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Sport, Physical Activity and the Menstrual Cycle

In the eighth resource in a series, the Welsh Institute of Performance Science’s Natalie Brown explores the impact that the menstrual cycle has on the body, including its physical, emotional and behavioural symptoms

The menstrual cycle is a biological process with psychosocial interactions. For more on this, read our guide, Understanding the Menstrual Cycle.

Importantly, this means that:

  • Hormonal fluctuations regulate the menstrual cycle, interacting with the brain and other systems in the body. This can result in the occurrence of different symptoms (physical, psychological, and behavioural).  
  • These symptoms can be reduced or heightened by psych-social factors. For instance, stress can influence the menstrual cycle, causing irregular cycle lengths, and can increase the severity of symptoms.  
  • The menstrual cycle, specifically the changes in hormone levels, can influence other physiological processes and systems in the body, such as substrate metabolism and injury risk.

In the following quotes, two athletes share their experiences of participating in sport during their cycle:

If I’m feeling rotten or low on motivation I’ll cut the session and move training to another day, instead I will do something active but not very energy requiring.”

The time before my period impacts training and performance, once I’m ‘on’ [menses] it’s just the inconvenience of bleeding.”

Understanding symptoms

Stigma around the menstrual cycle 

A stigma still exists around the menstrual cycle with feelings of embarrassment and the awkwardness of conversations frequently identified by participants. For more on this, see our infographic, The Menstrual Cycle: Female Athletes’ Experiences and Perceptions

Previously, discomfort in society and the media have reinforced the perception of the menstrual cycle being a topic of secrecy and embarrassment. Yet the menstrual cycle is a normal, biological process that can impact health, participation and performance. Therefore, it should be discussed and considered within sport.

Practical considerations for coaches

You shoulder consider how you can:

  • create an open and supportive environment with females to help them feel comfortable sharing menstrual cycle symptoms with you. This may include providing access to menstrual products, encouraging tracking of symptoms and providing opportunities for them to talk about their menstrual cycle.
  • help females to recognise their menstrual cycle symptoms, listen to them and provide support, including by adapting sessions. Each individual will be different and symptoms may be better or worse depending on external factors such as stress, sleep and recovery. Promote increased self-awareness!


How do you view the menstrual cycle? Do you feel awkward and embarrassed talking about it?



What can you change within your coaching practice to create an open and supportive environment for females to feel comfortable sharing symptoms they experience relating to the menstrual cycle?


More from Natalie Brown

This is the eighth resource in a series on menstrual health developed with Natalie Brown


Related Resources

  • Menstrual Cycles and Participation

  • Coaching Female Participants

  • The Menstrual Cycle: Female Athletes' Experiences and Perceptions


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