Running On Your Period: Here’s Everything You Need To Know

Can you still go running? And how is performance affected?

When I was studying the coursework to become a certified running coach, I was fascinated by the women’s health modules regarding the hormonal changes in the different phases of the menstrual cycle and how they affect exercise performance.

Like many female athletes, I had experienced menstrual cramps, PMS symptoms, back pain, and hormonal fluctuations that seemed to affect my energy levels and running performance from time to time.

Still, I didn’t have enough data to understand how the menstrual cycle affects running performance.

Although it can be uncomfortable to go running during your period, especially if you have heavy bleeding, bloating, period cramps, and generalized fatigue, it is possible and even beneficial for most female athletes to exercise during their period.

In this guide to running on your period, we will discuss the benefits, the hormonal fluctuations that occur during the different phases of the menstrual cycle and how they affect running performance, and tips for how to manage PMS symptoms and period cramps so that you can run during your period.

Running On Your Period How Your Menstrual Cycle Affects Your Running Game

Can You Go Running On Your Period?

New runners or younger female athletes may ask, “Can you go running during your period?“

The short answer is yes

Gynecologists and women’s health professionals say that exercise during menstruation is safe for almost all female athletes and may even help alleviate PMS symptoms such as bloating, fatigue, back pain, cramping, irritability, and headaches.

That said, high-intensity running during your period may be uncomfortable, especially if you have a heavy flow and are prone to iron-deficiency anemia.1National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2022, March 24). Anemia – iron-deficiency anemia. Www.nhlbi.nih.gov. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/anemia/iron-deficiency-anemia

‌Particularly if you struggle with severe PMS symptoms or PMDD, you may need to adjust your workouts, take a rest day, or consider low-impact or low-intensity cross-training on the first day of your period or the day before your cycle begins. 

Working with a women’s health specialist can also be beneficial for female athletes who deal with premenstrual symptoms, severe or painful periods, or very low energy levels either on your period or in different phases of the menstrual cycle.

A specialist can help you regulate your hormonal levels with oral contraceptives or other forms of birth control.

Running On Your Period How Your Menstrual Cycle Affects Your Running Game

How Does Your Period Affect Running Performance?

Although every female runner’s body differs, the average menstrual cycle is about 28 days long.

The menstrual cycle begins on the first day of your period. Ovulation occurs around day 14 or halfway through the menstrual cycle.

The first half of the menstrual cycle is known as the follicular phase, which goes from the first day of your period to the first day of ovulation.

The second half of the menstrual cycle is known as the luteal phase.

The luteal phase starts with the first day of ovulation and goes through the second half of the menstrual cycle until your next menses (period) begins.

During the follicular phase, estrogen levels rise once your period is over, but progesterone levels stay low and consistent throughout the follicular phase.

Estrogen levels peak just before ovulation. 

Ovulation occurs because a surge of losing power mode signals the ovaries to release an egg down the fallopian tube. If the egg is fertilized during ovulation, it will implant in the uterus, beginning pregnancy.

During the menstrual cycle’s luteal phase, progesterone levels increase while estrogen levels drop precipitously.

If the egg is not fertilized by sperm during ovulation, progesterone levels will also begin to drop. When both estrogen and progesterone levels are quite low, the uterine lining will shed, and bleeding during menses will begin. 

During your period, progesterone and estrogen are at their lowest levels relative to the hormonal fluctuations across the different menstrual cycle phases.

This can reduce energy and make you feel tired and lethargic, making it more difficult to find the energy and motivation to work out.

However, the good news is that in addition to the usual physical and mental health benefits of running, there are additional benefits of running on your period.

Running On Your Period How Your Menstrual Cycle Affects Your Running Game

What Are the Benefits of Running During Your Period?

#1: Decreasing PMS Symptoms

Many female runners experience at least some symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), such as mood swings, fatigue, bloating, headaches, back pain, cramps, and increased appetite.

Staying consistent with your training plan and running throughout your menstrual cycle2Yang, N.-Y., & Kim, S.-D. (2016). Effects of a Yoga Program on Menstrual Cramps and Menstrual Distress in Undergraduate Students with Primary Dysmenorrhea: A Single-Blind, Randomized Controlled Trial. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine22(9), 732–738. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2016.0058 can potentially help reduce the symptoms of PMS3Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS). (n.d.). Www.acog.org. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/premenstrual-syndrome?utm_source=redirect&utm_medium=web&utm_campaign=otn that can linger during the first days of your period.

