How Do Periods Affect Athletes In Competitive Sports?

Interview with Lunette + Oona K

If you’re an athlete with a uterus, having a period isn’t going to stop you from training or being an athlete, right? But participating in competitive sports PLUS having a menstrual cycle is a topic many of us overlook. We spoke with one of the world’s best pole dancers, Oona Kivelä, to help shine a light to this conversation.

Oona Kivelä, how do periods affect your competitions?

“Usually on the first day of my period I have awful menstrual pain and my stomach bloats, but if I happen to have a very important competition during my period, I don’t even notice my menstrual cramps. My body goes into auto-pilot in order to give the best performance at the competition. That war machine is unstoppable!”

What about when you train, do periods affect your training somehow?

“When I’m not competing, my menstrual cramps don’t go away, but they don’t make me perform worse. My cramps aren’t always bad, but when they are, I take medicine so that I can sleep the first night. I’ve also tried different breathing exercises to help alleviate cramps.”

How familiar are you with menstrual cups?

”My best friend has been using the Lunette menstrual cup for a long time now and she kept reminding me about it! I’m still getting used to it but if I’m wearing beige shorts in my competitions, I still haven’t had the guts to use the cup. But after all of these awful plastic and waste news I think that everyone should have a reusable period product! It’s all about the big picture and balance. Kind of like if you eat 90% healthy, then you can treat yourself to a hamburger. My friends sometimes mock me by calling me Eco-Oona, since I lecture them about these things, but I still sometimes forget to bring my reusable water bottle.”

What kind of relationship do competitive sports have with periods? Or sports and periods in general?

We know about this combination surprisingly little. Just like Oona told us in a previous post, two years ago it was a big deal when a Chinese swimmer openly spoke about her performance during her period. We are so used to holding back and hiding them, and it hasn’t been an open topic most people talk about. Many people still wonder if all sports can be performed during periods. Luckily, we know that YES, you can perform equally as great during your period!

We have also interviewed other athletes about their periods, you can read the story here.

Periods do not affect an athlete’s performance in a negative way, and we know that periods do not physically weaken them either. Usually the hemoglobin and iron content in blood do not decrease due to periods (unless they are overabundant). In theory, the body is at its best performance during the menstruation phase because estrogen and progesterone levels are at its lowest point. Oona’s feelings of energy and peak performances during her period are not a strange exception, it’s when body is energetic and tuned hormonally.

The more we know about periods, the better athletes can utilize the different phases of the menstrual cycle. We have written more about the subject here. Not only does it affect top athletes, but everyone who exercises. The blog post we mentioned is worth reading, as it elaborates what kind of exercise is ideal in which phase of the cycle.

The good news is that this subject has raised a lot of interest to many people! There have been many apps designed to combine the menstrual cycle and sports, one of them is FitrWoman. Based on which phase of your menstrual cycle you’re in, it tells you what kind of exercise to do!

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