30 Aug, 2013

Maintain Your Cycle

Maintain Your Cycle

A woman’s body is sensitive to change, so when you suddenly increase (or start) high-intensity running while training for a goal event or chasing a PB, your body may respond negatively. Besides niggly over-use injuries potentially cropping up, like ITB or shinsplints, another area where problems can occur is the menstrual cycle. Not only can the cycle be disturbed, it may disappear altogether, a condition known as amenorrhea. Now this may sound convenient to many women, but it’s a serious condition that can lead to osteoporosis, the weakening of your bones, and continuous stress fractures, due to the reduction in oestrogen produced by your body.



Amenorrhea can occur for a variety of reasons, some of which are perfectly normal, such as pregnancy or menopause, but others may be a sign of a medical problem, such as a hormonal imbalance, or a side-effect of medication or contraception. Other possible causes could be lifestyle-related:

?         Stress can temporarily alter the functioning of the hypothalamus, the area of the brain that controls the hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle, notably oestrogen and progesterone. Ovulation and menstruation may stop as a result, but usually resume once stress decreases.

?         Excessively low body weight interrupts many hormonal functions in the body, potentially halting ovulation. Thus women with an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia, often stop having periods.

?         Excessive exercise can also affect the hypothalamus, resulting in the disappearance of menstruation.


Looking at those three lifestyle factors, you should understand that a female runner doing excessive high-intensity, long distance training could be at risk of developing amenorrhea, given the combination of low body fat, stress and high energy expenditure.



If you’re upping your training, make sure you seek nutritional guidance to properly nourish your body for that extra effort and mileage. Quite simply, more training means more nutrition! If your period then becomes light, unbalanced or eventually disappears for two or more cycles – and you’re not pregnant – see your doctor immediately. Take the signals as a red flag that you need to slow down and cut back a bit – by at least 20% of your training volume – because no race or running goal is more important than your health!