Women and BJJ: How to Stay on the Mats During Your Menstrual Cycle

Does your monthly visitor keep you out of training due to discomfort? Here are some tips from experts.

I’m fortunate in that my menstrual cycle doesn’t affect my life in a significant way. It certainly doesn’t affect my BJJ training, but some women aren’t so lucky.

A few months ago, a woman on Facebook posted a question in a women’s BJJ group about whether or not other women trained during their menstrual cycle. She was feeling bad about missing classes due to physical and psychological discomfort, but she was also paranoid about training with men during that time in case her feminine hygiene products failed.

In the comments, one woman said:

You’re not the only one. I have horrible cramps and usually miss a couple days of practice each month due to pain. Even though it’s nothing I can change, it always makes me feel bad to miss those days and really makes me feel like crap when the guys clown each other by asking if they are having a bad day because they got their period.

So what can be done? I asked the experts.

Physical Issues

I am sponsored by Q5 Sports Nutrition, a brand that was originally founded to help older guys keep up with their younger teammates on the mats. The founder, Bill Thomas, told me a while ago that a large part of their customer base is women in their thirties. I know why: it’s because all of their products are awesome. I’ve tried most of the Q5 products and my daily stack includes the following:

I noticed when I began using the krill oil that the pain in my abdomen during menstruation significantly abated. When I told Bill about it, he explained that it was one of the major benefits of using the product, although they didn’t advertise it on the site. I asked him if he knew of anything else that could help women during that time and he had four great suggestions:

  1. Fish Oil – Take big doses, up to 5g
  2. Calcium Citrate – 1000mg
  3. Vitamin D3
  4. Magnesium – Bill’s advice was to “Get the salt and you can soak your feet each night a few days before you period starts. This is a great way to reduce any kind of muscle cramp, not just those ones. It can be a little irritating for some people on sensitive skin or freshly shaved skin. Otherwise, you can spray it on or soak in the tub, too.”

Bill suggested adding half a cup of magnesium flakes to a tub of hot water and soaking away. Alternatively, he suggested dropping a handful of the flakes into a spray bottle of hot water and swirling it around to get the much more expensive magnesium oil (which isn’t really an oil). You can spray this directly onto the skin for the same benefits. Bill is the best.

Psychological Effects

Some women become more emotional at particular times of their menstrual cycles and may be more reactive to stressors. There is also the issue of feeling judged if you miss class and the shame of even having a period. For advice on how to cope with these issues, I contacted Sport and Exercise Psychologist Dr. Rebecca Hill, a brown belt under Victor Estima and the current European BJJ Champion. Dr. Hill advised:

The first thing for women to realize is that we are in charge of our own bodies and it is up to us to decide what we do with them. Some women find that exercising during menstruation can help ease cramps, and often we tend to underestimate our physical capabilities.

If you really don’t feel up to training during your period, however, then don’t. If the pain means you’d struggle to concentrate,or if you’d be a less-than-ideal training partner and you wouldn’t enjoy training, then give it a miss (for most of us, this is a hobby after all!). Try to drop the ‘shoulds’ about training when injured or ill. Listen to your body and do what is right for you.

Rebeca also shared her insights on dealing with male training partners during your cycle:

It can be really tricky dealing with comments from men on the subject. Often they will make a joke unthinkingly because that’s typical and accepted behaviour in the martial arts/sport context. When challenged, guys sometimes retort that they are only kidding and that there’s no need to be so hypersensitive. They don’t always understand that there are many subtle ways that women’s place on the mat is (unintentionally) undermined and that this is not appropriate.

If we feel like we can find a way to gently raise awareness, I think we should. It can sometimes help to turn round the comments by making a joke of them. For example, I’ve had team mates who used ‘girl’ as an insult (e.g., ‘Don’t be such a girl’). I joked back: ‘Hey, don’t call him a girl. He’s such as wuss that it’s an insult to all us women.’ (Ironically, I realize that that I’ve used a ‘should’ in the last paragraph. Of course, you don’t have to agree with me. It’s just my opinion).

Feminine Hygiene Products

I don’t like tampons or maxi pads. I find them uncomfortable and messy because of the pee string or the collection of menstrual fluid that sits in your underwear all day. I prefer the menstrual cup. The menstrual cup is a silicone cup that you insert into your vagina and leave for up to twelve hours. There are no leaks, no strings, and no mess. All you have to do is empty and wash it twice a day. It is the best.

There are many different companies offering cups these days including Diva Cup, Luna Cup, and Moon Cup but I just buy generic cups from China on ebay for about $10.00.

Another option to consider is Thinx panties. I haven’t tried these, but if you prefer maxi pads and are worried about leakage, or if you are on a light day and would prefer to wear a reusable menstrual panty rather than a tampon or panty liner, Thinx panties provide comfort and protection.

In addition to the data I’ve collected, here are a few other recommendations for training BJJ during your period:

  • Wear black spats or gi pants with shorts under them
  • Bring a change of clothing in case of a mishap
  • Take over-the-counter medications such as Midol

I hope these tips will help you to resolve any issues regarding training during your menstrual cycle. See you on the mats!

Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.