Are periods a hinderance to better performance in female runners?

ATHLETICS Are periods a hinderance to better performance in female runners?

Abigael Wafula 13:00 - 13.02.2024

In an exclusive interview with Pulse Sports, Ferdinand Omanyala's fiancee, Laventa Amutavi opened up on whether periods affect a female runner's performance.

Being a female runner has been encompassed with different challenges like bouncing back after childbirth, hormonal imbalance, and period cramps. In the recent past, female athletes have been forced to pull out or perform poorly in major championships due to stomach cramps that are brought on by periods.

A good example of such a scenario was during the 2022 European Championships where Dina Asher-Smith and Daryll Neita made it to the 100m women’s final.

However, Asher-Smith was forced to withdraw from the race and Neita was not too quick to bag a gold medal, both because of cramps. Later, Asher-Smith revealed hers to be a symptom of her period and shared her frustration at its impact on her sport.

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However, such case scenarios do not apply to every woman and some just treat those four or five days of their periods like normal days and maybe they would just adjust their training routines.

Ferdinand Omanyala’s fiancée, Laventa Amutavi, argues that her period days do not affect how she performs. Speaking to Pulse Sports, she insisted that it is not mentally draining since she has mastered the art of handling such days.

“It’s not challenging at all because I train even on days when I’m having my period…I can’t boycott my training because I’m on my period.

“I’m very lucky because I don’t experience cramps so I might not be able to understand the turmoil that women who have severe cramps go through.

“Mostly, I don’t think cramps adversely affect sports people because, in my years in the sport, I’ve never heard people complain of severe cramps that force them to miss their training.

“I also think it’s because we are always very active so the effects and very minimal and the pain is manageable and it can’t stop someone from running their daily activities,” Amutavi said.

Amutavi added that her coach, Geoffrey Kimani, who is also Omanyala’s coach advised that during the time of a woman’s period, she is required to do very light training.

This is because women tend to lose a lot of nutrients during this time and heavy training will leave them weaker.

“During periods, my coach told me women tend to lose a lot of nutrients through the blood. So, during this period, an athlete is not supposed to train hard,” she added.

She also insisted that during competitions, periods should not be a hindrance to how an athlete performs.

“During a championship, you just compete…you need to take the safety measures to make sure you are okay and step on that starting line.

“It’s not a big deal…like at the World Championships, you can’t withdraw from the race due to that especially when you have made it to the final,” she said.

According to a study by Runner’s World, most women are keenly aware that the cramps menstruation can bring and elite athletes are not immune. Top Great Britain marathoner Aly Dixon says her cramps are so bad they have often left her curled into a fetal position.

“I’ve been very lucky that, in the last few years, races have fallen at the right time in my cycle. I’ve found that I can race quite well on day three, but the previous four days are not so good.

“I always try to make day one an easy or a rest day, as I often suffer with cramps so bad I can’t move from a curled-up ball on the sofa.

“I also get an achy back and heavy quads in the two days leading up to my period, which makes running hard a bit tougher, but my sessions still tend to go well,” she said.

While cramps might be horrible, they don’t need to ruin your race, and exercise itself can help to alleviate them. Paula Radcliffe proved the point when she broke the world marathon record in Chicago in 2002, despite suffering period cramps during the latter stages of the race.

Meanwhile, a journalist from the Mayo Clinic also asked Dr. Petra Casey about an elite athlete or some women who exercise a lot and tend to miss their periods.

“That is called hypothalamic amenorrhea, and what that means is that the hormones that are produced in the brain and then kind of cascade down to signal hormones that are produced in the ovary are not produced.

“So, GnRH, the gonadotropic releasing hormone that is produced, triggers the follicular stimulating hormone, and the luteinizing hormone that is produced in the ovary, that signal does not translate to production of estrogen and progesterone, so the woman loses her periods. They may become irregular initially and then they may stop completely.

“The trigger for that has been studied, and it’s still a little unclear whether it’s body fat percentage, whether it’s weight, whether it’s cortisol levels that stimulate a decrease in GnRH, based on stress and the intensity of workouts.

“All of that is a little bit unclear, but, at the end of the day, a woman will not have her period if she is too lean, and she may be working out too intensely for too long. Many women athletes are trying to become quite lean, because, in endurance sports, it’s advantageous to be lighter,” she said.