• A fitness routine you've actually started to love, a race you've given your all to prepare for, or a tournament you're off to. There's this fantastic momentum that builds up. Does an athlete let her monthly period get in the way, or does she take it in her stride? It surely got us curious and we decided to chase the question. As we spoke to sportswomen, doctors, and physical trainers, here's what we found.

    We started out with Shalaka and Sayuri. Shalaka recently finished the Turkey Half Ironman, and is well on track to becoming a serial achiever in that sport. Sayuri needs no introduction for those who aim at a podium finish at marathons, because she mostly makes one. As we talked we realized, striding over periods is a milestone they’ve left far behind.

    “It’s all in the mind” says Sayuri

    After years of running, 2016 was the first year that I ran a marathon while on my period.

    I have been running for over a decade and it was only in 2016 that I ran a marathon while on my periods. The experience made me confident that I can handle it. Until then, I would either not sign up for races around my expected date, or I would take pills to alter the date. However, taking pills and not allowing the body to take its natural course felt like abuse of the body and I stopped it.”

    “The pain and the discomfort needed some mind work. I told myself, I won’t allow that to make me miss my races or compromise on my training schedules. And I was fine after that! Like most things, it’s all in the mind.”

    “Don’t make a big deal out of it!” says Shalaka

    “That’s what I trained my family to do, when I was just fifteen! Growing up in a joint family in Ratnagiri. I would find it really strange that from my aunts to my cousins to my mother, everyone was disallowed certain activities during their periods. I was into kho-kho and the elders in the house would ask me to pull back. I would refuse. And very soon I saw to it that the embargo on our activities due to periods was permanently lifted!”

    Both Sayuri and Shalaka are surprised that they have never had to explain themselves or feel awkward about periods with their guy friends. In a recent marathon, Shalaka was caught by a terrible abdominal cramp due to periods. As she slowed down, she asked her guy friend to carry on. To her surprise, he expressed a question in a matter of fact tone, “Periods?”

    “At least in running circles, I realized that men are super cool about physical differences between both the sexes, which is great!”

    “Some simple planning helps”

    Sayuri started to chalk out her fitness routines during her periods, to get over her apprehensions. “To start with, I planned training runs closer around home. I understood the logistics to be kept in mind, and trained myself to overlook the pain.” Shalaka avoids long runs on the first two days of periods, and makes up for it in the gym schedule. For marathons, they run super light, with just one change of napkin/tampon at the end of the race.

    Shalaka avoids long runs on the first two days of periods, and makes up for it in the gym schedule. For marathons, they run super light, with just one change of napkin/ tampon at the end of the race.

    “Facilities don’t need to get better, they need to start!”

    The loo facility is grossly under provided for at marathons. The cubicles are far too few, and there is no separate section for the specific purpose of changing or disposing off sanitary napkins. Race organisers could get more sensitive towards this specific need.

    “I have found it no better abroad either,” says Shalaka. Sayuri feels that the insensitivity of the people only makes it worse. “People mess the toilet seat, the floor, recklessly fill up the bin with tissue, and just don’t care how they leave the space for the next user".

    Then there are personal challenges. "On a 42.2 km run, there is no scope to change your pad. At the end of it, it can be a tough choice - whether to head to the podium and medal, or to queue up for the loo!”

    Then there are personal challenges. On a 42.2 km run, there is no scope to change your pad. “At the end of it, it’s a tough choice whether to head to the podium and medal, or to queue up for the loo!”

    Shalaka is confident to even swim during her periods, with the Kotex tampon that she sources from the US.

    “I love the compression tights from Nike, and the Rogue shorts with liners for general comfort during running. The pad of course is best held in place by simple pure cotton panties” says Sayuri.

    Nothing like a fitness regime to reduce PMS

    A fitness routine is great for the body and mind, especially during periods. Exercise is a good distraction from the pain. The thrill of achieving a target releases more endorphins. “Fitness training can actually change the spectrum of PMS. You could move from acute PMS to mild, to no PMS!” says Sayuri. “Plus, muscle building reduces abdominal pain.”

    Lower the gear, but do not screech in the breaks : fitness instructors.

    In a discussion Shruti had with her yoga teacher regarding periods and yoga, this is what she gathered: “The unwillingness to exercise during periods is very understandable. The body needs some rest. However, rest is not equal to a complete stop of physical activity. In fact, there are asanas in Yoga that relieve premenstrual pain.”

    Pilates and dance instructor Ankita Kalsi had a smiliar point of view. Ankita is used to her female students complaining of cramps, back pain and soreness in the pelvic floor during their periods. For this, she tweaks the training set to include low impact, lying on the back mat exercises. Also, she skips inverted position and heavy cardio exercises. Besides, Ankita feels,“Due to the hormonal changes during periods, the muscles tend to feel tight and the mind tends to be irritable. Therefore, it is infact the body which should be kept active, and the mind which should be relaxed.”

    Clinically Speaking

    Looking for the medical perspective got us speaking to sports scientist Nikhil Latey and gynecologist Dr Sameer Pradhan.

    Nikhil says that sportswomen are bound to have different responses to menses. These responses depend on individual parameters, the sport, as well as the level of activity. While some women slow down in the first two days of periods, others are stiff during stretching a few days before menses. “Clinical advice, if at all, has to be more specific than general. As a physio, I would advise hot packs, and some rest for menstrual back aches. If a tournament involves traveling abroad, pain killers also may be prescribed.”

    When we asked Dr. Pradhan about altering period dates by consuming pills, he cautioned, “Progestogen pills can tamper with the body’s hormonal balance and even cause side effects like depression or obesity”.

    “Logically, yes, for their important tournaments, many sportswomen might be taking easily available pills for altering period dates, like low dose oral contraceptive pills. By and large, these are safe.”

    The experience of the two athletes above, related to PMS, is partly seconded by Dr Pradhan. “While a fitness routine has no pathological effects on PMS, surely it enhances pain endurance.” Infact, barring delicate pregnancies, Dr Pradhan advises well guided exercise even to pregnant women.

    “I would advise refrain from heavy duty exercise typically in cases of a haemoglobin count of less than 10 and prescribe Haematic, (iron) tablets.”

    Of course you can pass the test.

    Periods put to test, the endurance level and planning expertise of a sportswoman. Speaking with Shalaka and Sayuri we know, that throwing in the towel is not what she does. The natural instinct of a sportswoman is to find a way to make her mind and body come around.

    Your individual response to periods taken care of, you're good to go.

    Disclaimer: The author of this article is not a medical or health professional. The purpose of this blog is informative and to share an experience – not to give health or medical advice. You should always do your own research when it comes to your health.

    WRITTEN BY

    SNEHAL BASRUR

    Snehal loves road trips, street paani puri and Pilates. Currently, she's also busy rediscovering her love for writing.

    CREATIVE DIRECTION

    SHRUTI KAMATH

    Shruti is a co-founder and creative director at Athlos. She loves spending time tailoring clothes for herself.

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