Myth or fact: Fit women will fall off menstrual cycles?

Every fit and athletic woman out there has heard vague comments like “Lifting weights can make you look like a she-hulk.” While we know that these claims are baseless, the one that tends to worry us most, 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, do not make enough estrogen, which 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. What are the major factors that influence the ovulation and menstrual cycles?

  • 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 the Gonadotropin Releasing Hormone (GnRH) release from the hypothalamus. This will consequently result in low levels of of Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) and Leutinizing hormone (LH), causing anovulation; low Estrogen, Testosterone, and Progesterone levels; and finally, an 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 cycles get confused.

So if you are worried about irregular menstrual cycle and its consequences, it is important to point to the right reasons. Body fat is not to blame, neither is your intense training the culprit, and if nutrition is on point then you are absolutely safe. What you must beware of, is adopting extreme measures in order to see quick results.

Fitness is an exhilarating journey, but make sure your health is not the least bit compromised on this journey!


Article Credits – Nida Aziz