The Role of the Menstrual Cycle in Exercise Recovery

The Role of the Menstrual Cycle in Exercise Recovery

Menstruation is one of the most natural processes which occurs during human life. But it does not mean that it doesn’t have any negative effects on our health. There are many factors which affect the amount of blood flow to various parts of body.

Some of these include: diet, stress levels, genetics, hormones and physical activity level.

It is well known that regular exercise reduces the risk of developing certain diseases such as diabetes mellitus, heart disease, cancer and osteoporosis. Regular exercise also helps reduce the symptoms of depression and improves mental alertness. However, there are some women who do not get enough sleep due to work or school schedules.

These women may suffer from insomnia and lose their appetite during menstruation time. They may even experience pain during menstruation.

Regular exercise is beneficial for both men and women. It increases the energy levels, improves mood and decreases fatigue. Regular exercise also reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes mellitus and other metabolic disorders associated with obesity.

As mentioned above, regular exercise will improve your mood, decrease your appetite and increase energy levels throughout the day. However, women may still experience a reduction in energy levels during menstruation. It is also normal to experience some discomfort during menstruation.

This is due to the low levels of oestrogen and progesterone which affect the uterine lining.

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Menstruation and Physical Activity

It is difficult for women to engage in exercise during menstruation as they will suffer from discomfort. Some women may even feel faint or dizzy due to the loss of blood. These factors may put them at a greater risk of injuries while engaging in physical activity.

There is no need to feel depressed or cancel your plans due to menstruation. You can try some simple tricks which will help you to stay in shape while dealing with the discomfort caused during menstruation.

Tips for Exercising during Menstruation

Listen to Your Body: Some women will feel more comfortable engaging in exercise than others. If you are one of those women who feel discomfort during menstruation, listen to your body and rest for a while. You can plan your exercise session before or after your period.

Drink Plenty of Water: It is very important to stay hydrated during physical activity. The loss of blood flow during menstruation can lead to dehydration, so drink at least 8-10 glasses of water during this time.

Dress Comfortably: Wear loose-fitting clothes which are made of cotton and allow your skin to breathe during exercise. This will keep you cool and comfortable during the physical activity.

Keep a Tampon with You: It is better to be safe than sorry, so keep a tampon with you just in case of an accident.

Stay Away from Heavy Weights: Heavy weightlifting should be avoided as it can increase the amount of blood flow in the body. This may cause you to lose more blood than usual. Avoid doing sit-ups and jogging as well.

Warm Up Before You Begin: A 5-10 minutes warm up is necessary if you perform any sort of physical activity. This will increase the flow of blood and oxygen to your muscles and reduce your chances of getting tired quickly.

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Increase the Duration Slowly: If you are new to exercising, do not rush into it. Start with shorter sessions of exercise and increase the duration gradually. Listen to your body and stop if you feel discomfort.

Have Something Warm After Exercise: Have a warm cup of milk or some chicken soup after your exercise session. This will help to restore your lost blood.

Don’t Weigh Yourself During Menstruation: Avoid stepping on the scales as it can cause a psychological impact which may cause you to engage in emotional eating.

Last but not the least, enjoy yourself! Exercising should be fun and it is completely normal to feel tired during menstruation. Listen to your body and take a break if you need one.

Menstruation and Diet

If you are one of those women who feel very tired and drained during menstruation, it is important to include iron-rich foods in your diet. Iron is a very important mineral which plays an important role in the transportation of oxygen to the red blood cells. If your iron levels are low, you may feel tired or experience shortness of breath.

You can combat the effect of low iron levels by including foods which contain high amounts of iron in your diet. Some examples of iron-rich foods are:

Sea Food: Fish such as tuna, shrimps and mussels are very rich in iron. If you do not like to eat fish, you can consume fish oil as well.

Dried Fruits: Raisins and dried apricots are very good sources of iron.

Leafy Greens: Green vegetables such as lettuce, kale, cabbage and spinach also contain iron.

Beans and Legumes: Beans such as red kidney beans, chickpeas and black-eyed peas are good sources of fiber as well as minerals such as iron.

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Whole Grains: Wheat germ, whole wheat bread and whole grain cereals are a good source of iron.

It is important to remember that menstruation is not the only factor which can cause you to feel tired or out of energy. If you have been experiencing symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness, irregular periods or you feel generally unwell, it is always best to consult your physician.

Do’s and Don’ts During Periods

During periods, it is very important that you change your tampons or pads regularly. Always make sure to carry supplies such as pads or tampons with you in the event you experience a sudden flow. Wear dark colored underwear, if possible.

Tampons should be changed every 4-8 hours. Pads should be changed whenever they get wet.

