Gwen Jorgensen is an Olympic triathlon gold-medallist-turned-marathoner who runs for Nike’s Bowerman Track Club. Her YouTube channel is full of helpful tips and tricks for runners and this week’s installation is no different. Jorgensen talks about her experience with her period and high performance–an important topic that’s receiving a lot of well-deserved attention right now.
Jorgensen highlights several important notes about menstruation in athletes. The first being that everyone, runner or not, should be getting their period every month. She says, “If you want to have a long career in sport you need to make sure that you’re getting your period every month. When you stop menstruating, that’s the first sign the your body is shutting down.” The runner also points out the common misconception that if you’re not getting your period, it’s normal because you’re an athlete. That’s seriously flawed but unfortunately common logic.
Historically, there has been a pervasive dialogue among runners of all levels that losing your period meant that you were in great shape. Former Canadian marathon record holder Lanni Marchant spoke about this topic on the Shakeout Podcast this week. “I remember my mindset being [when I was hitting puberty], if I had one period I was slipping, if I had two periods in a row I was fat… I was always so afraid to get my period because to me that meant that my body was healthy. And I had enough fat stores so that I could have a period, and that was me failing.”
Shalane Flanagan, the newly named coach (and former athlete) with the Bowerman Track Club, wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal highlighting what Jorgensen, Marchant and many other elite athletes have since the Mary Cain story broke: that all women should get regular periods, including runners. Flanagan, who has had one of the most successful running careers of any American woman, said in a tweet in May 2017 that she had never missed a period while training and competing.
RED-S is a product of inadequate nutrition, and one of the first symptoms is loss of a woman’s period. RED-S can cause serious damage and result in time away from the sport you love. For example, stress fractures are a whopping four-and-a-half times more common in athletes suffering from RED-S.
If you’re consistently missing your period and suspect that you could be struggling with RED-S, speak to a parent, coach or health care professional who can help set you up with the resources you need. Overcoming RED-S is a team effort to restore an optimal balance between training, nutrition and recovery. Health 4 Performance is an organization that hopes to start conversations on this important topic and encourage clinical research into this area. The organization says, “This will need an integrated team effort with your sport/dance doctor, coach/teacher and most likely input from a sport nutritionist, or clinical dietitian if an eating disorder is present.”