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Here's how elite female athletes deal with their periods.

The days leading up to ‘that time of the month’ are full of bloating, cramps, sugar cravings and mood swings; it’s a week no woman looks forward to. But what about for professional athletes, for women on the world sporting stage?

This week Britain’s number one tennis player, Heather Watson went down in the first round of the Australian Open in Melbourne, and it was a big deal.

Not because she lost (even though it was an upset) but because she put her poor performance down to the unfortunate timing clash the tour had with her menstrual cycle.

And all of a sudden, the world seemed to sit up and realise that yep, elite sportswomen have periods and yep, maybe it’s something that needs to be discussed.

2015 Australian Open - Day 2
“I think it’s just one of these things that I have, girls things,” Heather Watson said. (Photo: Getty Images.)

“I think it’s just one of these things that I have, girls things,” Watson told reporters.

And her team mate – former British tennis number 1, Annabel Croft said what everyone was thinking, “I was gobsmacked,” she told The Guardian.

“No one ever talks about it. I don’t remember anyone talking about sportswomen like that.”

Who can remember? Because no one HAS ever talked about it. It’s been a sporting taboo since women were allowed to start competing at the same level as men. It is a silent challenge that credibly affects a woman’s sports performance. Yet no one talks about it.

Paula Radcliffe says menstruation is an issue that definitely affects most women to differing degrees at some point throughout their career.

Paula Radcliffe, an English long-distance runner and the current world marathon record holder told Mamamia menstruation in sport is a complicated issue that definitely affects most women athletes to differing degrees at some point throughout their career.

She says the medical advice that is given to athletes doesn’t always help and can in fact worsen the effects sometimes.

“Taking the pill works for some, but for many other sports women (myself included) it makes them feel worse for longer and dents aggression, determination, will power and ability to push hard when it matters.”

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The burden can be so great that the timing of training and events around their period become crucial to their performance and how well they do on the day.

“I always preferred to try and move my period at the beginning of the season away from major races,” Paula admits. “That however is far more difficult in tennis given the number of tournaments and matches spread throughout the year!”

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Uta Pippig crossed the marathon’s finish line with a significant amount of blood trickling down her leg. (Photo: Getty Images)

And the issue isn’t new.

In 1996, only 25 years after women had been officially recognised in the Boston marathon, Uta Pippig, originally from Germany crossed the marathon’s finish line with a significant amount of blood trickling down her leg.

You’d be forgiven for thinking she’d scraped her knee, but she hadn’t. It was just ‘that time of the month’.

Uta had won the Boston marathon twice before her infamous ‘menstrual’ race and so had cameras and media commentary following her the whole way. She had visible cramps and stopped several times throughout the race to clean menstrual blood off her legs. The commentators were shocked – and didn’t know how to relay the scene they were witnessing.

While Uta didn’t win the race, she finished in a pretty good time.

But even after the shock from that incident, nothing changed. No one talked about it and no one thought to take it in to consideration for elite athletes.

After the recent comment about ‘girl things’ at the Australian Open by Watson, she told BBC sport, “I think women do suffer in silence on this subject. It has always been a taboo subject.”

And it’s something that every woman (elite sportswoman or not) can relate to. A time of the month that affects us as women in our performance, our energy levels and our emotional control.

So it’s time we start the conversation, don’t you think?

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