Don’t sleep in the same pad or tampon for more than 8 hours.

Wash your hands before and after changing your pads or tampons.

Do not use a tampon if you feel faint or you feel like you’re going to faint.

Always wash your hands before and after handling a pad or a tampon.

Do regular exercise to avoid feeling sluggish and tired during your periods.

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Stay away from caffeinated products such as coffee, tea or colas during your periods. Reducing your stress levels will also help you combat fatigue during periods.

Do not use a tampon if you have any of the following symptoms: sudden dizziness, fainting, pain or bloating.

Always change your tampon or pad at least every 4-8 hours.

Wash your hands before and after handling a pad or a tampon.

Use sanitary napkins instead of pads as they offer better protection.

Your diet does play an important role in managing your menstrual flow. For example, increasing your consumption of water can reduce your menstrual flow and so can the foods you eat. However, do not increase or decrease your food intake without the approval of your physician.

Also, stay away from foods such as salt to reduce your menstrual flow. Salt can increase your blood pressure and worsen your periods.

Instead of drinking coffee or cola which are caffeinated, drink decaffeinated drinks such as herbal tea. Caffeine can increase your stress levels which can trigger cramps and contribute to other discomforts.

Use pads instead of tampons as they are less likely to leak or cause infection.

Always wash your hands before and after changing your pads or tampons.

Try using sea compress pads as they are safer than regular pads. You can soak these pads in cold water and place them in the freezer. These cool pads help reduce your menstrual flow as well as reduce your cramps.

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However, make sure to sanitize the pads before using them.

Do exercises such as walking, running, swimming or biking to keep your body active and increase your energy levels. Also, try to keep your mind occupied by reading, listening to music or engaging in social activities.

If you experience cramps, try taking a warm shower or bath, changing into comfortable clothes and relaxing in a quiet, stress-free environment. If your pain persists or gets worse, contact your physician immediately.

If you have a condition such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease, it is very important to monitor your period closely for any changes. Some conditions such as diabetes increase your chances of suffering from poor circulation or nerve damage which can make your periods more painful.

Make sure to use pads or tampons with the right absorbency as using an insufficient product can lead to leaks and using a product with excessive absorbency can lead to clots and dryness.

Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration which can worsen your discomfort during your periods.

If stress worsens your period pain, try taking up a relaxation technique such as meditation, yoga or listening to music.

If you are feeling depressed or anxious due to your menstrual cycle, contact your physician immediately as these symptoms can be a sign of a more serious condition such as premenstrual dysphoric disorder.

Learn about different types of pain relievers such as NSAIDs, aromatic oils, homeopathic remedies and herbal medicines. Select the product which works best for you and can be used on a regular basis.

Try using a heating pad or a hot water bottle on your back, stomach or hips to soothe your pain.

Make sure to get enough sleep as sleep deprivation can increase your menstrual pain and discomfort.

Manage your stress by taking up a new hobby, spending time with friends or just relaxing in a quiet environment.

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Avoid strenuous exercise as it can worsen your cramps and backache.

If painkillers such as acetaminophen do not work for you, ask your physician about taking a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as Ibuprofen which reduces pain and inflammation.

If your pain is more severe, your physician may suggest stronger painkillers. These may have more risks such as excessive bleeding and ulcers but in severe cases, these are the only medicines that can provide you with relief.

Make sure to choose your sanitary protection such as pads or tampons wisely. Some products contain chemicals such as dioxins, synthetic fibers and bleaches which can irritate your skin leading to rashes, itchiness and discomfort.

Make sure to change your sanitary protection at least twice a day to avoid skin irritation.

Always wash your hands before handling any sanitary protection or before examining the wound as microorganisms such as bacteria thrive in warm, damp conditions and can lead to infection.

Soak in a warm bath with a handful of salts or baking soda to soothe your aches and pains.

Wear loose clothing to reduce any feelings of restriction or tugging at your abdomen.

Gently exercise your stomach and pelvic floor muscles (Kegel exercises) to improve your muscle tone and avoid bladder weakness.

Wear comfortable, supportive shoes to avoid back pain and muscle cramps.

When you get your period, take time off from work or school. Avoid strenuous activities such as sports or carrying heavy objects.

Make sure you know where the closest pharmacy is in case you need to pick up any sanitary protection or painkillers.

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Keep a supply of sanitary protection and painkillers at home so you do not have to rush out when your period starts unexpectedly.

Practice your chosen relaxation technique in times of ease so that you are familiar with it and can perform it perfectly when you need it most.

Know when to seek professional help such as visiting your GP, gynaecologist or counsellor.

Remember that in some cases, especially in very stressful situations, you may not be able to control your period pain despite taking the above measures. This is called pain disorder and requires professional help so that the cause can be determined and cured.


