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UK Coaching Team

Understanding the Impact of Menstruation on Performance

When Heather Watson blamed a poor straight-sets defeat on period problems, she unwittingly lifted a veil of silence from what’s long been a taboo subject. Mike Dale asks how coaches can help when menstruation affects athletic performance

‘Girl things’ was how Britain’s No.1 female tennis player Heather Watson rather bashfully explained her lacklustre first round defeat at the 2015 Australian Open.

It’s unlikely she intended to break one of sport’s few remaining taboos, but that was certainly the effect her meek, euphemistic phrase had. Within hours fellow athletes, coaches and commentators were all asking, ‘Why has no-one spoken publicly about this before?’

The effects of menstruation on athletic performance are highly subjective and under-researched. Titles have been won and personal bests achieved at every stage of the menstrual cycle (Paula Radcliffe, for example, broke the world marathon record while on her period), yet for some athletes, menstrual problems inflict physical and psychological damage.

To further complicate matters, there are no ‘one size fits all’ solutions. Even if two women’s symptoms are identical, the same treatment may not work for both. 

Common period-related symptoms include:

  • pain
  • bloating
  • fatigue
  • loss of concentration
  • lack of strength
  • cravings
  • mood swings.

All of these can have a knock-on effect on a woman’s athletic performance.

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