Does the Menstrual Cycle Affect Endurance?

Does the menstrual cycle affect a female athlete’s endurance abilities? New science looks at female rowers, contraception, and menstruation to determine the relationships.

With the advancement of new prescription drugs, oral contraceptives have helped women to alleviate, or even negate the uncomfortable symptoms associated with the menstrual cycle. The use of oral contraceptives can be especially advantageous for female athletes who are negatively affected by their menstrual cycle, since the oral contraceptive may provide a stable yet controllable hormonal environment for training and performance. A new study has emerged that has investigated the effect of menstrual cycle phase and oral contraceptive use on different performance parameters in female rowers.1

The purpose of the study was to investigate whether different endurance performance and training parameters are affected by the hormonal fluctuations and symptoms from the normal menstrual cycle, and the synthetic menstrual cycle of those who used an oral contraceptive. There were 24 female rowers who took part in the study and all of them had reported a normal menstrual cycle during the last six months. The women taking oral contraceptives in the study had been using an oral contraceptive for a minimum three months before the tests.2

Those rowers who were not taking an oral contraceptive completed two experimental testing sessions during days 7-11 of the menstrual cycle, and 18-22 days from the onset of menstruation. For the women who used oral contraceptives, two experimental testing sessions were done during days 7-11 and days 22-24 of the oral contraceptive pill cycle. The testing sessions for each group was identical, and the first session included an incremental rowing ergometer test, followed by body composition measurements. An hour endurance rowing ergometer session was performed on the day after the incremental rowing ergometer test.3

The results of the study showed that rowers taking an oral contraceptive had no significant advantage in the measured endurance parameters compared to those who did not take an oral contraceptive. The results indicated that sport-specific endurance was not influenced by the phase of the normal menstrual cycle. Based on this study, female athletes should not have to worry about the timing of their menstrual cycle in regards to optimal performance.4

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