Muay Thai is a vigorous activity. But for some, it can be even more tasking during their menstrual cycle. Some effects of the processes within the cycle may hinder athletic performance. It’s also quite possible that there are many that cope with the symptoms much better than their counterparts.
But before we list how training performance may be hampered during the cycle, here’s an overview of what happens behind the scenes.
This article was written by Clyde Erwin Barretto, with final edits done by Angela Chang. Editor notes will be inserted throughout this article.
What is the Menstrual Cycle?
The menstrual cycle is a series of natural changes that prepares a cis woman’s body for reproduction. It has multiple phases: menstruation, the follicular phase, ovulation and then the luteal phase. The cycle on average can last 28 days but is different for everyone. Progesterone and estrogen are two of the hormones that have some of the largest roles in how someone feels during their menstrual cycle.
Both estrogen and progesterone help regulate the cycle but have distinct actions between them. They can have positive and or negative effects.
Editor’s note: Menstruation cycle is when you get your period. Menstruation and the other three phase of the cycle are a bit tricky to explain in simpler terms as there is massive overlap. Ovulation happens about a week after your period ends. Follicular phase happens before ovulation, and luteal after ovulation. Hope this (oversimplified) note makes it a bit easier to understand.
The Menstrual Cycle and Training
With these changes in mind, here are 5 ways the menstrual cycle can have an effect on Muay Thai training:
1. Strength – An increase in strength has been shown as a possibility during the late follicular phase. In contrast, studies showed a decrease during the late luteal phase. During the follicular phase, there is a higher production of estrogen whereas there is a decrease in progesterone. Estrogen in cis women is responsible for processes that can improve muscle mass, tendon and ligament strength. But it should be noted that the strength increases were only demonstrated by certain muscle groups such as the quadriceps. In this case, it could be a perfect time to practice kicks and knees.
Editor’s note: Increase a strength possible about a week after your period ends. But decrease in strength before you start your period. But the increased strength only affects certain muscle groups, such as the quads.
2. Aerobic – Similar to the increases in strength during the follicular phase, studies showed that there could be an increase for aerobic activity such as a steady jog. But, when progesterone is increased and estrogen is decreased during the luteal phase, there could also be some impairment. It’s quite possible that with increased progesterone, bodily changes such as an increase in core body temperature and metabolic strain impairs running economy. Jason Karp, PhD an exercise physiologist from Indiana University has articulated that “higher body temperature during the luteal phase makes it harder to run in the heat, because you don’t begin sweating to dissipate heat until you have reached a higher body temperature.” So it might be wise to go for a run when the weather is cooler.
Editor’s note: The week after you finish your period, there may be an increase for aerobic activity. But the week before your start your period, there can be a decrease (partly due to higher body temperature).
3. Anaerobic – There seems to be good news for those who like to do anaerobic training (such as sprints) and or do activities that require explosiveness like a high jump. Activities such as sprinting and jumping require tendon strength and stiffness as it needs to produce force and recoil. Studies seem to indicate that there is no change in stiffness during the menstrual cycle. Even more interesting is that in a study, peak power increased during ovulation. It is believed that psychological motivation played a role – but more research was needed. Activities during Muay Thai training such as repeated knees to the bag, jump rope and explosive knees in the clinch may not be hindered at all during the cycle.
4. Mood Changes – Although emotions are hard to measure, mood is a factor when it comes to training. A variety of hormones are increasing and decreasing throughout the menstrual cycle. Symptoms such as abdominal pain, breast swelling, headaches, muscle pain and a plethora of others may occur. It hasn’t been exactly pinpointed why this occurs, but it has been assumed that when progesterone is being broken down, an individual may become more sensitive to other substances that are being produced during the cycle. Premenstrual syndrome “(PMS)” as it’s known typically occurs during the second half of the menstrual cycle.
5. Water Retention – Many may be familiar with the bloating that occurs during the menstrual cycle. Many report bloating near ovulation around the late luteal phase. A one-year study has shown that there tends to be a peak in water retention when progesterone and estradiol was low. How this affects your training is entirely varied. The same study followed a group of healthy recreational runners and another group of runners who were planning to run a marathon for one year. After one year the individuals involved had varied reported outcomes. Some retained more water than others and whereas others reported no symptoms at all. It may also be the case when it comes to cutting weight for Muay Thai competition. It’s quite possible that some may be more affected during their cycles compared to others.
As you can see, there are a lot of things going on during the menstrual cycle.
Tracking the Cycle
If you find yourself having a hard time training during your menstrual cycle, pay close attention to changes during the phases and log it as one method to help you adjust. Stacy Sims, an exercise physiologist from the University of Waikato in New Zealand has stated that “you can begin to work with how these phases affect your training and balance that with nutrition and hydration” when you overlay it with your training logs. There are apps such as Clue to help with daily logging.
At the moment with such variation between individuals, studying the menstrual cycle is not an easy task. Dr. Susan White, the chief medical officer for Netball Australia stated that “The things that some cis women associate with the menstrual cycle, like fatigue or bloating or general lethargy, are hard to measure. And even if we could measure them, it’s then difficult to say that it’s just one or a combination of those symptoms and other internal or external factors that may affect performance.” The menstrual cycle is incredibly complex.
But the good news is that research has picked up to include more cis women during their menstrual cycle in sports research. There is more work being done to normalize the conversation female athletes have with their teams, coaches and organizations about their menstrual cycle.