Myth or fact: Fit Women Will Fall Off Menstrual Cycles?

Every fit and athletic woman out there has heard vague comments like, “lifting weight can make you look like a she-hulk”. While we know that these claims are baseless, one that tends to worry us is that of the Female athlete triad – when women train too intensely, eat very few calories and hold too little body fat, they stop menstruating because they do not make enough estrogen and this consequently results in a drop in bone mass.

While most studies claim that low body fat levels are to blame for haywire menstruation, many lean women do not have any problems with their menstrual cycle. This means that there has to be more to the story than just body fat levels.

The Number On The Scale

Being underweight can have an adverse impact on menstruation. Regardless of your body fat level, you should not fall below 85-90% of your ideal body weight.  

Work Hard and Smart  

Do ensure that your nutrition is up to the mark if your workouts are intense. If your energy balance is erratic then it will reflect on your menstrual health. When the difference between energy input and output is huge, your body is caught off guard. This will increase production of cortisol and other stress hormones, which in turn decreases gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) release from the hypothalamus. It will consequently result in low levels of of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH), causing anovulation; low estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone levels; and an overdue absence of the monthly visitor.

The L Word

Leptin is the hormone that takes care of satiety, ensuring you feel full. Leptin is associated with having a positive correlation with body fat levels, as leptin goes up, fat mass goes up. However, lower leptin levels have been found in bulimics and anorexics that exercised and/or had lower caloric intake than anorexics or bulimics of the same weight. This means that leptin levels are not particularly linked with body fat levels, but are influenced by overall energy availability. When leptin levels are low, so are GnRH and LH, this makes your ovulation and menstruation confused.

The following illustration shows how GnRH, FSH, and LH are all essential in the initial (follicular) phase. Even a slight imbalance can go a long way in causing mishap.

Body fat is not to blame, neither is your intense training the culprit, and if nutrition is on point then you are absolutely safe. So beware of adopting extremes in order to see quick results. Fitness is great but make sure your hormonal health is not the least bit compromised on this journey.


Author : Nida Aziz

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