormonal birth control never experience this fluctuation so this has no application to them. Next time you’re wondering why you’re not as jacked as your gym bestie, your birth control may actually be what is to blame.
No two birth controls will affect hormone levels the same, so it is impossible to make a blanket statement here about how all contraceptives affect hormone levels. Of course some women also just naturally carry more muscle mass. All that aside, manipulating hormones to avoid pregnancy can’t be helping testosterone levels.
Have Your Period. Do CrossFit.
Major takeaways: having your period is a really awesome thing. Moreover, there is no research or data that warns against participating in functional fitness activities such as CrossFit during this time. In fact, lifting weights during your period and participating in moderate intensity workouts can actually make your periods better and turn your body into a fat burning, muscle building machine. If your period is MIA because of birth control or lifestyle factors including but not limited to: low body fat or overtraining, it may be worth examining when you consider long-term health goals. Books such as The Period Repair Manual are amazing resources to get back in tune with your body and hormone regulation.
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- Boutot, Maegan. “Cycle Science: Hormonal Contraception and Your Body.” com, Medium, 6 Jan. 2017, medium.com/clued-in/cycle-science-hormonal-contraception-and-your-body-52d204137921.
- Greenfield, Ben. “Planning Your Exercise Around Your Menstruation Cycle.” Ben Greenfield Fitness - Diet, Fat Loss and Performance Advice, 18 May 2018, com/article/fitness-articles/planning-your-exercise-around-your-menstruation-cycle/.
- Hardy, Caroline. “How Your Menstrual Cycle Affects Strength Training .” Clue: Period and Ovulation Tracker for IPhone and Android, Clue, com/articles/cycle-a-z/how-your-menstrual-cycle-affects-strength-training.
- Reed, Beverly G. “The Normal Menstrual Cycle and the Control of Ovulation.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 5 Aug. 2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279054/.
- Solomon, S. J., et al. “Menstrual Cycle and Basal Metabolic Rate in Women.” Hematology/Oncology Clinics of North America, W.B. Saunders Ltd, 1 Dec. 1982, umn.edu/en/publications/menstrual-cycle-and-basal-metabolic-rate-in-women.