Is Tracking Your Cycle to Maximise Workouts a Hoax? We Asked a Doctor
If you’ve ever found yourself in the “fitness hacking” corner of TikTok, it’s likely you’ve come across menstrual tracking to help maximise your workout. While women and gender-diverse people have long noted changes in the way they feel during different times of their cycle, menstrual tracking to optimise workouts is becoming a more popular conversation.
This is partly thanks to devices that help track menstrual cycles more effectively, like the Apple Watch and the influx of mobile apps. Gone are the days of remembering to make note of your period’s arrival in a physical calendar! The Apple Watch for example, has a Cycle Tracking app that will send you a notification when your next period or fertile window is approaching, helping offer a better understanding of your overall health.
The rise in discussion on the topic is also due to top athletes sharing their experiences in the media. The first big mention in the mainstream came in 2019 when the US Womens World Cup-winning soccer team spoke about how their menstrual cycles affected their training.
What’s the Science Behind Menstrual Cycles Affecting Workouts?
Firstly, let’s start with the science, shall we? As for the scientific evidence behind how menstrual cycles affect workouts, Sport and Exercise Medicine Physician, Dr Rachel Harris, notes that the research isn’t conclusive, due to the incredible variation in menstrual cycles.
“Everyone experiences their cycle differently, with different levels of the key hormones at different parts of the cycle – no two women are the same – and different symptoms experience by all at different times,” she says. “Some women feel great in the first half of their cycle, some feel average — and this is the same at every different point of the cycle.”
That said, Dr Harris says the real key is to track your own cycle, notice patterns and then play to your strengths. Embrace your menstrual cycle, she says. And remember that what might work for you might be quite different to your workout partner – and that’s okay.
Why Don’t We Have More Research on How Menstrual Cycles Affect Us?
“We need lots more good quality research, around hormones and the impact on perfect, as well as the impact of the various types of hormonal contraception on performance to know anything definitively,” Dr Harris says.
For that research, she says we need big numbers of women to be involved, which can be expensive and time-consuming. Menstrual cycles are usually 25 to 35 days, so gathering all the hormonal changes and their impacts over that time is a challenge.
“A lot more resourcing and money need to go towards this type of research if we have any chance of getting definitive answers,” she says.
What Should You Know (In General) About Cycle Tracking?
“I wish more people tracked their cycles to improve their own understanding of their bodies,” says Dr Harris. “We can start to notice patterns in our cycles and be kinder to ourselves about the way we feel at certain times. We can also notice if our cycles change, we can seek out a health professional to ensure that everything is working okay.”
Out menstrual cycles really are vital signs, and we should be monitoring them regularly for changes, she says. We know that there are significant health conditions, for which changes in our menstrual cycle from our normal – or what’s considered to be normal — can be a warning sign.
“We also know that earlier identification of these issues can mean improvement in women’s short and long-term health, and very often their quality of life.”
This advice is only of general nature. Be sure to consult your health care professional if you have concerns about your menstrual cycle and tracking