#2: Boosting Your Mood

Mood swings, irritability, and a general feeling of malaise and low mood are extremely common during your period.

One of the benefits of running during your period (or any high-intensity workout) is that you get the natural boost of feel-good and pain-relieving endorphins4Pilozzi, A., Carro, C., & Huang, X. (2020). Roles of β-Endorphin in Stress, Behavior, Neuroinflammation, and Brain Energy Metabolism. International Journal of Molecular Sciences22(1), 338. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms22010338 and endocannabinoids, and a surge of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin that can help elevate a low mood.

#3: Decreasing Pain and Discomfort

Additionally, the post-run endorphins and endocannabinoids can help ease discomfort5Basso, J. C., & Suzuki, W. A. (2017). The Effects of Acute Exercise on Mood, Cognition, Neurophysiology, and Neurochemical Pathways: a Review. Brain Plasticity2(2), 127–152. https://doi.org/10.3233/bpl-160040 by helping to block pain receptors.6Pilozzi, A., Carro, C., & Huang, X. (2020). Roles of β-Endorphin in Stress, Behavior, Neuroinflammation, and Brain Energy Metabolism. International Journal of Molecular Sciences22(1), 338. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms22010338

‌Additionally, exercise increases blood flow, which not only helps you feel more limber but can also reduce period cramps, muscle aches, low back pain, and headaches.

Therefore, if you have cramps, headaches, or muscle aches during your period, exercising on your period can ease some of the physical discomfort7Chaudhry, S. R., & Kum, B. (2019, July 29). Biochemistry, Endorphin. Nih.gov; StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470306/ as much as it helps you feel happier and more energetic.

Running On Your Period How Your Menstrual Cycle Affects Your Running Game

#4: Maximizing Strength Gains

Many female runners fear they won’t run well on race day if they have their period, but some studies have actually found the opposite.

For example, one study8Wikström-Frisén, L. (2016). Training and hormones in physically active women : with and without oral contraceptive use. Umu.diva-Portal.org. https://umu.diva-portal.org/smash/record.jsf?pid=diva2:955835&dswid=3885 found that the first two weeks of your menstrual cycle may actually be the best time to see marked improvement in strength and power, so you might find you are able to run faster and have some great workouts!

Studies9Janse de Jonge, X. A. K. (2003). Effects of the menstrual cycle on exercise performance. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.)33(11), 833–851. https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200333110-00004 suggest that running performance does not seem to be compromised during the menstruation part of the menstrual cycle.

In fact, back in 2002 when the great marathon runner Paula Radcliffe set the women’s marathon world record at the Chicago Marathon, she notoriously suffered from painful period cramps throughout the last third of the race.

Similarly, Uta Pippig famously won the 1996 Boston Marathon with period blood streaming down her leg as she triumphantly crossed the finish line, demonstrating that female runners don’t have to let period cramps and bleeding during their “time of the month” stop them from having a fantastic race day performance.

Running On Your Period How Your Menstrual Cycle Affects Your Running Game

How Do I Run During My Period?

Here are some tips for running on your period:

#1: Be Prepared

Tracking your menstrual cycle with a women’s health app like Flo can help you be aware of the hormonal fluctuations and when the first day of your period is coming.

This will help you have the necessary menstrual supplies such as tampons, the menstrual cup, period pants, sanitary napkins, or other period products if you are traveling for race day or simply running after work or at the gym where you won’t have your home supply of period products with you.

#2: Watch Your Diet

Be sure to hydrate with plenty of water and reduce your sodium intake during your period and the several days before to minimize bloating, headaches, and fatigue.

If you are craving carbohydrates, choose healthy, fibrous carbs such as sweet potatoes, whole grains, vegetables, and legumes rather than highly processed carbs like sugary cereals and sweets.

Sticking with a healthy diet can be difficult when you are dealing with PMS symptoms, but you will feel less sluggish and have better running performance if you feed your body quality nutrition rather than foods that increase bloating.

Running On Your Period How Your Menstrual Cycle Affects Your Running Game

#3: Treat Menstrual Cramps

As a running coach, my female runners typically say that painful period cramps are the main reason why they skip workouts or don’t want to run during “that time of the month.“

If you have heavy bleeding and painful periods, you should talk with your gynecologist about oral contraceptives like birth control pills, which can sometimes help alleviate some of the PMS symptoms.

