As female runners and athletes, we have all worried about getting our periods at less than ideal times, like right before an upcoming workout session or during a race. But does being on your period actually affect your running? Can or should you even bother running or racing when you’re on your period?
All of the scientific literature agrees: you can and should continue to run on your period. There is no reason not to run on your period. Running on your period can boost your mood, and alleviate cramps. You may even pull off a personal record performance while you’re at it!
Keep reading to learn more about how to make the most of your running when you’re on your period and ways you can tweak your training if you find that your monthly hormone fluctuations are interfering with your training. We even discuss some of the feminine hygiene products to wear while running, including leakproof underwear and activewear!
Tips For Running on Your Period
Running on your period is both healthy and beneficial.
According to the United States Office on Women’s Health, researchers have not found differences or changes in a woman’s ability to exercise during menstruation. Running on your period can help relieve symptoms of PMS such as mood swings, tender breasts, fatigue, etc.) because endorphins from running can boost your mood and help reduce pain. Running boosts circulation and the passage of gas through the digestive tract, which can help minimize bloating or swelling you may experience on your period.
It’s a myth that your period will make you feel flat, tired or sluggish. That’s not to say that individuals can’t or won’t feel lower-energy during their period – there just isn’t an overarching “rule” that applies to everyone.
You may be wondering what you can do to get the most out of your runs while on your period, especially if you suffer from PMS, heavy bleeding, cramps, bloating, or other unpleasant side effects.
Here are a few tips to make your runs as enjoyable as possible during that time of the month:
- Track Your Cycle: Period tracking is a highly effective tool. You can use an app on your phone or computer, or a paper calendar and pencil. Tracking allows you to get to know your body and your cycle – the longer you track, chances are you will start to notice trends every month. You can track the length of your periods, when they start and stop, and any related physical or emotional symptoms. Over time, you’ll be able to approximate the date of your next period; anticipate which days tend to have heavier flow; and anticipate mood or energy changes, breakouts, and cramps, to name a few.
- Be Prepared: As a runner who is likely following a training schedule, when you track your cycle, you can compare it to your training and racing schedules. From there, you can make adjustments and preparations as needed. For example, if you know that your next race will fall on a typically heavy flow day of your period, you can plan ahead by packing extra supplies or menstrual products with you on race day. You can look ahead at your race course and make note of where the restrooms along the course will be located, in case you need to make a stop to change a tampon or pad mid-race.
- Be Flexible with Your Training Schedule as Needed: Where you are in your monthly cycle can affect your emotions and energy levels. Furthermore, heavy or prolonged bleeding can affect performance and make it physically and psychologically difficult to feel powerful on your period. Be flexible with your training schedule, as needed, depending on your monthly cycle and unique symptoms. Some people may need to shift workouts around, or take an extra rest day from time to time. We have more details on this topic below.
How Your Menstrual Cycle May Affect Running
Before we dive into exactly how your menstrual cycle can affect your running, it’s important to have a basic understanding of the menstrual cycle and what’ happening to your body during its 4 phases. (Information about hormone changes and fluctuations may not be accurate for those who are currently taking hormonal birth control or other hormone therapies.)
The Menstrual Cycle and Phases
The human female menstrual cycle typically lasts anywhere from 21-35 days, with the average cycle lasting about 28 days. During each cycle, the brain’s pituitary gland and the ovaries make and release hormones to prepare the body for egg fertilization and pregnancy. Menstruation, or a period, happens at the beginning of the cycle when the uterus sheds its lining after the previous cycle.
The menstrual cycle can be divided into 4 phases*:
- Menses or menstrual phase, AKA your period; ~Days 1-7. The first day of your period marks the first day of a new cycle. Estrogen and progesterone levels are low at this time.
- Follicular phase, ~Days 8-14. Your body is preparing to release an egg from the ovary for possible fertilization and pregnancy. Follicle-stimulating hormone, estrogen, and luteinizing hormone levels all rise in preparation for ovulation.
