- Sara Sigmundsdottir once threw up three times after a training session due to menstrual cramps.
- The CrossFit athlete lost her periods for two years when she first started the sport.
- Where you are in your menstrual cycle can have an impact on competitions, she told Insider.
Icelandic CrossFit athlete Sara Sigmundsdottir said she lost her period for two years when she first started competing in 2015.
She told Insider overtraining and under-recovering led to functional hypothalamic amenorrhea — which resulted in her breaking a rib.
“That was my first big injury because my body wasn’t recovering,” she said. “When you mess up your menstrual cycle, that’s a sign from your body that you’re not eating enough, your hormones are imbalanced.”
While every person’s cycle varies, the stress of rigorous exercise can prevent ovulation and lead to menstrual irregularities, Insider previously reported.
After she finally got her period back, during one training session, Sigmundsdottir said she completed a 20-minute test on a Wattbike and threw up three times afterwards because her cramps were so painful.
“I pushed through the pain the whole time,” she said.
“I thought, ‘I’m not going to let this defeat me.’ But I was throwing up because of the pain and it just gets you so angry because you can’t control it.”
She now takes the approach of accepting the pain when it happens, and watches her cycle to determine if she needs to eat more and cut back on training.
Sigmundsdottir worried training would affect her fertility
Sigmundsdottir said at the time, she was concerned about not having a period because she wants a “big family” in the future, and feared her career might affect her chances.
She went to see a doctor, but was told losing your period “is just normal for athletes.”
A year later, she broke her rib.
Sigmundsdottir ultimately got her period back after testing her bone density and went on the pill to regulate her hormones, but that “messed with my emotions,” she said.
She now keeps a close eye on her menstrual cycle, and if two or three months go by without a period (which tends to happen before a competition), she knows she’s out of balance and needs to train less and eat more.
Sigmundsdottir said getting her period makes it harder to compete
CrossFit competitions involve an array of disciplines sometimes back-to-back, including running, swimming, and weight lifting. Being on your period for a swim event is particularly uncomfortable, Sigmundsdottir said.
She said where she is in her menstrual cycle can make competing extra challenging.
“It can affect everything,” Sigmundsdottir said. “The week before you start your period, you’re weak. And then there’s the pain that follows. There are so many different variations that affect your performance, while guys just walk into a competition and go for it.”
While evidence is limited, research suggests some athletes may experience greater muscle gains from the start of their period until ovulation, Insider’s Gabby Landsverk reported.
While studies have found that moderate exercise during a period can help alleviate symptoms like cramps or fatigue, every body is different.
Dr. Lynae Brayboy, chief medical officer at Clue, a period tracking app company, previously told Insider tracking your own cycle and symptoms can help you determine what combination of rest and workouts is right for you.