Even though a regular period is a sign of good physical and hormonal health, some individuals dread their monthly flow. Those few days tend to cause some shifts, whether in routine or in habits. The same can be said vice versa—your routines and habits throughout the rest of the month have the ability to impact your menstrual cycle.
Runners may find that running while on their menstrual cycle impacts their performance—maybe you feel a little more sluggish while partaking in your normal route. But running, in general, also has the ability to impact a woman’s period. This is not true for all women, but some may find shifts in their monthly visits from Aunt Flo are a little difference depending on how they change up their fitness routine.
Does Running Make Your Period Go Away?
About 14 to 25 percent of women of childbearing age struggle with amenorrhea (the absence of menstruation), or irregular or missing periods, due to a number of causes. So it’s clear that missing a period, or not being able to count on your monthly’s regularity, is not necessarily uncommon. There are a variety of reasons this may be happening to your body—stress, nutrition, new medications, extreme exercise—so don’t be too quick to point the finger at your running route.
That being said, long distance and professional runners sometimes lose a period due to their extreme exercise habits. Menstrual irregularities are typically caused by anovulation and resultant hormone changes. Diminished estrogen results in less tissue build up in the uterus and subsequent lack of shedding this lining or menstruation.
Think about your period as one way to monitor how well your body is handling the stress of training. Losing your period could indicate that you either need to increase the fuel you are taking in or cut back on your training load. Without a period for months at a time, you are at greater risk for osteopenia, osteoporosis, and stress fractures.
In addition to weak bones, your immune system may be negatively affected, resulting in more frequent sickness in both professional and recreational runners.
Decreased estrogen and amenorrhea for a long period of time can also have negative consequences for the heart. One study found that estrogen deficiency can cause your blood vessels to not function properly and increase LDL (or bad) cholesterol levels.
Long distance running does not cause amenorrhea inherently, but it can be one consequence of training too hard without enough fuel.
Changes in Your Period Flow
Before losing their period all together, if not treated promptly, a long distance runner may experience lighter or shorter periods than their norm. This is due to the same hormonal changes that cause amenorrhea, just the period won’t go away completely. A lighter flow than you’re accustomed to can be a red flag that something is wrong.
Changes in period flow can also result from weight loss. Body fat produces estrogen, which causes the lining of the uterus to build up, resulting in a monthly bleed. Weight loss due to overexercising or caloric restriction decreases the amount of estrogen your body is producing causing the lining of your uterus to be thinner.
A lighter period may mean that the period is anovulatory, meaning that the body does not release an egg. Your metabolism slows down to conserve energy. Cutting back on strenuous exercise or increasing energy intake can help to return the flow back to normal.
How to Get Your Period Back
The good news is it is absolutely possible to recover from amenorrhea. In many cases, runners don’t even need to take a complete break from running—medical doctors, registered dietitians, and sports nutritionists are great resources during this process.
To help get your period get back on track and prevent the risk of serious health consequences, there are a few steps you can take.
Eating adequate calories that include all macronutrients—carbohydrates, protein, and fat—is crucial for meeting nutritional goals that support reproductive health. Include two to three snacks between meals that consist of two out of the three food groups. Always eat within 30 to 60 minutes of finishing your workout.
You may be advised by your healthcare team to significantly decrease your training or stop completely for a period of time to give your body time to recover. Speak with a registered dietitian about additional supplements they advise.
Every runner has a unique situation, so be sure to speak with a doctor and dietitian to determine your weight and calorie goals. Coming up with a meal and exercise game plan that is individual to you will give you the most opportunity to heal your hormones and return to running as quickly as possible.
As an endurance runner, you can prevent potentially harmful changes in your period during training. Along with adequate nutrition and hydration, it is also important to listen to your body. Try not to push yourself too hard when you are feeling tired and take regular rest days. Seek medical advice from a healthcare professional if you are experiencing any changes in your period, including very painful periods or period loss.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you run on your period?
Symptoms are different for every individual, meaning some female runners may find running while menstruating more difficult than others. Making certain adjustments during each phase of the menstrual cycle can prevent your performance from being impacted too greatly.
When bleeding begins, it is just important to manage your symptoms as best as you can. As always, listen to your body to determine what kind of workout you can do on a given day. If you need a shorter or slower run or a rest day all together, that is perfectly okay.
Does running on your period help cramps?
Running on your period may help alleviate cramps. Exercise releases endorphins and increases circulation, which can help improve mood and help relieve painful period symptoms. Increase in circulation can also help decrease bloating and swelling.
Why do I get period cramps when I run?
For some women, running has no effect on cramps, or the activity can make them worse. Running can also trigger cramping without your period. This is possibly indicative of an underlying problem such as gastrointestinal issues, reproductive issues, or hypothyroidism. Cramps can also be a sign of dehydration or lack of electrolytes.
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