• Problem Periods: Mastering Your Menstrual Cycle In Sport

    training female athletes PMS menstrual cycle sports fitness

    Alice Hector Pro Triathlete and Emma Risbey Public Health Nutritionist/Sports Nutritionist talk to us about how the menstrual cycle can affect female athletes and how best to deal with it.

    Alice: “The monthly cycle is something that has affected me more noticeably as I get older (I’m 36). For a few days every single month I definitely see a shift in my mood and a decline in my performance. Should a race or a big training session clash around the two days of the month, or Day 1 of the glorious event itself, it's almost impossible to hit targets. My core is inflamed, rendering it useless and sloppy for running, and cramps make hard training more of a burden than ever. I gain weight in water retention and can’t stop craving chocolate (an issue most of the time, but that’s another story!)

    The contraceptive pill is a no go for me as the artificial hormones really mess with me so best thing I’ve found is to avoid hard days around that date, and recognise I'll be a bit grumpy for 2-3 days before that too. However, avoidance of the hard stuff is all very well and good, but not being regular to the button makes planning, particularly racing, very difficult, and you can’t control the organisers’ race dates.”

    Emma: “Everyone worries about having their period for a big event, but in reality your hormones are favourable for performance once your period starts. So whether you’re working out, training or racing, it will feel easier when you are in the low-hormone phase of your cycle which starts the first day of menstrual bleeding. Though there are very few specific studies on performance throughout the menstrual cycle, the research supports that women perform worse during the pre-menstrual phase (the luteal phase) and much better in the 1-12 days following the first day of their cycle (the follicular phase).

    Alice: “Personally, I find Day 1 of my period is when the cramps and bloating are at their worst, so whilst my hormones settle immediately (mood change and better sleep), it takes a day or two for my body to feel good again. As for the science, it’s good to know that the day doesn’t have to be a write off if I prepare for it as best I can in the days preceding.”

    Emma: “Absolutely, it does not mean you are doomed if a key event lands on a high-hormone or sub-par day. Research shows that key performance indicators such as VO2 max and lactate threshold remain constant throughout your cycle, so you can still aim for a PB even with PMS in endurance sports. However, if you are doing sports that involve reaction time, neuro-muscular coordination and manual dexterity – such as ball sports – during the premenstrual phase, it will be harder and more important to keep your head in the game. There’s also evidence that blood sugar levels, breathing rates and thermo-regulation are negatively impacted during this time of the month, which may well account for the slight decreases in aerobic capacity and strength too. For triathletes with heavy periods, racing in the heat and fuelling strategy is something to consider carefully when competing in this phase.

    In general, exercise can feel harder during those high-hormone days before your period and there’s no doubt that it can mess with your performance. But as we know, not every period is the same and some months it may affect you less than others. So it’s important not to get in a negative head space as stress can also affect the severity of your symptoms!

    Alice: “So, what are the measures we can take to try and help ourselves?”

    Emma: “Planning is your first port of call. If you have a regular cycle, you can try to avoid planning your big races or events around these premenstrual dates. On days 1-3 premenstrual this is typically where you can feel and perform a little sub-par and also carry a little water retention. By taking control of your nutrition in the week before you can still perform well, but perhaps nothing spectacular.

    The best time to race or compete in a big event during your cycle is 12-14 days after the first day of your period (the first day of your period is Day 1 of your cycle.) This is where oestrogen reaches a peak just before ovulation. Around ovulation your pain threshold will be higher, energy levels better, utilisation of carbohydrate (CHO) better, recovery enhanced and you generally feel happier and in a good mood. Adaptation to all types of training in this phase are generally good. Ovulation typically happens on Day 13 of your cycle. 

    On days 1-14 of your cycle (the follicular phase), CHO is the primary fuel source during high intensity exercise and your body uses CHO as its main fuel source for all types of activity. But towards the end of this phase there is an increased emphasis on fats for moderate and low intensity exercise. During this phase for soft tissue recovery, include sources of collagen such as jelly alongside vitamin C rich foods to help with muscle, tendon and ligament recovery.

    On days 14-28 of your cycle (the luteal phase), particularly for moderate and low intensity exercise, your body is now using fats as its main fuel source during training. During this phase, muscle breakdown may be increased, so focus on recovery after an intense workout: refuel with a protein-rich meal or snack within 30 minutes. Towards the end of this phase, your body will switch from using fats to using CHO as its main fuel source during training. This is the most common time to experience cravings and PMS. The good news is that adjusting your nutrition can help reduce these symptoms. Proteins and slow release CHO will help to maintain blood sugar levels and help reduce cravings. To reduce PMS, include foods rich in vitamin D, calcium, fish oils and magnesium. Avoid too many foods high in saturated fat as these may be associated with worsened PMS symptoms. Your sleep may be disrupted during this phase so try to include foods containing sleep-inducing melatonin such as tart cherry juice.

