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Sports Med. 1993 Dec;16(6):400-30.

Effect of the different phases of the menstrual cycle and oral contraceptives on athletic performance.

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Allan McGavin Sports Medicine Centre, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.


The female athlete, during her reproductive years, has a complex and ever-changing milieu of female steroid hormones, whether it is the endogenous variations in estradiol and progesterone of a regular menstrual cycle, or the exogenous synthetic hormones of the oral contraceptives. Both estrogens and progestins have individual, interactive and sometimes opposing physiological actions with potential implications for the exercising female. In retrospective surveys on the menstrual cycle and performance, from 37 to 63% of athletes did not report any cycle 'phase' detriment, while 13 to 29% reported an improvement during menstruation. The best performances were generally in the immediate postmenstrual days, with the worse performances during the premenstrual interval and the first few days of menstrual flow. However, this type of study has an inherent built-in bias, and is further limited by the lack of substantiation of cycle phase. Many of the women studied associated premenstrual symptoms, such as fluid retention, weight gain, mood changes, and dysmenorrhoea with performance decrement. Such factors have also been causally linked with an increase in traumatic musculoskeletal injuries during the premenstrual and menstrual period. Neuromuscular coordination, manual dexterity, judgement and reaction time for complex tests have been shown to be adversely affected in women with premenstrual syndrome or symptoms, but confounding variables may include nutrition status and blood sugar levels. In addition, not all women suffer to the same level with premenstrual symptoms. Fluctuations in many physiological functions occur throughout the normal menstrual cycle. Results of early studies are difficult to interpret owing to the small numbers of women studied, wide range of fitness levels, and variability in the definitions of cycle phase. Nevertheless, investigators did not document any significant changes in measures of athletic performance as a function of timing of testing during the menstrual cycle. Swimmers have shown a premenstrual worsening of performance times, with improvement during the menstrual phase and on the eighth day of the cycle. An increase in perceived exertion was noted premenstrually and during the early menstrual stage with very intense exercise. In cross-country skiers, the best times were recorded in the postovulatory and postmenstrual phases, prompting the recommendation that training loads be selected according to cycle phase to achieve maximum benefit. Investigations using estradiol and progesterone levels as a confirmatory index of ovulation have not generally found significant differences across the cycle in either maximal or submaximal exercise responses, although a slight decrease in aerobic capacity during the luteal phase has been reported.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS).

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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