Olympic Games-2024: the menstrual cycle, an “element of performance”

Olympic Games-2024: the menstrual cycle, an “element of performance”

For a year, Olympic swimmer Caroline Jouisse has regularly noted on her phone the progress of her menstrual cycle, valuable information for her coaches a few months before the Paris Olympics and a parameter which is beginning to be studied by the federations.

This allows the athlete to know when to plan their intensive strength training sessions, preferably in the middle and at the end of the cycle, when their testosterone levels are at their maximum.

It’s important to know when my testosterone peaks, this is the time when we feel the best and we will be the strongest in training“, explains the 29-year-old swimmer, qualified for the 10 kilometers in open water at the Olympic Games (July 26-August 11).

Lessons learned from the Insep (National Institute of Sport, Expertise and Performance) “Empow’her” program, created to better understand the interactions, which differ from one athlete to another, between the menstrual cycle and sports performance.

There is no need to be embarrassed by your cycle. It is an element of performance, like nutrition, like training“, which can cause negative or positive effects, assures Carole Maître, gynecologist at Insep.

In 2023, a team recorded data every day for six months during training, hormonal, cardiac or relating to the psychological state of Caroline Jouisse. Data which was then analyzed according to the stages of her menstrual cycle.

Before starting the program, I didn’t know there were all these phases“, recognizes the athlete, who currently practices ten swimming sessions and three bodybuilding sessions per week.

“Impressive Trends”

For cross-country skier Juliette Ducordeau, “Empow’her” made it possible to identify “quite impressive trends” in her performances and to “know (her) body better”.

My sessions are optimal during the ovulation phase, from the first to the fifteenth day of the cycle“, while the last days are more laborious, noted the 25-year-old athlete, member of the French cross-country ski team.

Since its launch in 2020, 130 French sportswomen from nine federations have participated in “Empow’her”, which also aims to fill the lack of scientific research on female physiology.

Only 9% of sports science studies over the last five years concern women, compared to 71% for men (the remaining 20% ​​deal with both men and women), notes Juliana Antero, program coordinator.

We find “very few high-quality studies, so as yet there is no consensus on the impact of the menstrual cycle on sports performance“, supports the researcher.

“Embarrassed” coaches

In 2020, handball player Estelle Nze Minko protested in a forum about the taboo of rules in sport and the lack of scientific studies, which had sparked debates in several federations.

Word is struggling to emerge: alpine skier Clara Direz, former participant of “Empow’her”, notes that her coaches, mostly male, “are embarrassed to talk about menstrual cycles, they do not appear hyper involved or interested”.

It’s important to raise awareness among athletes, but above all we need to raise awareness among coaches.“, opines Caroline Jouisse, who assures that the question is “taboo” in her sport.

As the Olympics approach, the federations are taking up the subject more: the cycling federation recently participated in a study which indicates that its athletes are, on average, more efficient in the middle of the cycle.

Before, there had to be discomfort, for the athlete to request support. Now, we are in the process of systematizing support“, notes Carole Maître, from Insep.

Aware of the “elitist” aspect of the “Empow’her” program, reserved for high-level athletes, Juliana Antero is creating a “scientific kit” to support amateur athletes.