Is Exercise Performance in Female Athletes Impacted by the Menstrual Cycle?
By Berrin Boyce PT, DPT, PRPC
In recent decades as women collectively increase participation in all types of exercise, ranging from physical activity to elite sport, more questions arise about whether or not the cyclical hormonal changes that occur in women with healthy menstrual cycles influence athletic performance. Most athletic performance studies review male subjects and it is unclear if the same conclusions can be made for female athletes, given anatomical, physiological, and endocrinological differences that exist.
A recent systematic review published in Sports Medicine by McNulty et al 2020, reviewed current research to determine if a general recommendation could be made for athletic performance during particular phases of the menstrual cycle. While a “trivial” reduction in athletic performance was noted in the early follicular phase of the menstrual cycle (this is more commonly known as the first few days of an athlete’s period), there was not enough information to support general guidance for this patient population. Overall, the authors of the review noted that the available research is primarily “low” quality and that future studies with better methodology are needed to make more informed conclusions and performance based recommendations. For now an individualized approach to athletic performance should be taken for each athlete.
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