For more “normal periods,” or mild premenstrual syndrome cramps, there are various ways to lessen the bloating, back pain, and menstrual cramps, such as using a hot water bottle or heating pad, soaking in a warm bath, and taking ibuprofen or Midol.

Personally, I use the LUXEAZE Serena portable heating pad for period cramps and back pain when I am traveling to run a race or just sitting and working before I go out for my run.

Unlike a regular heating pad, the LUXEAZE Serena is portable because it has a rechargeable battery, so you don’t have to be near an outlet, which is great for driving to meet a friend to run or heading to the gym or stashing in your running bag for race day. 

There are also four massage intensity modes and four different heat levels to get the perfect cramping relief. It is super slim so people can’t tell you are wearing it under your clothes, which I love! 

I’m also obsessed with the Opal Cool One pad for body aches and the Opal Cool Gal Pals for sore breasts, both of which can otherwise deter me from feeling like running.

They ease discomfort and inflammation and help me feel up to running.

Running On Your Period How Your Menstrual Cycle Affects Your Running Game

#4: Listen to Your Body

As when exercising at any point in time, when you are running during your period, it is always important to pay attention to your body and how you are feeling. 

Just because you can run during your period, and it is advisable to exercise, if you are really not feeling well or if your workout is making you feel worse, heed the signals from your body that you might need to take a rest day or adjust your planned training session.

Between symptoms of PMS such as bloating, cramps, and temporary weight gain to fatigue and iron loss, many female athletes see amenorrhea as a welcome relief from an otherwise monthly annoyance that gets in the way of training and competing at their best.

However, unless otherwise guided by your doctor, getting your period consistently is important for supporting bone health and overall wellness.

If you are habitually struggling to run during your period because of symptoms, speak with your doctor or gynecologist about possible oral contraceptives or ways to manage your flow and PMS symptoms so that you can feel your best.

Running On Your Period How Your Menstrual Cycle Affects Your Running Game

References

  • 1
    National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2022, March 24). Anemia – iron-deficiency anemia. Www.nhlbi.nih.gov. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/anemia/iron-deficiency-anemia
  • 2
    Yang, N.-Y., & Kim, S.-D. (2016). Effects of a Yoga Program on Menstrual Cramps and Menstrual Distress in Undergraduate Students with Primary Dysmenorrhea: A Single-Blind, Randomized Controlled Trial. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine22(9), 732–738. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2016.0058
  • 3
    Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS). (n.d.). Www.acog.org. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/premenstrual-syndrome?utm_source=redirect&utm_medium=web&utm_campaign=otn
  • 4
    Pilozzi, A., Carro, C., & Huang, X. (2020). Roles of β-Endorphin in Stress, Behavior, Neuroinflammation, and Brain Energy Metabolism. International Journal of Molecular Sciences22(1), 338. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms22010338
  • 5
    Basso, J. C., & Suzuki, W. A. (2017). The Effects of Acute Exercise on Mood, Cognition, Neurophysiology, and Neurochemical Pathways: a Review. Brain Plasticity2(2), 127–152. https://doi.org/10.3233/bpl-160040
  • 6
    Pilozzi, A., Carro, C., & Huang, X. (2020). Roles of β-Endorphin in Stress, Behavior, Neuroinflammation, and Brain Energy Metabolism. International Journal of Molecular Sciences22(1), 338. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms22010338
  • 7
    Chaudhry, S. R., & Kum, B. (2019, July 29). Biochemistry, Endorphin. Nih.gov; StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470306/
  • 8
    Wikström-Frisén, L. (2016). Training and hormones in physically active women : with and without oral contraceptive use. Umu.diva-Portal.org. https://umu.diva-portal.org/smash/record.jsf?pid=diva2:955835&dswid=3885
  • 9
    Janse de Jonge, X. A. K. (2003). Effects of the menstrual cycle on exercise performance. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.)33(11), 833–851. https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200333110-00004
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

2 thoughts on “Running On Your Period: Here’s Everything You Need To Know”

  1. Thank you for this helpfull article.
    There is more and more information about the menstrual cycle and how it affects running and training in generall. What I cannot find however is an example of a training plan for like 10k or a half marathon for women – in which you make use of the cycle.

    Reply

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