Tag Archives: women in sport

Women in training, how hormones affect us.

Women in training, how hormones affect us.

In her book, “Roar”, Stacey Sims reminds us that, “Women are not small men”. For both men and women hormonal fluctuations cause a reaction in the body that can affect your training and nutrition. But when it comes to hormones, clearly women are different; we go through cycles during our life, our menstrual cycle, the pregnancy cycle, and the menopause. And yet to date, most scientific research on the effect of hormones and sports performance has honed-in on men between the ages of 18 and 30!

In this post I am focussing on what happens during your monthly cycle. I encourage my female athletes, to track their cycle, to make them more aware of the hormonal changes that happen each month. You can use an app like Hormone Horoscope, or monthly info to keep tabs on where you are in your cycle. Even if you don’t use it to inform your training, I still feel it is a useful thing to be aware of. If you’re not convinced then have a read of this article.

Let’s talk about it

I’ve found that some women are keen to get in tune with their cycle, and others just don’t want to talk about it. The messages that we are given in the media are, that it shouldn’t stop us from doing anything. Periods are an inconvenience that we need to try and ignore or take pain relief for. Its great that we can carry on with our lives when we have a period. But we also need to be aware of the effect that our hormones will be having, so that we can better understand our motivation levels, and our training and nutrition needs.

First let’s have a look at what happens every month in a menstruating female.

Women in training, how hormones affect us.

What actually happens?

A womens menstrual cycle lasts anywhere between 21 and 40 days, and it can also be outside these ranges. It is pretty common for there to be variability from one month to the next in the length of your cycle. As long as it’s not wildly out every month, then its normal for this to happen. The picture above assumes that you have an “average” 28-day cycle, (very few women actually do have a cycle this length!)

The first half of the cycle (days 1-14) are from the day that you get your period until the day that you ovulate. Which I’ll refer to as the low hormone phase. The second half of the cycle (days 14-28) I’ll refer to as the high hormone phase. The day that you ovulate is not necessarily day 14, it is usually around midway through your cycle.

During the low hormone phase, and just after you get your period, oestrogen starts to rise. In this half of your cycle you are more able to make strength gains, and your mood will probably be better. You can follow general advice for nutrition and hydration because you are physiologically more like a man at this point in your cycle. If you have your period on race day, its not such a bad thing. There are numerous stories of women performing well when they have their period. In Victoria Pendletons’ book, “between the lines”, she refers to winning races when she had her period. From personal experience I have found that it does not really impact my performance.

In the second half of your cycle, progesterone starts to rise, which may make you feel lethargic. It gets harder to recover, and sessions that felt easy a few days ago, now feel harder. You may have cravings, because your metabolism increases slightly, due to increased basal temperature, and you may also feel bloated as your body retains water.

What can I do about it?

In one study it was found that amongst women trying to lose weight, those who followed an exercise/nutrition plan tailored to their menstrual cycle lost more weight than the ones who just restricted calories. For best performance you need to pay attention to the timing of nutrition and hydration, particularly in the high hormone phase. Stacy Sims recommends 10 to 15g of protein and 40g carbs at this time before any workout lasting longer than 90 minutes, and after sessions. Also hydrating well, and preloading before long, harder races with salt would be beneficial. During the high hormone phase your blood plasma volume is lower, which is why those hard sessions feel more challenging. Your blood is essentially thicker which makes it harder to get oxygen to your muscles, and as your core temperature is increased you will feel the heat more, and therefore need to ensure that you hydrate and keep cool, especially in hot weather.

I’m looking forward to seeing future research in this area, as more women take part in endurance sports, and become interested making their training more effective. Watch this space!

Why women don’t participate in sports

Why women don’t participate in sports

Forums and chat As a regular forum user, and competitive female athlete I am often frustrated and upset by comments that are made on forums regarding womens participation in the sports that I enjoy. As a minority in these sports I also feel intimidated to post a response, even when I am offended. This is why I decided to write this post. If you choose to read it hopefully some people will take the time to think about their words and choose them a bit more carefully. One of the reasons that I don’t challenge comments that frustrate me is that I don’t want to upset anyone, but obviously some of the men posting on these forums do not feel the same way as I do. Why women don't participate in sports My experience I would consider myself to be a reasonably confident woman, but when starting out at Triathlon I often felt that I was not “good enough” to participate in time trials and I waited until I was at a fairly high standard before I attended one. I know I am not the only one to worry about this, women that I have spoken to are often concerned about coming last or being too slow. I also participate in mountain bike events, which are very poorly attended by women. I am usually faster than men uphill but slower downhill, but instead of just riding in these events at my pace, I will let men go ahead, as I have been conditioned to believe that men are faster and better than me. I have discussed this with friends and they also react in a similar way. In the pool, I worry about getting in peoples way if they are faster, and I frequently see women giving way and jeopardising their session in order to let someone faster go ahead of them. I recently watched a poem being performed called take up space it is about being yourself and allowing yourself to take up space. If I sometimes feel like I can’t take up space, then imagine what women with lower self esteem must feel like. Why women don't participate in sports Facts Obesity and low self esteem are a growing problem, girls and boys are subjected to stereotypes and social pressures from an early age. I am going to look at this from the female angle, as I am female, and I feel that women are often overlooked and marginalised by sports, we have to fight to get recognition, and equal opportunities, as the world has been run by men for so long. There are systems in place that are unfair to women purely because men are the people who made the rules, and often they do not consider women, for example; the Time Trial scene. A look on their forum reveals some attitudes that, frankly, belong in the dark ages. Usually there are less prizes for women. The reason being that there are less women competing. How this encourages participation is beyond me, when you don’t even get recognised for your efforts, and believe me, the women that compete in these events DO put in the effort. Generally speaking the women who enter these events are highly committed, they have to be, to overcome gender stereotypes. However these women are a different group to the group of women who need to be encouraged in to sport. A Sport England Report identified areas in which women aged 15-19 are dissuaded from participating in sports, and found that what one group disliked about sport and physical activity were “feeling intimidated and self-conscious, and the competition associated with doing sport.” This would support what I have seen in a local time trial where results are not published from the event. I saw more women at this time trial than I have seen at any other time trial in the area. “This research also investigated the role of three main determinants upon participation in sport – the environment, lifestyle transitions, and psychosocial issues. Overall it was found that: Young women did not consider environmental issues, including the provision of facilities, as very important when explaining their current level of sports participation. Transitions, including lifestyle changes for example from school to college or from education to employment, had a negative impact upon sport participation, due to a decrease in levels of spare time, money, and energy. This finding was consistent regardless of current level of participation. Psychosocial issues were very important when explaining levels of sport participation. In particular, family and friends were considered to be the most important factors influencing participation in sport, regardless of participation level. Furthermore, complex psychosocial issues such as self-confidence, and perception of personal ability, were also found to play a significant role in the decision to participate in sport.” Why women don't participate in sports What to do There are a lot of good campaigns out there to empower women to participate in sport and break through stereotypes, for example This Girl Can, we just need to bring these attitudes and ideas into clubs at grass roots level and not just pay lip service to “there should be more women participating”. Women will not respond to bullying or male banter, they need acceptance and encouragement. If clubs really care about women participating then they would do well to read the report by Sports England and implement the recommendations. They could also consider the words used on public forums and think about how these may affect other people.