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Menstruation’s Effect on Sports Performance Isn’t Quite What We Expected : ScienceAlert

Female athletes have faster reaction times and make fewer mistakes when they have their period, although they feel their performance suffers compared to other phases of their menstrual cycle, new research suggests.

The study of more than 200 athletes, led by researchers at University College London, sought to understand why injury rates are much higher in female athletes than their male counterparts.

As the popularity of women’s sports has skyrocketed, so have their injuries, sparking much debate about the possible reasons.

Hormones are an obvious difference between people who have a menstrual cycle and those who do not have one or who use hormonal contraceptives. It’s unclear what effect those hormones have as they rise and fall throughout the menstrual cycle, although research points to changes in brain function that could reasonably affect an athlete’s performance, or perhaps make her more prone to injury. .

While neuroscientists have been curious about these monthly brain changes, sports scientists have barely investigated how the brain function of professional athletes is boosted or impeded by hormonal changes and how this fluctuation affects injury risk.

“Changes in spatial cognition could, in theory, be a risk factor contributing to injuries, especially in fast-paced sports that require millisecond precision in interactions with moving objects,” said Flaminia Ronca, a sports scientist. from University College London, and colleagues. They explain in their published article.

Female athletes, for example, often report feeling clumsy during ovulation or that their performance worsens in the latter part of their menstrual cycle, the luteal phase, and when they have their period.

But studies attempting to measure those perceived effects have been inconclusive, as strength and power possibly peak around ovulation, and endurance perhaps declines during menstruation.

Sports scientists have also focused heavily on the biomechanics of the female body that could explain higher injury rates among female athletes, particularly anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears. Differences in technique, training and again hormones could be a factor here.

It makes sense that hormonal changes can loosen joint ligaments and tendons, causing more injuries at certain times of the month. However, loose joints do not explain other types of injuries beyond ACL tears, such as concussions and muscle strains, which also occur more frequently during certain menstrual phases.

So, Ronca and his colleagues recruited 241 participants for their study, including 96 male athletes, 105 female athletes who menstruated, and 47 who reported using contraceptives.

The athletes were tested on a battery of online cognitive tests, completed two weeks apart and designed to mimic what athletes’ brains have to do during games: think quickly, react quickly, process spatial information, and stay in focus.

The study was unable to explore individual differences in cognitive performance between phases of the menstrual cycle, and relied on menstruating women reporting their current phase on the day of testing (two-thirds used a period tracking app).

In general, menstruating athletes tended to perform worse on cognitive tasks in the last follicular phase of their cycle, when they were approaching ovulation, and in the last luteal phase, just before bleeding.

But their cognitive performance peaked during menstruation, and that was despite the fact that these athletes felt worse when they had their period and suspected that it negatively affected their performance.

“What’s surprising is that the participants performed better when they were on their period, which challenges what women, and perhaps society in general, assume about their abilities at this particular time of the month,” Ronca said. The Guardians Tobi Tomas.

With no differences in reaction times and accuracy between male and female athletes, the researchers’ next step is to explore how different types or doses of hormonal contraceptives could also affect athletes’ brain function, or even protect against injuries, as some previous research suggests. .

The study has been Neuropsychology.

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