    Energy dips are quite typical in the PMS days and it is recommended to take on board a little extra CHO before and during workouts longer than 90 minutes along with small increases in protein too. It is important to note that you burn slightly more calories overall during the premenstrual phase, so adding in a 200-250 calorie healthy snack during this period is recommended, such as some oatcakes with nut butter.

    Just before your period, your hormones drop to their lowest levels. This triggers inflammation which can cause some PMS symptoms. The anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting powers of ginger can help.

    A ‘food first’ approach is best so try loading up on antioxidants through your diet, including plenty of berries and green leafy vegetables (aim for 7-8 servings per day).

    Alice: “A couple of my races have been a write-off, partly due to the time of the month. With Emma’s help, we created a plan to start the week before I’m due, which helps alleviate symptoms and allows me a chance of racing to a decent standard. It’s tried and tested. So here’s my PMS Checklist:

    • Ginger: raw, capsules or powder
    • Rich-coloured fruit and veg (8 portions a day)
    • Magnesium, Vitamin D, Zinc (can get from food but I take supplements) 
    • BCAAs (Amino acids) 
    • Baby Aspirin
    • Tart Cherry Juice
    • Fish and Flaxseed Oil

    Key Takeaway Facts

    • Day 1-14 of your cycle is the follicular phase when you will feel and perform at your best. However this phase includes the days on your period so you may also experience bloating and water retention while you're bleeding.
    • Day 15-28 is the luteal phase which is the less favourable phase when you may experience reduced endurance, cravings, disturbed sleep, and a higher body temperature.
    • Day 1 of your cycle is the first day of your period
    • Ovulation occurs around Day 13 and is when you will have higher energy levels, improved mood, and an increased recovery ability. This is the best time to plan a race or event. 
    • Every woman is different and experiences different symptoms so it's important not to get too hooked up on what you may or may not experience in the different phases of your cycle.
    Posted by Guest Account
  • Soraya Merrylees Athlete Ambassador

    triathlete running finish line race

    Soraya was born in Brazil and has since raced all over the world. She talks to Sundried about life as a triathlete and her ambition to race her first full distance Ironman. 

    Have you always been into sport?

    Yes. I grew up in Brazil where sport was in integral part of my life. After school I usually had 1-2 activities a day (swimming, volleyball, football, gymnastics, tennis, ballet). When I moved to Paris, I took up ballet quite intensively (15 hours a week) as well as skiing and ski jumping (we would go every weekend and I joined the local sports club).

    What made you decide to enter the world of triathlon?

    In 2015, I hurt my knee skiing (doing silly things of course!) and had to take 6 months off doing any sports - it was devastating! When I got better the doctor suggested avoiding dancing because of the rotation of the knee in 5th position. He said I was clear to swim, bike and run - and so my journey into triathlon began!

    For me, the beauty of triathlon is the community it creates and the support and respect athletes have for one another. I have never been to a race that lacks this energy. You support everyone, from the fastest to the slowest, from the oldest to the youngest. When I went to support my husband (very recent boyfriend at the time) for his Ironman, the energy was so uplifting that I found myself being jealous of all the people competing - even though I had never run more than 5km in my life, let alone ridden a bike with cleats.

    What’s been your favourite race to date and why?

    This is a really tough question. I think there is no race that I didn't enjoy, even the ones where I performed terribly because they all taught me something for my next race. If I have to pick, it would be my first triathlon because it was the turning point for me. It was a small sprint race at Bowood House in England. I showed up completely unprepared and untrained. I had no wetsuit (I was the only one without one), had never swum in open water before, had a very average hybrid bike, and forgot my running shoes on the day so had to go buy a terrible cheap pair nearby. Recipe for disaster! But I had the best time ever and decided there and then to sign up for a 70.3 6 months later - the following week I bought my racing bike and started training. I have never looked back.

    cycling bike racing triathlon fitness sports

    And your proudest achievement?

    My proudest achievement is to have taken the leap and quit my corporate career to pursue my passion in sports. I earn a small fraction of what I could be earning now and I work much much harder, but I wake up in the morning with a smile on my face. It has helped me grow as a person - I went from being this shy person that couldn't even give small presentations at work because I got so nervous to a much more outgoing person able to teach a spin class to 55 people without feeling nervous (it was quite a journey though, I nearly died when I gave my first spin class!)

    Have you ever had any racing disasters / your toughest race yet?

