To explore athletes’ past and current experiences and perceptions of the menstrual cycle in relation to its impact on sporting performance.
15 international female rugby players participated in individual semi-structured interviews (age: 24.5±6.2 years). All interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim, resulting in 37 376 words of text for descriptive and thematic analysis. Inter-rater reliability checks resulted in a concordance of agreement of 83%.
Almost all athletes (93%) reported menstrual cycle-related symptoms. Thirty-three per cent perceived heavy menstrual bleeding and 67% considered these symptoms impaired their performances. Two-thirds of athletes self-medicated to alleviate symptoms. Thematic analysis generated 262 meaning units, 38 themes, 10 categories and 4 general dimensions. The four general dimensions were: (1) symptoms: physiological and psychological menstrual cycle-related symptoms such as dysmenorrhoea, flooding, reduced energy levels, worry, distraction, fluctuating emotions and reduced motivation; (2) impact: perceived impact of menstruation on different aspects of daily lives and performance including negative and neutral responses; (3) resolution: the methods/approaches in dealing with menstruation-related concerns including accepting, or adapting and managing symptoms with self-medication or expert treatment; (4) support: available support and comfortability in discussing menstrual cycle-related issues.
This study provides the first in-depth insight into athlete’s experiences of the menstrual cycle and perceived impact on training and competition. It highlights individual responses to menstrual ‘issues’ and emphasises the need for clinicians and support staff to undertake menstrual cycle profiling, monitoring and continue to develop awareness, openness, knowledge and understanding of the menstrual cycle.