9 August 2023

Can the absence of menstruation in elite athletes affect their fertility?

elite athletes and fertility
By the Editorial Comitee IVI Blog

Elite athletes and fertility is a recurrent consultation, as the practice of women’s sports has spread throughout Europe. This has led to an increase in women pursuing sports professionally. The Nordic and Central European countries lead in women’s sports participation, with football being the primary sport. They are closely followed by athletics, cross-country skiing, basketball, and handball.

Indeed, more and more girls and young women are engaging in high-performance sports. Today, we want to provide valuable information on how to combine this activity with maternity plans. How does high-intensity exercise affect fertility? How to plan the timing of having a child?

Absence of menstruation in female athletes

The number of women choosing to pursue a professional career in sports is growing. However, the vast majority must carefully consider the timing of seeking pregnancy. This decision often comes during a specific stage of their career or after it has concluded. It is crucial for female athletes to have all the necessary information to balance their maternity plans and their sports career.

Engaging in high-intensity sports can lead to low estrogen levels or abrupt changes in weight. When combined with the stress of competition, this can result in the woman having a low percentage of body fat. This, in turn, can cause amenorrhea, a condition where the body suppresses or alters the menstrual cycle.

The absence of menstruation is quite common in women with intense physical activity. If it occurs sporadically, it may not pose a long-term problem. However, if menstruation is absent for an extended period, it can lead to infertility and make it difficult for the woman to conceive naturally.

Hormonal activity and athletic performance

It is the medical team of each athlete that should be aware of their physiological profile and the functioning of their endocrine system. This will allow specialists to understand how hormone release influences the endurance, flexibility, or strength of each athlete. In summary, the hormonal activity of each woman will impact her athletic performance.

Furthermore, as we will see later, it is essential to take care of the diet. This helps to balance the calories the body receives with the energy expended. An imbalance in this regard can affect the hormones that regulate ovarian activity and is the cause of the alterations experienced by female athletes.

Nutrition: Key to hormonal balance

High-intensity physical exercise must be combined with a diet based on proteins, quality fats, and carbohydrates. Therefore, nutrition is crucial for the athletic performance of female professionals because it also helps to maintain hormone levels under control.

Low body weight, along with a deficit of macronutrients and high-intensity exercise, contributes to shortening the luteal phase. This is the time that elapses between ovulation and menstruation. It interferes with hormone secretion, leading to a decrease in estrogen levels.

However, as mentioned before, this situation can be reversed if it is not prolonged excessively over time.

Elite athletes and fertility: family planning

With proper knowledge, professional athletes or women involved in high-performance sports can plan their maternity. Personalized counseling can even allow them to continue practicing sports without affecting their menstrual cycles or fertility.

Furthermore, fertility preservation is a powerful tool that gives women the ability to decide when they want to become mothers. Female athletes can freeze their oocytes and later, together with a specialist, decide when to schedule an IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) procedure based on their professional calendar.

The quality of the eggs will remain unchanged from the moment they were frozen. The process is shortened in time since the woman will only undergo the embryo transfer. This way, female athletes can pursue their careers at the highest level and choose the timing of motherhood.

IVI supports you in your journey to motherhood

At IVI, we can provide guidance and support for your maternity project. Whether you are a professional athlete or involved in high-performance sports, our medical team will collaboratively decide on the best steps to take. When the time comes to become a mother, you have the option to undergo IVF using either your partner’s semen or semen from a donor.

We also offer the ROPA method for same-sex female couples who actively want to share the path to motherhood. Call us or fill out the online form with your details, and we will assist you in English. Our experts will help you achieve your dream of becoming a mother.

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