Overcoming Female Athlete Woes, Part 1

Q: What do I do when my monthly visitor, “Flow”, shows up right before my race?

Amy Marsh answers:

A: Ah, yes. Dealing with the menstrual cycle is a common challenge that female athletes face. Perhaps the biggest challenge is when your cycle falls on race day. The good news is you don’t need to stop training or racing because “Flow” reared her ugly head.

In fact, I’ve had some of my best races during that time of month. I can remember my first Ironman ® in 2005, which was the Ironman ® World Championships in Hawaii. “Flow” arrived the day before the race, and I was freaking out. This was the first long-distance race I would be doing while on my period ““ and it was the World Championships!

If you find yourself in a similar situation, learn from how I dealt with that race in 2005 and how I manage the typical bloating, cramping and bleeding on a monthly basis.

Tweak your diet ““ I find sticking to a gluten-free diet helps reduce bloating associated with the menstrual cycle. Also, most women experience a drop in hemoglobin during their periods, which can contribute to fatigue. It may be a good idea to up your intake of iron-rich foods, such as red meat, fish and dark leafy greens at this time. I also take iron supplements to support healthy iron levels.

Kick cramps ““ No one wants to be boiled over with cramps, whether you’re racing or not. But in a race, cramps are the last thing you want to be worrying about. When it becomes unbearable, I recommend taking an over-the-counter pain reliever to help ease the discomfort and refocus your energy.

Pack a pack ““ The medical stations at races are usually stocked with feminine products, but I recommend making a habit of carrying your own stash. Even during your long training runs or bike rides, pack a spare tampon in your bike flat kit or in a fanny pack in case of emergency pit stops. (I ended up wearing a small fanny pack with a couple tampons during the  Championships.) Also notable, I prefer tampons over pads to help avoid chafing ““ and any wardrobe malfunctions.

You can always talk to your doctor about other ways to help relieve symptoms or make your menstrual cycle less of a concern during race season. Above all, know your body and know you’re strong enough to push through some pretty thick mud ““ that’s what we women do best!

About Team Marsh

Amy Marsh is a four-time Ironman champion, two-time IronDistance champion, and was named the 2010 USAT Long Distance Triathlete of the Year. Brandon Marsh has been competing in triathlons since 1988, and can be counted on to be a top-10 contender in every event he enters. Got a question about swim-bike-run or sports nutrition for Team Marsh? Email them at ask.the.triathletes@gmail.com.

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2 comments on «Overcoming Female Athlete Woes, Part 1»

  1. Angeline Tan says:

    Thanks Amy for sharing these tips – just what I needed! I’ve never had menstrual flow on race day, but have experienced it during training and noticed a significant drop in performance, as u say, due to a drop in hemoglobin. I’ll be racing Wildflower this weekend, and may well be my first race when my menstrual flow hits! Thanks for letting me know we can push through and have the best races even during this period! So encouraging!;)

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