Lighter training workloads during periods, four different week-wise dietary patterns based on the menstruation cycle and avoiding period-pushing pills altogether are some of the changes India’s women wrestlers are incorporating to tackle the tricky challenge of training during periods.
A thoughtful and scientific approach to menstrual health of female wrestlers is helping many prevent injuries that occur due to brittle bones – a result of calcium loss.
Dr Samuel Pullinger is the head of Sports Science at the JSW’s Inspire Institute of Sport, a training centre at Vijayanagar, Karnataka, where the country’s top wrestlers are camped. His team is helping women in combat sports train smarter and harder without compromising on health, he told The Indian Express.
Hansaben Rathore, a 19-year-old, from Depalpur, Indore, went through extremes as a young teen while training in her small town, with absence of knowledge, during her periods.
“At my first centre, I was told not to land up at practice at all during periods because there was a God’s idol in the room. And at my second centre, the coach would say, “achha, problem hai? koi nahi,” and ask me to ignore cramps and pain and continue training at full tilt,” she recalls.
There was little discussion because she felt awkward. But after 6 months, the period pain became unbearable. “Muscle injuries happen because you feel weak. The other option of not training at all also wasn’t right as practice stopped. Here at IIS, our diet for every week is planned keeping in mind the cycle, and training on the first two days of the period is lighter,” she explains.
Rathore has competed during periods too, with minimal and approved pain-killer tablets. Over 115 female athletes are covered under this health project, and Pullinger says evidence-backed scientific training schedules are deployed. “Different nutrients at different weeks of the menstrual cycles, effective hydration and reducing training intensity helps.”
Talking about menstruation has gotten easier at IIS, Rathore says, adding they also reach out to psychologists because a lot of girls fear that performance dips and they feel sluggish for 10 days after period starts. “I also learnt about menstrual cups and tampons which make life easier during competition, and using sanitary pads is normalised for newcomers,” Rathore says.
Heat pads for stomach cramps are made available. And even kitting out is made comfortable. “We train as girls and boys together, and for girls from small towns, shyness affects performance. Now we get customised sports bras and sports panties. So that we are not constantly worried about the gear. Kapde se dhyaan hataakar game mein zyada focus hai ab, (the focus has shifted from clothes to the game),” she says. Dietary pivoting to paneer, beetroot, broccoli and baby corn in salads, was a struggle, but necessary.
One of the tougher habits for Pullinger has been to convince women to not play around with their period dates, should they coincide with major competition. “It starts with 1 pill, then 2, then 3, then the urge gets stronger to avoid periods, but it’s not good advice. We have to remember they might want to start families in the future, and we tell them not to go against natural cycles,” he says.
Rathore knows of fellow trainees who find period pain excruciating and choose to postpone it for competitions. “But it’s not just about the next Nationals, the side-effects of tampering with cycles can be bad. The pain and sickness can be unbearable though, so other choice is to not compete at all. We are slowly finding training-competition balance during periods,” she says.
Combat sports are tough in themselves, but India’s female athletes are learning to cope during challenging phases. “Periods are a part of my body. I’m learning to be prepared. Wrestlers, judokas and boxers need to use power head to toe, so it’s challenging during those times,” she says.
Pelvic health, coaches sensitisation programs by BWF
The Badminton World Federation has linked up with Bangalore-based Simply Sport Foundation and intend to rope in an academic partner to conduct scientific research on menstrual and pelvic health of female badminton players. Former international Aditi Mutatkar, who is associated with the Pune-based athlete health organization, informed that a MOU was signed with the BWF at Delhi’s India Open last month, and the plan is to communicate to coaches about practical approaches in dealing with menstruation health of female shuttlers.
“We will start with a module on menstruation and athletes and coaches will be offered certification providing them tools and resources on related subjects like nutrition and pelvic health,” Mutatkar said. Simply Periods went through a year long process of presentations and workshops and received a favourable response from BWF’s head of Development, Ian Wright. Studies will be conducted approaching elite and beginner level shuttlers. “We’ve been working with various athletes in India in this space, and some in very conservative settings. But we made headways and realised male coaches want to help female athletes but don’t know how to go about it. Language could pose a problem across Asia, but we’ll overcome that barrier,” she added.
Of particular interest was women athlete’s pelvic health, as also contraception practices in sport. “Most people associate the word contraception with just not having babies. But it’s also about managing cycles. We will look to educate athletes on this because you can’t be playing around too much with menstrual cycles for the sake of sport. There are other misconceptions too which we hope to tackle,” Mutatkar said.