    I wouldn't say I have had any big racing disasters, except for a half marathon in Bath in August 2017. I felt my hip tightening, but because I was doing well and feeling great, I was so determined to get a PB. So I ignored my hip to the point where it was so painful that I had to run/walk the last 5km. This taught me a very important lesson - always listen to your body. If I had stopped, I wouldn't have had to take such a long time off running - over a year later I still have to be really careful and have just about got my running back to where it was. I lost a year because I was too stubborn to stop!

    I would say the toughest race I've done though is Ironman 70.3 Dun Laoghaire in Ireland. The sea was so cold and choppy, the bike was hilly, windy (I'm not even joking, even going downhill felt like an uphill), and by the time I got to the run, my legs were gone. I really had to dig deep for this one - also psychologically because I was so far off my goal it was hard not to be disappointed.

    running triathlon racing Ironman

    How do you overcome setbacks?

    Everyone has setbacks and unfortunately it is part of the sport. I always look back to what I have achieved so far and it really puts things in perspective for me. Remaining positive with a can-do attitude is so important.

    What advice do you wish you'd been given before you started competing?

    Honestly, I don't think there is one single piece of advice. I think the beauty of the sport is to learn as you go - and you learn so much about yourself. What works for one person won't work for someone else, so it's all about experimenting. Of course, there are a few practical tips that could have helped - e.g. don't take your cap and goggles off your head before getting to your bike so your hands are free to undo your wetsuit.

    What are your goals for 2019?

    I have signed up to Ironman Austria in July 2019 - it is my first full distance Ironman so I have no time goal, but I have set myself the challenge to keep running no matter what (no walking!). Let's see if I manage!

    Who do you take your inspiration from?

    I wouldn't say I get inspiration from only one person. Of course, my family all inspire me in different ways. My mum is the most passionate person I know, my dad taught me hard work, my husband is the kindest and most ethical person I know (and smart, with a crazy memory, why is he always right?!) and my brother was the first to follow his dream (I copied him even though he's younger)- he's always known he wanted to become a pilot, and he never compromised even when it took him months to get a job - he persevered like no one I know.

    I also feel very inspired by para-triathletes. They are the PERFECT example of how you take something that isn't ideal (their handicap) and turn it into something great. Talk about overcoming setbacks. Every single one of them is my hero.

    What do you like about Sundried and what’s your favourite bit of our kit?

    I love the values of Sundried - being responsible both environmentally and ethically when producing the goods. I also love the simplicity of the designs.

    Posted by Alexandra Parren
  • Ken Byrne Athlete Ambassador

    athlete runner marathon finisher

    Ken has rheumatoid arthritis but still manages to train and compete in endurance sports. He talks to Sundried about Ironman racing and marathon running.

    Have you always been into sport?

    Yes, all my life. I played soccer for Home Farm FC. We are in the Guinness Book of Records for being domestically unbeaten in 206 games spanning from age 11 to 17. I also have 6 International caps at Junior level. And played League of Ireland for a number of years. I would try any sport and watch a lot of sport.

    What made you decide to enter the world of triathlon?

    A friend did one and told me about it. I was just swimming at the time so I got a bike and started training. My first triathlon was a sprint distance and I got hooked from then on. I joined Pulse Triathlon club and learned more about the sport and just took it from there.

    What’s been your favourite race to date and why?

    Ironman 70.3 Dublin 2017. I wasn't sure I would be able to do it plus the support was amazing. It was a big goal considering I started with sprint distance and also had some medical issues in the run up to it.

    And your proudest achievement?

    In triathlon, completing an Ironman 70.3. In soccer, representing Ireland. This year I also completed Dublin City Marathon.

    Have you ever had any racing disasters/your toughest race yet?

    The toughest was an Olympic distance triathlon that I did before the Ironman. I had a poor bike leg and got bad cramping and a dodgy stomach in the last 10k. I was not going to do the run but my family were there and gave me the confidence to try the run. I cramped for the first 5k then struggled with the last 5k. I finished but it was not pretty.

    I'm lucky not to have had many disasters or made many mistakes and thankfully nothing that has resulted in a DNF.

    How do you overcome setbacks?

    I try to accept the situation I am in. I have overcome many medical situations to allow me to reach the start line of races so whatever I am presented with I try to find a solution. I always think about the fact that there is someone who can't do what I am doing. One foot at a time as the saying goes.

    What advice do you wish you'd been told before you started competing?

    The water is cold! Doing triathlon in Ireland is great but the swim can be tough in such cold water so I try to warm up before. Also, keep something in the tank for the run as it's easy to go too hard on the bike and blow up on the run. Finally, nutrition is important as you do longer distances; I am still learning but getting there.

    What are your goals for 2019?

    I want to try another Ironman 70.3 and improve on my last effort. I am also considering another marathon after saying never again after this one.

    I have a medical procedure to recover from first so my main goal is to make a good recovery and to get back training as soon as allowed.

    Who do you take your inspiration from?

