Tackling A Taboo: Ladies Listen Up
It may not appeal to half our audience, but we’re here to talk about periods.
The conversation is growing louder among elite female athletes, and the experts say, despite the longstanding misconception, it’s not ok to be missing or skipping your period.
- Sharing their stories: Four times CrossFit Games athlete Kristi Eramo-O’Connell tracks her monthly cycle and said: “Stress, whether physical or emotional can do bad things to the body and as females, we need to have our period and a regular cycle to maintain our reproductive health.”
Clearly, it’s been a priority for the upper echelon of the CrossFitters with the likes of Annie Thorisdottir, Camille Leblanc-Bazinet and Kara Saunders among those who’ve announced pregnancies, still in the peak of their careers.
But it’s not just about babies, far from it.
- Eramo-O’Connell recalls being so lean at the beginning of high-school, that her monthly cycle went missing: “I also suffered from several stress fractures and low iron during those years,” she told the Morning Chalk Up.
She, like many others, was put on birth control: “I now know that has not been a great fix,” she said.
- “I had a struggle coming off birth control with severe pain when it comes to menstruation. Almost to the point of not being able to exercise and it terrifies me when it comes to competing.”
Kristi now uses the app “Daysy” to track her cycle every single day and also uses WHOOP to monitor how she’s feeling at certain times of the month. “When training, I will back off. There are some days my body is so drained and I have worse cramps than others…It helps me understand that some days you just need to let your body rest.”
Dr. Stacy Sims is an Exercise Physiologist and Nutrition Scientist from New Zealand, leading the way when it comes to fuelling and training for elite female athletes.
- “The baseline metric for health is having your period,” she said. “The undercurrent myth is if you’re training hard enough, and you’re performing well enough, you’ll lose your period.”
Dr Sims said in fact, it’s exactly the opposite: “Bone density goes down, muscle integrity goes down and you can’t hit intensity. You can’t recover.”
Regionals athlete Alison Scudds found focusing on regular periods helped her break through the plateaux of building muscle mass. Scudds has been pretty vocal about her journey on her blog for several years, particularly her experience with hormonal birth control (HBC)
- She told the Morning Chalk Up: “As professional athletes, you want to do everything in your power to optimize your performance, so if you’re putting synthetic hormones in your body without wondering if it could decrease your performance, you’re leaving a stone unturned.”
She, like Dr. Sims, sees her period as her “monthly report card” and also uses the Daysy Fertility tracker to monitor her monthly cycles.
- “The day I start my period I have some cramps. They are usually a little worse if my diet hasn’t been on point, but never anything that will keep me out of the gym,” she said. “I think because CrossFit has always been founded in health, women in CrossFit will be some of the first to really crusade this “new wave” holistic approach,” Scudds added.
Another “crusader” is Kate Gordon who competed as part of Team X-Terminators at the 2019 CrossFit Games. Gordon is very honest and upfront with her 20 thousand Instagram followers about her periods and even took to social media ahead of the Australian CrossFit Championship, to let fans know things were…well, on track.
- “I track my cycle and I track my cervical fluid in an app called Kindara,” said told the Morning Chalk Up. “Because I work hard to eat whole foods, sleep a lot and not overtrain, my period is relatively symptomless. This means it doesn’t impact my training in the same way someone experiencing bad PMS would.”
It hasn’t always been this way though. Kate lost her period for 3 months back in 2016 and struggled to find consistency again due to overtraining and undereating.
- “Now I eat a lot more food, I prepare most of my own foods and include lots of healthy fats …” she said. “People are learning. That’s exactly how I learned. Through social media, some brilliant women were sharing their information and I was able to find more and more valuable resources and then that lead me to the books and then that lead me to my own experimentation and while I am not an expert, I am for sure an expert on my body and I know SO MUCH more than I used to,” she added.
Dr. Stacy Sims lives by the mantra “Women are not small men,” and by understanding the biomechanical differences, she says women can use their physiology to their advantage.
- “It’s not reinventing the entire thing. It’s just becoming aware that there are certain days where we can maximize heavy training and there are certain days we can maximize technique and those days can be different for each athlete.”
She said that’s why athletes — from the box to Games level — should be tracking their cycle and monitoring mood to maximize training.