Sport Menstruation cycles mapped by app helps coaches boost team performance

03:50  19 february  2020
03:50  19 february  2020 Source:   msn.com

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a person posing for the camera: AFLW player Lauren Arnell says what is usually a taboo topic is anything but at the club, even with male coaches (ABC News: Tim Swanston)© Provided by ABC Grandstand AFLW player Lauren Arnell says what is usually a taboo topic is anything but at the club, even with male coaches (ABC News: Tim Swanston)

The Brisbane Lions Women's team have begun tracking their menstrual cycles to optimise players recovery in a bid to help them secure the AFLW premiership.

The team's high performance coaching staff began tracking the cycles of 30 players since the inception of the AFLW, three years ago.

Coach Matt Green said the monitoring has given staff important data to understand how each individual athlete is responding to training loads and nutrition.

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Monitor your cycle and keep track of your strong and efficient days as well as your more challenging times of the month. I find it easier to color code days: yellow for smiley strong days, gray for tough, challenging days and blue for anything in between.

"It's just mainly around a couple of different things — the level of pain that they're having and if they're having their period for one. Then whether it's light, moderate or heavy makes a delineation for us around what the impact of menstruation might be on them," Green said.

A similar method was used by the USA women's soccer team, who tracked player's periods in the lead up to the 2019 Women's World Cup.

The National Women's Soccer League credited the breakthrough use of period tracking as one of the strategies that aided their success.

La Trobe university professor Kay Crossley has also been working with the AFLW in injury prevention.

"We're certainly planning studies where we're trying to look at the relationship between menstrual cycle and a variety of injuries, not just ACL injuries and also trying to do some work in the performance space," Professor Crossley said.

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"The problem from a research point of view, because there actually aren't that many women playing in the elite level at the moment, is it's probably going to take a couple of seasons before we've got data we can use."

Brisbane Lion's player Lauren Arnell said the usually taboo topic is anything but at the club, even with male coaches.

"If anything you hear about it all the time at training. With 30 players, it's probably one in four that's going to have their period each session," she said.

"In terms of the impact on the training, a lot of the time, it's really just if it's affecting you heavily, you can have conversations and training may be monitored and altered."

Arnell hopes to see more education for all women, not just elite athletes.

"What we're finding now particularly with women, at any level, is that you need to learn that you've got to replace what you're burning," she said.

"From what we're learning, it can have a real impact on how tired you are and if you period's regular or not. I'm sure there's more education to be done."

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Why it's important to monitor menstruation

Green said the main aim of tracking periods was to ensure players avoided an energy deficiency known as the Female Athlete Triad.

Alarm bells start ringing immediately when a player reports missing their monthly cycle.

"That gives us an opportunity then to have that conversation in the first place around why has the period been missed," he said.

Staff can then engage with the team's dieticians, psychologists, physio and medical staff to implement strategies to get their period back or ensure they get out of the cycle of low energy availability.

Clare Minahan from Griffith University has worked with several elite women's sporting teams including the Jillaroos, Swimming Australia and the Gold Coast Suns.

Professor Minahan said it was concerning that elite athletes still thought skipping a period was normal.

"If that occurs for more than three months in a row that means they have amenorrhea and that needs to be addressed," she said.

American cyclist Ruth Winder was recently in Australia and won the Santos Tour Down Under.

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Winder is a national champion who also suffered amenorrhea. She worked closely with her coach and women's health specialist to restore her monthly cycles.

"I don't like the word 'issue', but it is something that's really important in women's sport and women's health in general. I've had a lot of help and a lot of feedback trying to figure it out," she said.

Her plan of attack included focussing on her nutrition and also scaling back the volume of her training.

"It's not a smooth road and I'm still really working on it to be honest. But it's just something you always need to keep working on and make sure you're always getting enough nutrition.

"It's just something that needs to be talked about more and we have a lot of male coaches out there and just getting a man to say the word 'period' can be hard."

Not an easy fix

The Brisbane Lions use an app which requires each player to check in daily with a simple questionnaire about how they're feeling at training and at that point in their cycle.

Green said the app helped the players understand the general fluctuations and expectations around their period.

"So when are the right times to be pushing recovery? When are the right times to be eating certain foods that will aid with limiting bloating and aiding in fatigue and all of those different types of things?," he said.

In the UK, the Chelsea Women's Football club also use an app to track their player's periods.

Staff have reportedly designed individual plans for each player tailored to minimise injury.

The tracking is used to help the footballers manage weight fluctuations throughout the month and reduce vulnerability to soft tissue injury.

Professor Minahan said it was important to dispel the myth that a menstrual cycle could be limiting the performance of elite female athletes.

"It means that their hormones are at their lowest and will have the least physiological effect on their performance," she said.

"Missing a period means you're not at your optimum health and so if you're not at your optimum health, there is potential that you also can't be at your optimum performance."

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