Managing Menstrual Cycle and Running Performance

January 14, 2021

Managing Menstrual Cycle and Running Performance

As female runners if we understand what is happening in each of menstrual phases during each month, we can adapt and adjust our training plans and food plans to support our hormonal balance and our overall running performance.

LISTEN HERE Episode 39: Managing Menstrual Cycle and Running Performancde


Managing Menstrual Cycle and Running Performance


Outlining our discussion areas regarding managing menstrual cycle and running performance

  • The current scientific thinking around the subject of the menstrual cycle and athletic performance
  • Discuss the current research on potential performance effects during the menstrual cycle
  • Touch on the impact on performance of oral contraception
  • Introduce some foods/nutrition ideas to support running performance throughout the menstrual cycle


A definition from British Association of Sport Exercise Sciences of a “normal” menstrual cycle and an overview of the phases within the menstrual cycle. The menstrual cycle may have an effect on:

  • Emotions
  • Training ability and performance
  • Drive you to eat certain food groups – have cravings
  • Energy levels
  • Body composition
  • Symptoms such as pain, cramps, bloating, flow of blood loss, changes in bowel habits ie loose stools or constipation
  • Many uncomfortable symptoms which can impact on our training plans and enjoyment


As female runners if we understand what is happening in each of these phases during a month we can adapt and adjust our training plans and food plans to support our hormonal balance and our overall running performance.


A look at the current scientific thinking about the menstrual cycle and its effect on performance.


An overview to a nutritional therapy approach to resolving hormonal imbalances and the impact on training.


Insights into the performance effects of the menstrual cycle. The menstrual cycle potentially affects exercise performance and it can work vice versa I.E. strenuous and endurance exercise is known to affect the menstrual cycle.

High energy expenditure during exercise with a concurrent low energy intake may lead to overall low energy availability. Basically, not eating enough to fuel our training may affect our menstrual cycle and in extreme cases periods may stop which is very serious. Being underweight is a clear risk factor to having no periods.

Having periods can interrupt our training and race plans but we have to remember that with good nutrition and conscious planning of training activities we can be a heathy woman as well as a high performing runner.

We look at some key effects such as fluctuations in body composition, fluid retention, positive effects of oestrogen E.g. supporting muscle building and playing a role in increased muscle glycogen storage. Performance enhancements and benefits tend to be linked to the phases of the menstrual cycle when oestrogen levels are naturally higher than progesterone.


Suggestions on how athletes may exploit the benefits of oestrogen during different phases of menstrual cycle.


Exploring the potential effects of the Oral Contraceptive Pill on sporting performance.

(43:46) Nutrition

The role of phyto oestrogenic foods and cruciferous vegetables in supporting balancing oestrogen levels and foods to promote progesterone.

FEMALE FACTORS – Knowing Your Cycle

Managing Menstrual Cycle and Running Performance

Folicular Phase

  • The Early Follicular days 1-7 (low oestrogen and progesterone)
  • Pre Ovulation days 8-13 and Ovulation Days 14-15 (medium oestrogen, low progesterone)

Luteal Phase

  • Luteal 16-22/mid-luteal days 20-22 (high progesterone, high oestrogen)
  • Pre – menstrual days 22-28


  • Phase 1 Follicular- during menstruation – if no symptoms – then high intensity/tempo/threshold runs/weights OR if suffering from symptoms like heavy blood loss or pain prioritise REST and RECOVERY
  • Phase 2 Pre Ovulation – often symptom free time – add in weight training to maximise muscle building whilst oestrogen levels are higher
  • Phase 3 Luteal – low intensity endurance runs and technique/skill based work
  • Phase 4 Pre Menstrual – Classic PMS symptoms – be kind to yourself, lighten your expectations, run lightly, don’t worry about targets, do restorative yoga/pilates to help relax


Managing Menstrual Cycle and Running Performance

1. A “normal” menstrual cycle can vary between 21 and 35 days and a cycle may vary between woman but may also vary each month for each woman.

2. It is recommended women become self-aware of their own cycles so they can understand the changes in physical and emotional wellbeing that may occur throughout their cycle and how that links to their exercise performance

3. The potential performance benefits associated with the menstrual cycle appear to be linked to oestrogen and not from progesterone.

4. The Oral Contraceptive Pill standardises the menstrual cycle to 28 days, however remember the withdrawal bleed is not an indicator of fertility health.

5. Data is conflicting regarding the affects of Oral Contraception on exercise performance.

6. From a Nutritional point of view HORMONAL BALANCE is what we need to be aiming for – remember the fluctuations in hormones during the menstrual cycle are natural and necessary for reproductive health

7. Phytoestrogens from certain plant foods are known to support oestrogen balance. Foods include: flaxseed, chickpeas, lentils and soybean.

8. Progesterone production is known to be encouraged by foods including: seeds and their oils, avocado, and asparagus.

9. Remember that the studies into this subject are limited and some of them quite old. As a result there are no definitive guidelines on the menstrual cycle and its impact on exercise performance. A personalised nutritional plan to support optimal hormonal balance throughout the cycle is currently the best approach and that is something we can help you with at Runners Health Hub. So, if this of interest to you, do get in touch with us at

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The suggestions we make during this episode are for guidance and advice only, and are not a substitute for medical advice or treatment. If you have any concerns regarding your health, please contact your healthcare professional for advice as soon as possible.

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