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Menstrual Cycle Tracking and the Female Athlete

In 2014, the European Journal of Sport Science published a report that analyzed sport studies between 2011 and 2013 that evaluated athlete performance.

When the researchers dropped one study that heavily skewed the result, they came up with a staggering statistic:

Only 3 percent of research participants were women.

It is only in recent years that the biological and physical differences between male and female bodies have been acknowledged in sport science. Findings from studies that analyzed men’s bodies (i.e. concussions) were applied to female athletes without a second thought. Even in the European Journal of Sport Science study, which concentrated on relatively recent research, men still dominated the participant field.

It is time that changes – and perhaps a good place to start would be with menstrual cycle tracking.

In June, the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) captured the attention of the country and the world with its soccer World Cup heroics. And in recent weeks, the team revealed that it worked with British sport scientist Georgie Bruinvels to maximize their potential on the field in the run-up to its World Cup victory.

“Hormonal fluctuations can affect things like biomechanics, laxity of ligaments and muscular firing patterns,” Bruinvels told The Guardian. “It’s more about being proactive around warming up properly or recovering properly, at certain times.”

Bruinvels was able to help Dawn Scott, the high performance coach for USWNT, to individualize period tracking for each of the team’s 23 players through an app that featured training and nutritional suggestions tailored to the changing hormone levels throughout a woman’s cycle.

The women on the USWNT are certainly not the first athletes to experiment with this, but their willingness to discuss the topic publicly has given it new momentum. Scott, who is also the high performance coach for the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) told Good Morning America that she has already began implementing some educational aspects of menstrual tracking to the league’s players and additionally hopes that it can become a regular part of youth programs.

“For the 15-year-old girl who doesn’t have the support of a national team, I want to make it so she can talk about it with a female coach and a male coach,” Scott told GMA. “We need to make people aware of it and not embarrassed by it.”

Advancements in period tracking are just one way that sport science can expand to better suit female athletes. With women’s sports consistently on the rise across the globe in terms of ratings, fan attendance and participation, it’s about time science catches up.