Swim Magazine

Busting seven myths about periods and sports

Elite British open-water swimmer Amber Keegan wants to bust the myths around the menstrual cycle and watersports. Disclaimer: This article should not be taken as medical advice, but is meant to start a conversation and break the stigma.

WORDS: Amber Keegan
PICTURE: Shutterstock

Why we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about periods 

Periods in normal life are still stigmatised, so it’s no wonder that taboo exists around periods and watersports. On top of the existing archetypes, we can feel vulnerable in a costume if we’re bloated, or we might worry about leaks, or maybe just have been told our whole life that water and periods don’t mix. This myth does us a disservice, because watersports are some of the best options to manage period symptoms. It’s less often physical discomfort and more often misconceptions that keep girls and women away from the water on their periods. 

The important health benefits of periods

Periods might be inconvenient, but they’re also a sign that the incredibly important hormones are working their magic. 

For example, oestrogen peaks just before ovulation when our eggs are released. It helps to boost mood, maintain cholesterol levels and improve skin, hair and bone health. Around ovulation, testosterone is produced which helps to build muscle and bone density and improves brain function. Progesterone is produced after ovulation, supporting brain health and nervous system function. Periods are individual, but many misconceptions will be familiar to a lot of us.

Myth 1: The pill solves everything

For some people, the pill might be a crucial healthcare tool. But for many, it’s an easy contraceptive that is taken without really considering the downsides. For example, many people don’t know that the levels of hormones you get from a pill are not the same as from a period, and a withdrawal bleed is not the same as a period. Depending on the individual, this could be a good or a bad thing, which is why it’s important to speak to a medical professional when considering starting or stopping any medication.  

The pill has been an incredibly empowering medical discovery, and birth control saves lives, but it’s important to be made aware of the negatives as well as the positives.

Myth 2: It’s normal for periods to be irregular or absent if you’re active

Sport should not stop your periods. This is a misconception that many active people have, and unfortunately that many doctors still hold too. This is not placing the blame on GPs, they are ‘general practitioners’, who know an incredible amount about many things. But they aren’t reproductive experts, and you’re well within your rights to ask to see a specialist. Sport could stop or dysregulate your cycle, but if it does, this is something to be addressed with medical professionals, not something to be ignored. Missing a few periods might seem convenient at first, but consistently, it’s an abuse of your body and might come at a huge cost later down the line. 

Myth 3: Debilitating pain is inevitable

Women are told that pain is part of a period, and while this is often true, pain shouldn’t be so bad that it stops you from going about your daily life. Severe pain could be a sign of something more than a period. If you’re in so much pain that periods are interrupting your daily life, please do not simply suffer in silence.

Myth 4: You can’t exercise on your period

If you can bring yourself to move your body, even gently, the endorphins that your body release can reduce period pain. Watersports are a great option because you don’t have to support your body weight when your legs might feel like lead. Just remember to keep drinking water, because periods can cause dehydration.

Myth 5: Exercising will make you leak

Maybe once, a tampon seemed like the only option for doing watersports on your period, but thankfully that is no longer the case. The last decade has seen an explosion in the range and quality of period products. There are period cups, which don’t absorb any of the water you swim in and are cheaper and more environmentally friendly. Period swimwear is another option, and there are some beautiful options out there too, including WUKA and Modibodi.

Myth 6: You can’t perform on your period

Many factors go into performance, a period being just one. The most important thing is knowing your body. Some people will struggle at different times of the cycle, but organisations like FitrWoman have conducted some interesting research into how individuals can learn and track their bodies to work out what lifestyle interventions might help their symptoms. 

Myth 7: You just have to put up with it

Whether you’re interested in optimising performance or managing your symptoms, tracking symptoms and managing your lifestyle to reduce symptoms is a game changer. Tracking app Clue has a decent prediction tracker and their encyclopaedia is a fantastic educational tool. Fitrwoman has a science-based approach, working with Chelsea FC Women. The Fitrwoman app comes with recipes to match the part of your menstrual cycle, which can help to manage period symptoms. 

Understanding your periods can be empowering 

Periods are individual, and there is no universal answer for how you should or shouldn’t exercise on your period. With knowledge about your cycle comes the power to identify when things aren’t right, and to try to improve your symptom management. Only together, and by carrying the conversation back to your teammates, friends and family, can we break the stigma around periods and watersports. But we must break the stigma, because we all deserve to exercise when, and how, we like.