GGH Female Health & Wellbeing

Why is menstruation still a taboo subject?

The impact of the menstrual cycle on exercise performance has been highlighted by Eilish McColgan and GB runner Jessica Judd. Unfortunately, discussion of the menstrual cycle largely remains taboo, and many runners and their coaches don’t prepare for their period by incorporating it in to their training plans.

It is clear, however, that everyone’s cycle is different and the females body reaction to it is complex and under-researched. Periods generally start around age 11 and last until the menopause begins.
There are four phases that occur during the menstrual cycle

1. Follicular – The day you stop bleeding to the day you start ovulating

With a lower level of hormones during this 1st phase the female body is primed to maximise hard training and is an ideal time for high intensity training and hard efforts.

2. Ovulatory – egg release

This is a brief window of 3 to 5 days in the middle of the overall cycle. This phase is close to the follicular phase and energy levels will still be high, however painful bloating may occur during this phase, if so adjust your training accordingly.

3. Luteal – after egg release

This is the longest phase lasting approximately 2 weeks. The body is in prep mode, this means its time to take it easier, focusing on lower intensity workouts with more recovery time. During this phase there is an increase in body temperature and a possibility of painful bloating, constipation, feeling emotional, and generally PMS-y – especially in the days just before your period so be kind to yourself and take it easy.

4. Menstruation – the first day of your period

Thanks to a higher pain tolerance and energy levels, this is a great time to go after those high-intensity workouts such as tempo runs, threshold runs, and even chase a PB. You may also feel stronger during this phase, meaning you can lift heavier in the gym and burn through a killer conditioning workout. If you’re able to plan your races and you don’t suffer too badly from period symptoms, this would be a good time to race as you’re more likely to perform well and end up with a better result.

The Scottish Athletics website shares really useful information for coaches’ parents and athletes →

Considering almost half the population menstruate every month, it seems odd to me that it’s still such a taboo subject in 2022.

Eilish McColgan

Heavy bleeding

A period is heavy if it’s difficult for you to manage, regardless of blood loss. Heavy periods (menorrhagia) make running difficult. There’s a risk of bleeding through your clothes, particularly on long runs or in races and blood loss can make you feel lethargic or light headed. Heavy periods also put you at risk of anaemia where low numbers of red blood cells which transport oxygen around the body, make exercise hard. Please see you GP if you have concerns.


Symptoms of anaemia include feeling short of breath, faint and a faster heart rate.

Performance will be reduced and if you think you might be anaemic, don’t run and see your GP.

Lack of periods

It is known that amenorrhea is highly prevalent among female athletes.  This is likely due to changes in normal hormone levels, this can be due to overtraining, stress, dieting and weight loss.  Menstrual dysfunction can also occur when the amount of energy used by athletes exceeds the amount of energy taken in through nutrition. Please see your GP if you are concerned about this.

This short 3minute video on the Menstrual Cycle by the UK sports Institute is really helpful.


RED-S stands for Relative Energy Deficiency In Sport. It is described as “Impaired physiological function including, but not limited to, metabolic rate, menstrual function, bone health, immunity, protein synthesis, cardiovascular health caused by relative energy deficiency”

It is when the energy we take in through fuel doesn’t match the energy we expend through activity, and therefore the energy our bodies have available to maintain organs/cells, our temperature, our immune function, growth and reproduction.

Energy Availability = Energy In – Energy Out


Click on the link to the Scottish Athletics website where you’ll find basic information about menopause, how it can affect athletes, and some tips for athletes on how to stay active.

Menopause Friendly – information and advice for athletes→

Sports Bras

Wearing a well-fitting sports bra at all ages can improve your performance.  This blog explains the importance to support the chest muscles and reduce pain.

Around 17% of elite women athletes who were given an individual bra assessment said it had significantly improved their performance.

This blog provides more information on the subject.