How Does the Menstrual Cycle Affect Women's Soccer?
The menstrual cycle is capable of changing many aspects of a woman’s life, including those related to women’s soccer. Because of this, players who train frequently in the sport may find that they don’t perform the same throughout the month.
Although better or worse performance can be attributed to many different factors, there is some evidence that it cam be linked to the menstrual cycle. The period modifies the body’s hormone levels and, with it, the body is more or less susceptible to effort.
More and more professional women’s soccer teams are incorporating knowledge about the menstrual cycle to adapt their players’ routines. So, what do they take into account?
Hormones and performance
The normal menstrual cycle has an average of 28 days. The first day is counted when menstruation or bleeding starts.
Almost after one month, there will be another menstrual bleeding if there are no conditions involved and if the woman doesn’t get pregnant. Therefore, we can also fix the middle of the cycle at day 14, which usually coincides with the time of ovulation (when the woman is most fertile because an egg leaves the ovary).
In this context, (which is an average and applies to most women), we have two halves of the cycle:
- Until ovulation, estrogen predominates as the circulating hormone. It’s a substance with both anabolic (helps to create tissue) and ergogenic (gives more strength) capacity.
- From ovulation onwards, progesterone predominates. This is a substance that has the function of preparing the body for a possible pregnancy, so it produces small modifications in this sense.
In women’s soccer, it’s best to divide the menstrual cycle into 5 stages
However, although the above classification of the cycle is the best known and accepted version, professional women’s soccer clubs seek to be more specific. For this, they’ve actually separated the period into 5 stages. For each of them, they’ve stipulated the best options in terms of training:
- The menstrual phase: This would be the first 4-5 days of a normal cycle, when bleeding is present. It’s assumed that the player will be tired, that she will be more exhausted, and that she won’t be in the best mood for training. There are prostaglandins circulating, so there may be some acceleration in her heart rate and more glucose circulating in her blood. There are also blood losses to consider with concomitantly decreased oxygen transport. Ultimately, the recommendation is to reduce the physical strength load to 60% of her usual load and do maintenance work, especially in aerobic mode.
- The post-menstrual phase: This part is from day 5 to 12 of the normal menstrual cycle. Estrogen commands the action and the woman’s energy rises. There’s constant anabolic capacity and players are more receptive to high training loads, both with regard to strength and aerobic exercise. Therefore, the intensity is raised above 75%. It’s possible that the best adaptive response can be found at this point.
- The ovulatory phase: Between day 13 to 16 of the normal menstrual cycle in female soccer players, estrogen stops increasing and stabilizes in the blood. There’s a slight increase in body temperature and some women notice the pain that comes with ovulation. It’s minimal, but it can cause discomfort. Therefore, it’s best to reduce the training load back to 60%.
- The post-ovulatory phase: After ovulation, there’s a period of progesterone prevalence, between days 17 and 24 of the normal menstrual cycle. General well-being returns with an increased response to high training loads. The lungs are able to handle a considerable volume of oxygen now, so the intensity can be brought back to over 75%.
- The premenstrual phase: The 3-5 days before the new menstruation are the end of the ongoing cycle, and training becomes more difficult. Players have a low response to loads and the increase in cortisol brings with it some unpleasant symptoms, such as pain, anxiety, and irritation. Progesterone is at a high concentration point, which promotes catabolism – that is, the destruction of certain tissues. Since fatigue may appear immediately, training volumes are reduced to less than 60%.
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Hormones and injuries
Bearing in mind the menstrual cycle in women’s soccer also means knowing whether players are more susceptible to injury at certain times. For elite clubs, this is key. The loss of an athlete represents a huge loss.
In fact, a recent study published in Frontiers in Sports and Active Living looked at 156 injuries in professional women’s soccer players over 4 years. It was able to link the timing of injuries to the phase of the athletes’ menstrual cycle.
The results were compelling: female players have twice the risk of tendon injury when they’re in the days immediately following ovulation. This is approximately between days 11 to 14.
In addition, the researchers also found that the premenstrual phase is at risk (days 25 to 28), although to a lesser extent.
The greatest preovulatory risk is attributed to the action of estrogens. These hormones enhance the performance of female players, but also increase the elasticity of tendons and contribute to the overload that women can perform, since they feel able to train more.
We think you may be interested in reading this, too: 5 Facts Every Woman Should Know About Ovarian Cysts
Does knowledge of the menstrual cycle have a practical application in women’s soccer?
Women’s soccer teams already apply what we know about the menstrual cycle and sports performance. So do the world’s top professional clubs.
The FitrWoman ® algorithm, for example, was popularized by the U.S. women’s national soccer team and has been purchased by other teams to tailor training to each player. This computer program proposes special routines for each moment of the cycle and physical trainers can have a record of their entire squad to give differentiated sessions.
Undoubtedly, this knowledge of sports medicine is revolutionizing the practices of women’s soccer. It’s no longer enough for the athlete to rest during her period or to do less exercise if she’s in pain.
Today, the aim is to enhance the performance of women in sports so that hormonal variations are used in their favor and not against them. It breaks a taboo and opens the door for female players to have a full month of physical improvement.It might interest you...
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Anderson, A. J., & Babcock, M. A. (2007). Efectos del ciclo menstrual sobre la resistencia espiratoria durante la realización de ejercicios corporales totales en mujeres.
- Bossi, J., Kostelis, K., Walsh, S., & Sawyer, J. (2013). Effects of Menstrual Cycle on Exercise in Collegiate Female Athletes. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 84(S1), AXXII.
- Martin, D., Timmins, K., Cowie, C., Alty, J., Mehta, R., Tang, A., & Varley, I. (2021). Injury incidence across the menstrual cycle in international footballers. Frontiers in sports and active living, 3, 616999.