Physiological Testing for the Female Athlete – Fast Talk Laboratories December 16, 2020

Given the hormonal fluctuations experienced during the menstrual cycle, should female athletes prepare differently for lab testing?

Because physiological testing is such a critical component to analyzing an athlete’s engine, test day should be treated much like race day. Only if you put good data in will you get good data out.

Given this, should female athletes prepare any differently for these tests based on where they are in their menstrual cycle? Should women expect different outcomes for in-lab performance and exercise tests based on where they are in the menstrual cycle?  These are some of the questions we hope to answer in this article.

Science is inconclusive about whether the menstrual cycle has a positive or negative performance impact on a female athlete. (See How Women Can Take Control of Training During Their Hormone Cycle.)

However, fluctuating estrogen and progesterone levels clearly have diverse and complex effects on a woman’s physiology, including her cardiovascular, respiratory, metabolic, and neuromuscular systems.

Which begs the question: Should a female athlete prepare differently for in-lab performance and exercise tests, like lactate threshold and VO2 max, based on where she is in her menstrual cycle? Would special accommodations and preparation help counteract certain effects to produce more accurate, consistent results?

With a lactate threshold test, for example, we use the lactate accumulation and curve to determine training zones. Would a female athlete’s lactate production vary across her menstrual cycle due to fluctuating hormone levels and their effect on substrate utilization? If so, then the lactate inflection point might change, and as a result, the training zones might change.

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