Period pain affects many women during their lifetime, whether it is on a monthly basis during menstruation or premenstrually in the case of PMS. While it may seem like an inevitable part of being a woman, you can do several things to manage your period pain and lead a normal, active lifestyle.

Period pain is the aches and pains that some women experience in the lower abdomen or back at the start of their period. Pain can also be felt in the buttocks, upper thighs and vaginal area. While the pain can be quite severe, some women experience mild or no pain at all.

Most women experience period pain on and off throughout their menstrual cycle with the worst symptoms starting in the week leading up to their period. Pain can differ from woman to woman and last between 2-3 days. Around 10% of women suffer from premenstrual syndrome (PMS) which may include depression, irritability, tension and bloating in the weeks before menstruation.

Sometimes period pain is caused by a condition other than menstruation such as endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease. If you are experiencing pain which is not limited to the start of your period, is occurring after sexual activity or occurs all the time then you should seek medical attention.

Common causes of period pain include:

Evolution has favoured women who experience pain during menstruation as this discourages them from activities such as hunting while they are at their most vulnerable. While this behaviour may have been useful in primitive times, it is less helpful now when most women do not pursue such activities.

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Period pain used to be called ‘menstrual cramps’ but this name is no longer used as not all women experience cramping.

Menstrual cups have recently become more popular. These are a type of feminine hygiene product which is inserted into the vaginal canal to collect blood rather than absorbing it as a tampon or pad would. They are reusable, cost effective and safe to use.

Some women experience pain during sexual activity around the time of their period. This may be caused by a condition such as endometriosis or vaginismus, however, it may simply be caused by the natural tightening of vaginal muscles during menstruation.

Period pain sometimes goes hand in hand with headaches, this may be due to a low intake of certain nutrients or due to dehydration.

Period pain can be treated with medication including:

Over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol (which doesn’t require a prescription in the UK) Anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen, which can be bought without a prescription Anti-nausea drugs such as promethazine Anti-diarrhoeals such as loperamide Suppositories which can be helpful if you are finding it difficult to pass blood or stool.

If you experience other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or headaches you should also seek advice from a medical professional.

Most cases of period pain can be treated at home, but you should contact a doctor if your pain is becoming severe or if you are experiencing other symptoms without relief after taking pain medication.

Other lifestyle changes which may help relieve period pain include:

Spending more time resting and relaxing, physical activities such as exercise can make pain worse. Drinking plenty of water, dehydration can lead to headaches which may become worse during menstruation. If you smoke, now is the time to quit as smoking increases both pain and bleeding.

If you have a healthy diet you should be getting all the nutrients that you need however if you eat large amounts of junk food and take little exercise then it might be worth taking a daily multivitamin.

If your diet consists of mostly junk food and you are not taking any exercise then it may be difficult to get all the nutrients your body needs, in this case you may want to take a daily multivitamin.

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These are just some suggestions of ways in which you may be able to manage your period pain, but if these lifestyle changes do not work, or your pain is becoming unmanageable, talk to your GP as they can prescribe medication which can help relieve the pain.

There are a number of different types of medication which can be prescribed by your GP to relieve period pain.

Some of the most common types of medication include: NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) Opioids (Opium Derivatives) Hormone Treatments

NSAIDs such as ibuprofen will reduce pain and lower a high temperature (if there is one). They also reduce the inflammation in the uterus lining which helps with the bleeding. They do, however, have a number of side effects including causing gastrointestinal irritation, nausea and ulcers.

Opioids such as pethidine (or known by it’s brand name ‘meptide’) act similarly to narcotics such as codeine and heroin. They relieve pain by binding to the body’s opioid receptors. They can cause drowsiness, nausea and vomiting.

Hormone treatments can reduce the number of periods you experience each year. They work by effectively reducing the period from a week down to about two days. This means that your body doesn’t have to suffer the monthly trauma of bleeding for a week each month, however, it does have to deal with the side effects of the hormones which are prescribed.

Common side effects can include nausea, dizziness and even depression.

Sources & references used in this article:

Evidence for a causal role of low energy availability in the induction of menstrual cycle disturbances during strenuous exercise training by NI Williams, DL Helmreich, DB Parfitt… – The Journal of …, 2001 –

Physiological and nutritional aspects of post-exercise recovery by C Hausswirth, Y Le Meur – Sports medicine, 2011 – Springer

The influence of menstrual cycle phase upon postexercise hypotension by JI Esformes, F Norman, J Sigley… – … in sports and exercise, 2006 –

Exercise-induced dissociation of the blood prolactin response in young women according to their sports habits by GR Brisson, MA Volle, D DeCarufel… – Hormone and …, 1980 –