Wow, where do I begin...
Back in 2015 I decided to come off the contraceptive pill after being on it for nearly 10 years. Without knowing very much about the pill, I just had this gut feeling that it wasn’t the best thing for my body. So, I stopped taking it.
At the time, I was heavily into my strength training, crossfit, and was enjoying the process of building muscle and getting leaner. After 6 months post pill, I still hadn’t regained my cycle. I’d heard that it was common for women with low body fat percentage to lose their cycles, but I wanted some clarification. I decided to visit my local GP who advised me that it was “normal” and suggested that I go back on the pill. I chose not to take this option, and continued training as normal. I figured it was a blessing that I didn’t have to worry about having my period whilst training anymore.
In 2018 my body began to fail me. Injury after injury, I was constantly visiting my physiotherapist, getting MRI scans and taking time off training. I suffered stress fractures of the tibia on 3 different occasions, high hamstring tendinopathy on both legs, glute tears, a fat pad impingement, piriformis syndrome, and a whole lot of niggles.
Something didn’t seem right and I started to question my absent menstrual cycle. So, I began to do my research. I listened to podcast after podcast, read books, blogs, articles, and more studies than I could count. I soon learnt about the female athlete triad, which is an interrelationship dysfunction of the menstrual cycle, low energy availability and decreased bone mineral density. Every symptom that this condition described was like reading about myself. This is where my recovery to regaining my menstrual cycle began.
I soon started working with a Chinese Medicine Doctor who specialised in female fertility as she had been highly recommended. She assessed my lifestyle and helped me to implement tools and strategies to decrease my bodies “fight or flight" response. This involved acupuncture, herbs, eating more food, less training, and more recovery. After 9 months I still hadn’t regained my cycle. The thing is, I was completely resisting the process. I wasn’t willing to give up training and I already felt disheartened after losing so much progress in my strength. So, I decided to give up and begin training as normal again. It just wasn't worth all the years I'd spent training to get to this point. As long as I implement more recovery and ensure that I eat enough, surely my period will return….right? In March 2020 I was the fittest I’d ever been. I'd joined a running squad and was running 5 days per week. My pace was improving, I could run for hours and I was the leanest I’d been. I'd just completed my longest trial run of 28km and was motivated to run my first full marathon the following year. My injuries continued to pop up, but I kept telling myself "I'll just tick off this next goal and then I'll focus on slowing down and regaining my menstrual cycle" (I wish I could go back and slap myself).
After running through a constantly sore shin and ignoring the signs, I ended up with a high grade stress fracture of my tibia. It was a 16km run that tipped me over the edge and ended with me unable to walk!
I was advised to have 10 - 12 weeks off training, and at this point I didn't even care because I was completely exhausted. I was over it. I was always sore, hungry, tired, and I couldn’t remember the last time I felt pain free. What is the point of all of this if I’m constantly getting injured? Training is supposed to make me fitter and stronger, not broken.
So the very next day, I began my recovery. I went all in. I fully surrendered. No exercise. No training. I just flicked a switch and BAM, I was on. I started eating more food than what has ever felt normal and comfortable. I ate as soon as I woke up and right before I went to bed. No limits. I put myself first. I did breathwork everyday, meditated, cold showers, ice baths, energy healing, yoga, and most importantly, I gained weight. I had fully accepted the process. Mind, body and soul I was committed. And in 6 weeks I regained my menstrual cycle, something my body hadn’t done for 5 years.
Where am I today? I have educated myself for the last 9 months on how to optimise food and training to best suit the female menstrual cycle. I now train with my cycle and adjust my training to work with my physiology rather than against it. I have a regular menstrual cycle, I’m running 4 - 5 days per week with a few strength sessions and I’m recovering better than ever. Now that my hormones are balanced, I can genuinely feel the difference in my bodies abilities. My menstrual cycle will always be my way of keeping tabs on my internal health. Being a female a coach, I’ve been able pass on my knowledge to my clients and implement these strategies into their training sessions. It has provided an incredible element to my coaching and my clients perform better for it. They understand that it's not their fitness or strength decreasing, it's their physiology changing!
For any women who may be suffering with a similar experience, please don’t ignore the signs. If your period is missing or irregular and you’re constantly getting injured, it’s a red flag that something needs addressing. Not having a period may be convenient at the time, but the repercussions can have serious long term effects. Understanding your own cycle is a powerful tool to not only optimise your training and performance, but to help you connect with your body and ensure that you’re functioning at an optimal level.
If you have any questions about training around your menstrual cycle, please reach out to me via my instagram @elycewintle I'd be more than happy to chat about it and direct you to the best resources!