- Ovulation phase, ~Day 14(ish). Luteinizing hormone surges, and an egg is released. This phase usually lasts between 16-32 hours.
- Luteal phase, ~Days 15-28. Progesterone increases to prepare your uterus and body for possible pregnancy. This is mostly a higher hormone phase, where estrogen and progesterone reach their peak levels about 5 days prior to your period, before dropping off as your period starts. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms such as bloating and cramps may arise toward the end of this phase.
*Some sources, including the Merck Manual, include the menstrual phase within the early part of the follicular phase, so that there are only 3 total cycle phases (follicular, ovulation, and luteal). For simplicity and for the purposes of this article, we will keep menstruation as its own separate phase.
Your Cycle’s Impact on Training and Performance
Now that you have that important info on what exactly is going on in your body throughout the month, let’s talk about how this may affect your running.
The Impact on Running and Fitness Training
Hormone fluctuations and related physiological changes can and do impact female athletes during training, as Dr. Stacy Sims shares on her blog, although recent studies (here and here) have shown that the effects are mostly trivial. Not every athlete notices or has the same response to fluctuating hormones, so you may not need to make any adjustments to your training at all.
But if after tracking your cycle and comparing it to your training schedule you discover that your training is being impacted by your monthly menstrual cycle, you can adjust your training intensity up or down according to the menstrual cycle phase you’re in.
The Impact on Performance
Are there times of the month where your menstrual cycle could negatively affect your racing ability? “There isn’t a bad time of the month for performance,” states Dr. Stacy T. Sims. Dr. Sims is a renowned international exercise physiologist and nutrition scientist specializing in female athletes, who is particularly knowlegeable on the ways that the menstrual cycle affects female athletes. In her book, ROAR, Sims teaches female athletes about the fundamental differences between the sexes in sports, emphasizing that women are not small men, and therefore need to approach training and nutrition differently than men.
Here’s some great news: Personal records (PRs) can happen at any phase of a woman’s cycle, according to Dr. Sims. Proof in point: British pro runner Paula Radcliffe, who formerly held the women’s world record in the marathon, set her first marathon world record in 2002 while she was on her period and experiencing cramps! Radcliffe’s success at that time shows that you can perform just as well, if not at your very best, during your period.
Impact of Specific Menstrual Cycle Phases on Training (and Possible Adjustments)
Each phase of a woman’s cycle brings about different changes in the body which in turn can impact your training. The following information provides those impacts along with possible adjustments you can make to enhance your training on an as needed basis.
Menstrual Phase (Approx. Days 1-7)
- How Your Running Is Affected: You may have have higher energy levels, higher pain tolerance, and feel extra strong. Stronger race performances can occur at this time, especially if you are well prepared with the right period products to help you feel confident even with a heavy flow. Do what you need to do to navigate cramps, but know that running during your period can alleviate these. If you decide to take ibuprofen or Tylenol, know the risks which are discussed here.
- How You Might Adjust Your Running Training: Your body is primed to take on stress and adapt to harder training. Train at moderate to high intensities, and at moderate to high volume to take advantage of how you’re feeling.
Follicular Phase (Approx. Days 8- 14)
- How Your Running Is Affected: You still likely have higher energy levels, higher pain tolerance, and better memory – all post period. You typically are feeling good, energetic and strong. Stronger race performances at this time will likely occur and hooray, you don’t have to deal with period products at this time.
- How You Might Adjust Your Running Training: Similar to the menstrual phase, your body is prepared to take on stress and adapt to harder training. Train at moderate to high intensities, and at moderate to high volume to take advantage of how you’re feeling.
Ovulation Phase (approx. Day 14)
- How Your Running Is Affected: You may feel “bulletproof,” and have more energy. Your body is very stress-resilient in this phase. Your sleep tends to be better around this time.
- How You Might Adjust Your Running Training: Continue to increase your intensity and push yourself in training, but pay attention to how you feel and back off a bit if you feel that you are not recovering as well.
