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How much is too much when it comes to youth sport?

How much is too much when it comes to youth sport?

How to coach with a Balance is Better philosophy

How to coach with a Balance is Better philosophy

Balance is Better Principles Poster

Balance is Better Principles Poster

Creating a positive parent culture

Creating a positive parent culture

Unpacking the Balance is Better principles

Unpacking the Balance is Better principles

Running good trials and selections

Running good trials and selections

Balanced Female Health

Balanced Female Health

Female Athletes and the Menstrual Cycle

Traditionally, education around the menstrual cycle has focused on reproduction. But this can overlook the many other vital health outcomes associated with the menstrual cycle. At Balance is Better, we believe it is essential for girls and parents to gain a fuller understanding of the menstrual cycle and how it can affect health and physical development. This is especially true for young people (and the parents of young people) who menstruate and regularly participate in sport.

The menstrual cycle, its hormones and menstruation affect almost every system in the body, and can influence health, wellbeing and athletic performance in both the short- and long-term. It’s therefore crucial that athletes and parents understand how the menstrual cycle and health are interrelated, learn to tell when a menstrual cycle is healthy, and know how to respond if it isn’t.

Below, we explore these ideas in more detail, as we discuss ways to educate and support female athletes as they experience the physiological effects of the menstrual cycle.

The Menstrual Cycle and Hormone Production

To fully appreciate the significance of the menstrual cycle to overall health, it helps to consider its impact on the hormones of the menstrual cycle. The main health event of a natural menstrual cycle is the process of ovulation. Traditionally, we’re taught that this is the growth of a follicle that can release an egg, which can then be fertilised (potentially resulting in pregnancy). Additionally, the important female health hormones oestrogen and progesterone are produced in the lead-up to and following ovulation.

Oestrogen and progesterone work in tandem, through their cyclical pattern influencing things like brain development, cognition, and mood, the body’s metabolism, digestive and hydration systems, as well as growth, development and repair of bone, muscle and tendon. This influence across the body makes them integral to female health and development.

The Menstrual Cycle as a Measure for Health

The menstrual cycle is an important measure of health – like a monthly report card. It can give insights into a person’s life balance and their ability to cope with the multiple aspects of living an active, social lifestyle, including fueling, training load and recovery.

Changes to the menstrual cycles such as irregular or absent periods, or heavy or painful bleeding, may indicate that the body is under stress with an imbalance between the physical and psychological demands.

Yet, when females miss, or have irregular or other disruptions to their menstrual cycle, they may experience low balance of those crucial female health hormones oestrogen and progesterone. 

Building Health (and Athletic Performance)

The key takeaway here is that the hormones associated with a healthy regular menstrual cycle are important and make a positive contribution to short and long-term health. They also influence many of the main body systems relied on for athletic performance.

This reframing of the menstrual cycle can be both helpful and exciting for female athletes –  the whole cycle with its natural rhythm of hormones around ovulation is positive; it builds health. And health builds performance.

Advice for Athletes and Parents

Given the importance of the hormones of the menstrual cycle, it’s vital that athletes and parents know how to identify if a menstrual cycle is healthy and regular. Some of the key considerations include:

  • Age: Menstruation, the visible sign of the menstrual cycle, normally begins between 8-16 years. If an individual has not experienced their first period before they are 15-years-old, this is considered a delayed onset of menstruation and should be checked by a GP.
  • Length of period: The average length of a period is 3-7 days. Bleeding that lasts longer than 7 days should be checked by a GP. 
  • Length of cycle: Menstrual cycles have an average length of 28 days but can be between 21-35 (from day 1 of one cycle to day 1 of the next cycle). Irregular (longer than 35 days), frequent (shorter than 21 days) or absent periods should be checked with a GP.
  • Blood loss: A regular period can be a sign of a healthy menstrual cycle. However, blood loss should not be excessively heavy; individuals should not get blood clots or need to change period products more than two or three times per hour. This can lead to low iron stores or may be a sign of other underlying issues and should be checked by a GP.
  • Pain: Abdominal cramps, pelvis and lower back pain are normal. However, menstrual symptoms should not be so painful that individuals are missing school, sport, or social interactions. Exercise and movement can help ease symptoms experienced in and around the period and pain can be managed with over-the-counter medication. If pain is still a problem then consulting with a GP for more targeted support and ruling out other issues is important.
  • Pre-menstrual symptoms: Before a period, lower back pain, abdominal cramps, bloating, fatigue, mood changes and food cravings are common, however they should not interfere with daily life. 

The indicators above can help recognise whether an individual is menstruating within normal guidelines. While people will experience some symptoms related to the menstrual cycle, it is important for individuals to monitor their cycles and seek medical advice if they believe they may have a problem. If you or your child are concerned about the nature or regularity of their menstrual cycle, your GP will be able to run tests, exclude potential medical issues, and provide a more comprehensive health assessment.

Given the importance of the menstrual cycle, menstrual cycle hormones, ovulation and menstruation to young females — especially those who place additional demands on their bodies during critical stages of physical growth and development — it’s crucial that we help them to understand their cycles, take steps toward a healthy balance in their activities and social lives. This will help them to maintain a healthy menstrual cycle and learn the warning signs to take action and seek guidance and help.

In Summary

  • The hormones of the menstrual cycle are produced in the lead up to and following ovulation, and are essential for female health. 
  • These hormones that result from a healthy menstrual cycle make a contribution to a female’s long-term health and physical development.
  • Low hormonal balance can occur as a result of missed, irregular or other disruptions of a menstrual cycle. 
  • Understanding and developing life habits that support balance will maintain healthy menstruation cycles and prevent the downregulation of other important body systems.
  • We must educate girls about the importance of menstruation, and how to identify (and respond) if their cycles are irregular.
  • Taking action early will reduce their risk of long-term injury /illness and optimise the recognition and treatment of common female health issues.

Image Source: South_agency from Getty Images Signature

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