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Study: female athletes with a regular menstrual cycle perform better

A new study revealed that not only does having a regular period improve your health, it improves your running performance, too

There was a time not too long ago when a female athlete losing her period was considered a good thing. It meant she was fit, training hard and at the top of her game. Over the last several years, the sports science community has been challenging that line of thinking, and issues like Relative Energy Deficiency Syndrome (RED-S), the female athlete triad and overtraining have been put in the spotlight. The health benefits of having a regular menstrual cycle when you’re a female athlete are well-established, but the question remains: does having a period help or hinder athletic performance? A new study has now definitively answered that question and not surprisingly, the results say it helps.

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The study, which was published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, looked at body composition, energy availability, training load and menstrual status in young elite endurance running athletes over the course of one year. They compared these athletes to a group of non-runners, and more importantly, compared the amenorrheic athletes (those without a regular period) to eumenorrheic athletes (those with a regular period).

Altogether there were 13 athletes and eight controls. Each participant filled out a Low Energy Availability in Females Questionnaire, and researchers assessed their body measurements, energy intake and oxygen uptake at four key points throughout the year: baseline post-competition season, post general preparation, post specific preparation and post-competition season the following year. Throughout the study, participants kept logs of their physical activity, menstrual cycle, illness and injury.

The results

Of the 13 athletes, eight were amenorrheic (compared with zero in the control group). The athletes also had a higher score on the Low Energy Availability in Females Questionnaire than the non-athletes. More importantly, though, the study revealed that the amenorrheic athletes spent significantly more days injured and ran less over the course of the year than the athletes who were having a regular menstrual cycle. The researchers found that an increased total annual running volume was associated with improved athletic performance, and only the athletes who were having a regular period saw an improvement in performance over the course of a year.

Put simply? Having a regular period decreases your risk for injuries, which allows you to train consistently. Training consistently is a key factor in improving performance. For female athletes, this means that having a regular period will not only improve your overall health, but will help you improve as a runner.

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