Luteal Phase (Approx. Days 15 – 28)
- How Your Running Is Affected: You may experience PMS, higher breathing rates, sensitivity to heat, bloating and cramps. You may feel feel more sluggish and forgetful and have a less-positive mood. You may also crave sugary and starchy foods as your blood glucose levels shift in response to the hormonal changes taking place. You have less resistance to stress.
- How You Might Adjust Your Running Training: Focus on recovery by adding rest days if needed. Train easier and don’t schedule your hardest efforts during this timeframe if PMS is significantly affecting you. Keep your training at a low, medium or high volume, and at a low or medium intensity as needed.
The most important thing is to listen to your body and its unique needs. You may find that your body reacts differently than what we’ve written here. You don’t have to sync your running training to your cycle, and honestly, it may just cause you added stress to do so. Like in most situations, you do what’s best for YOU and YOUR body.
Ultimately, what we do know is that running through your period is not only completely fine, but encouraged. So let’s talk about what products work best to run through that time of the month.
What’s the best menstrual product to wear on your period as a runner?
Luckily, we women are not limited to just using thick, uncomfortable maxi pads or tampon products (that may or may not stand up to the job) any longer. Let’s delve into some modern menstrual products that may be complete game-changers for you if you haven’t tried them yet!
Menstrual Cups and Discs
Cups and discs are extremely effective and are a popular option for runners with a heavier flow or who might not be able to frequently access a restroom. They differ from tampons because they actually catch your menstrual fluid instead of absorbing it. You can’t feel them when worn properly, and they are easy to empty and clean on-the-go. Plus, wearing a cup or disc means that you don’t have to worry about packing extra backup tampons or pads for your run or race. Many are able to be worn for over 10 hours without needing to be emptied.
Leakproof Period Underwear and Activewear
Another great option for runners is period underwear, such as Thinx, Knix and Modibodi. This special absorbent underwear catches your menstruation fluid (eliminating the need for any other sanitary products), and can be washed and reused. The special fabric technology used in period underwear absorbs flow, controls odor, wicks moisture, and prevents leaks. The highest absorbency period underwear from Knix even has the capacity to hold up to 8 tampons’ worth of fluid in the bikini version and 6 tampons’ worth in the thong style! And if you are one of the 25-45% of women who experiences bladder leaks, these panties work great for that, too.
Justanaveragerunner shares the following on this Reddit thread about what to wear during your period: “The super absorbent underwear last for several hours for me, long enough to get me through long runs on even my heaviest day.”
What’s more, these companies also offer activewear with a built-in period-proofing design. Whether you’re someone who prefers running in classic running shorts, compression shorts, leggings or even a skort, you.have.options!
If you’re just looking more for a pair of leggings that provides a back-up for peace of mind, consider the Stay in Play 7/8 tights from Adidas that are meant to be worn as a leak-proof option when worn in addition to a pad or tampon.
These bottoms are game-changers for active women on their periods. We are here for it and bet you are, too.
But, CAN you wear a pad while running?
Some women are just most comfortable wearing a pad while on their period, and the great news is that you can absolutely run with a good old-fashioned pad.Your comfort is of the utmost importance on your period, and if that means wearing a pad, then go for it!
The good news is that pads these days are not what they used to be 20 or more years ago. You can find the perfect one for your active lifestyle that stays put and doesn’t chafe.
Modern pads are available in various lengths, thicknesses, absorption levels, and with features such as wings (or not!). Always even makes pads that correlate to underwear size, flow, and whether or not they’re being worn during the day. You can truly customize your pads to your own body and needs; we recommend having a variety of options in order to use the one that’s best depending on your flow and how long you’ll be out running.
Last Word for Menstruating Female Runners
We hope this guide has been helpful so you can best navigate running on your period, as well as training and performing effectively throughout your monthly cycle. With this information, we hope you are able to continue to train and perform to your best ability, no matter what time of the month it is!
And remember, a regular period is a sign of good health. Running too much or too intensely, along with not eating enough to support your running, can cause missed periods or make them stop altogether. If this happens to you, it is important for you to consult with your doctor immediately.
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