The RFU and Leeds Beckett University are researching how female players are affected at different stages of cycle

Study into how menstrual cycle can impact rugby players

The RFU and Leeds Beckett University have launched a new study into how the menstrual cycle can impact rugby players.

Chelsea FC announced earlier this year how the club was tailoring training programmes around their players’ menstrual cycles to try to enhance performance and reduce injuries.

Now the RFU have partnered with Leeds Beckett University to research how different stages of the menstrual cycle could affect the performance of female rugby players. This is the first study of its kind in sport and the findings are set to influence how individual training programmes are structured.

In the current issue of Rugby World magazine, Bristol Bears and Wales fly-half Elinor Snowsill talks about how she would welcome training programmes geared around women rather than simply following what men’s teams do.

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Calling the shots! Elinor Snowsill talks to team-mates during a Wales match (Getty Images)

“The next step in realising we’re not mini men, we’re women,” says Snowsill. “It’s a really exciting time to be part of sport and looking at what works for women rather than just replicating what men do.

“Since the story about Chelsea came out there’s been a lot more talk around it. We (Wales Women) have a female general manager, Charly Watham, and I think she would implement something like that. It’s definitely something I’ve struggled with over the years.”

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Existing research has shown that when the female reproductive hormone, oestrogen, spikes during ovulation women rely more on fat for energy and use less glucose, but how does this impact player performance? That is what the study aims to find out.

Twenty female players will take part in the research to perform a Wingate test, which involves individual sprints on a Wattbike for 30 seconds so their anaerobic leg power can be measured. Participants will be asked to do the test three separate times to coincide with different stages of the menstrual cycle – the early follicular phase, late follicular phase and mid luteal phase.

Omar Heyward, a PhD scholar at Leeds Beckett University and a women’s pathway strength and conditioning coach at England Rugby, is leading the study.

He said: “We want the research to provide better guidance to athletes and coaches on how to monitor and review performance when oestrogen levels are high.

“That is why we have chosen to use the Wingate test as it’s a short duration of high intensity work, meaning women could use less carbohydrates and glucose readily during that window, helping us understand if higher oestrogen can cause a decrease in performance.”

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