Menstruating as a Sportsperson

Ever so often during a PE lesson in school, girls would line up courtside, refusing to participate because they were on their period. Yet, thousands of women play at international levels of sporting events during their period. Of course, the former isn’t a matter of controversy but the latter is of a lot of consequence – not just for the player herself but for the country they play for or the league they participate in.

Wimbledon ladies’ champion Petra Kvitova stated that it is tough to play during her period in an interview after Heather Watson attributed her poor performance in the 2015 Australian Open to “girl things.” This caused some media uproar as she was one of the first few women to speak about menstruation in sports.

Menstruation is called the “last great taboo” in sports. Though it may be a taboo for the media, it is the reality for many sportswomen. Thousands of women athletes menstruate every month, but it is still a hush-hush topic, considered appropriate only in locker-rooms – not in front of the cameras. Not only does the taboo of menstruation hold these athletes back, but questions have arisen as to whether periods affect the performance of an athlete.

Just like any woman who bleeds, athletes experience the most common side effects of menstruation too, like cramps, back pain, headaches and bloating. However, this could seriously impact their performance during a match. Therefore, many athletes resort to using contraceptives throughout their cycle to regulate their period to match their lifestyle. From the perspective of an athlete’s health, those who don’t use any form of contraceptives experience irregular periods and have menstrual cycles of varying lengths because of exertion.

This is the basic information that is readily available – there is an alarming lack of research on the impact of menstruation on women athletes. Managing a career in sports and the change in your body every month needs attention, detail, and care. The solution is to understand the effects of menstruation on the body and the mind and taking preventive or corrective measures to allow the athlete to bring their best performance on the field.

Former rugby player for Ireland Nora Stapleton, had many a consultation with doctors, nutritionists, and physiotherapists in order to manage the symptoms of a heavy flow during her period. It wasn’t until much later that she discovered a change in her diet (which included increased fluid and carbohydrate intake) transformed her game significantly and eased her pain. Just a simple change in diet that could have been made much earlier was ignored – because of lack of research and information.

The two main things that need to be done for a more period positive environment for women athletes is, firstly, more research and information for menstruating sportswomen, and secondly, more open discussion and acknowledgement of what is nothing but the truth.


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