The US women’s soccer team that won the 2019 Women’s World Cup in July. Research increasingly shows that a woman’s menstrual cycle can have a big impact on her performance. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/QUALITY SPORT IMAGES
The US women’s soccer team that won the 2019 Women’s World Cup in July. Research increasingly shows that a woman’s menstrual cycle can have a big impact on her performance. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/QUALITY SPORT IMAGES

For female athletes, menstruation is something that has been viewed mostly as an inconvenience — it has to be endured, often with accompanying pain and discomfort. In fact, it is not uncommon for sports studies to largely exclude women and disregard the impact their periods have on their performance.

Georgie Bruinvels, a British sports scientist at Orreco sports performance consultancy who has a PhD in iron deficiency and menstrual cycles in sports performance, has set about to change this. A specialist on the effect a woman’s menstrual cycle and hormone fluctuations has on sports performance, she acted as an adviser to the US women’s soccer team that won the 2019 Women’s World Cup earlier in July.

The majority of research on how female athletes should train is based on what male athletes have found to work for them, but the effects a women’s monthly hormone cycle has on her body means women will adapt to training differently, depending on where they are in their cycle.

According to The Times, there is mounting research to show that a menstrual cycle can have a big impact on a woman’s performance and this is what Bruinvels has set out to incorporate in the work she does with female athletes, helping them develop an understanding of how their body responds to training during the menstruation cycle and tailoring their diets around this.

“Hormonal fluctuations can affect things like biomechanics, laxity of ligaments and muscular firing patterns,” Bruinvels told The Guardian. Apart from that, diet can play an important role as well. During the first half of the menstrual cycle, a woman’s body has the tendency to use carbohydrates more effectively while fats are used more effectively during the second half of her cycle.

In terms of training, Bruinvels says new research points to the benefits of strength training during the first half of the menstrual cycle as the body adapts and recovers better during this time.

Bruinvels is in talks with the British Fed Cup team and the Women’s Tennis Association to develop tools that are tailored to the player’s needs when it comes to diet and training, following the success of the US soccer team in 2019.

She has also developed an app called FitrCoach, which assists female athletes in tracking their menstrual cycles, something Bruinvels says she is surprised most female athletes don’t do. Using this new information and tools available to them, athletes now have the ability to track their cycles, in turn tailoring their training and diet to work with their period instead of against it.