    I have rheumatoid arthritis and I read a lot about people overcoming all types of issues to achieve their goals, it's these people who are an inspiration to me. For example, Tim Don and Camelia Pederson coming back to compete at such a high level after such bad injuries really drives me.

    Posted by Alexandra Parren
  • Zachary White Athlete Ambassador

    rock climbing mountain sport extreme

    Zachary is an ultra runner who is now venturing into the world of Ironman. He talks to Sundried about rock climbing and other adventures. 

    Have you always been into sport?

    I have been running all my life but recently (in the last two years) started running marathons and competing. I have also been interested in mountain climbing for quite some time and started climbing this year.

    What made you decide to enter the world of triathlon?

    I love challenge and pushing myself. Ultra marathon running got me into wanting to do an Ironman and my interest progressed from there.

    What’s been your favourite race to date and why?

    Every new race is my favourite since it's a new place with new people and those are the experiences I enjoy the most.

    And your proudest achievement?

    Winning a local 50 mile race.

    Have you ever had any racing disasters/your toughest race yet?

    I have not had any crazy disasters yet. We will see what happens though!

    How do you overcome setbacks?

    I always have my "why" in the back of my head. Whenever I am at my lowest point I find the "why" and it pushes me. My "why" is to be the best I can be and do things the majority of people can't and to know that can inspire others to push their own limits.

    What advice do you wish someone had told you before you started competing?

    Start enjoying races and take in the moment from the very start.

    What are your goals for 2019?

    Doing my first Ironman in September 2019. I am incredibly excited.

    I am also running my first 100 mile ultra marathon on December 1st 2018.

    Who do you take your inspiration from?

    I am inspired by athletes who, against all odds, are still competing and growing from the experience.

    What do you like about Sundried and what’s your favourite bit of our kit?

    I love that the Sundried gear is able to withstand the elements and be a trusted partner on the course. I never have to worry about the gear breaking down on me. 

    Posted by Alexandra Parren
  • Jamie Chatfield Athlete Ambassador

    triathlon race cycling bike

    Jamie has always been sporty and found himself hooked on the sport of triathlon. He talks to Sundried about overcoming illnesses and tough half Ironman races.

    Have you always been into sport?

    I have, all sports. I’ve been running competitively since the age of 9, running at county level and National Schools. However, I had a brief interlude for 4 years whilst at college but only recently focused back on running for triathlon.

    What made you decide to enter the world of triathlon?

    I could run well and my cycling was ok-ish. However, swimming was never a strong point for me but I thought I’d string them together and have a crack at a local race and won my AG and came 2nd overall. That was it, I was hooked.

    What’s been your favourite race to date and why?

    Despite qualifying at Weymouth for the Ironman 70.3 World Champs twice, my best race was my GB qualifying race at Bedford when I raced against my coach in the sprint Duathlon and beat him.

    And your proudest achievement?

    My 2nd ever 70.3 was in the inaugural Weymouth Ironman 70.3 race where I was 3rd in AG and qualified for the World Champs - a dream come true and something I never thought I’d achieve in my first year of competitive racing.

    Have you ever had any racing disasters/your toughest race yet?

    Funnily enough, the 2017 70.3 Worlds in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I was ill leading up to the race having spent the week preceding the race in bed. Race day came but I managed to drag myself out of bed at 4.00am and began preparing for the race. I simply wanted to finish - swim was ok, bike was good and my run should have been strong enough to place me in the top 10 but my body was having none of it. After mile 3, everything caught up with me and it then became a battle against the course (1000ft of climbing on the run), 90 degree heat and the illness. It’s the first race where I actually wanted to DNF but I finally crossed the finish line, scraping a sub 5hr time.

    How do you overcome setbacks?

    Remain focused and never forget that there is an end to recovery or illness.

    What is the best bit of advice you wish someone had told you before you started competing?

    Take recovery seriously. There is a very good reason why your coach tells you to take it easy in your training plan.

    What are your goals for 2019?

    Get my running legs back after a bad foot injury and focus on the Ironman 70.3 Worlds in Nice.

    Who do you take your inspiration from?

    Fellow athletes and those athletes who are ageing gracefully but still competing at the pointy end of Age Group racing. That said, I’m in awe of those athletes who have overcome real adversity in their lives and with sheer determination, passion and drive, are able to compete at the highest level.

    What do you like about Sundried and what’s your favourite bit of our kit?

    The innovation and use of recycled materials is superb. With so much publicity about the over use of plastics, we cannot as a planet, turn away from our responsibilities to shop more conscientiously and use more materials that either biodegrade quickly or can be recycled.

    I’m looking forward to placing my first order. The quilted hoodie and running leggings will be at the top of my list.

    Posted by Alexandra Parren