Olympian Mirai Nagasu Got Real About Competing On Her Period & I'm Team Women

by Julia Guerra
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I’m sure you’ve seen many a tampon commercial in which women stick to their regimen of running 5 miles or making it through a Zumba class with ease because they swear their tampons are barely there. I was always skeptical of these female athletes because I can barely force myself off the couch to make a cup of tea when I’m on my period, but Team USA Olympic figure skater Mirai Nagasu got real about competing on her period and, to my surprise, the bronze medalist told, “it’s really not that big of a deal.” Well then, I stand corrected.

Luckily for Nagasu, her cycle literally just missed making an appearance at the 2018 Winter Games, coming and going while the athlete was en route to Pyeongchang, South Korea. Still, even if Aunt Flo were to show up during a competition, Nagasu’s had enough experience to know what to do when the two overlap. She told Cosmopolitan confidently, “You just stick a tampon up there.”

As far as I can tell, Nagasu approaches the subject of her period with as much grace as she does triple axels on the ice. Battling PMS alone would be enough for me to forfeit (which, I guess, is why I’m not a professional athlete), but aside from painful cramps and fatigue, another concern I would imagine would be bleeding through those tiny outfits. That sounds like a horror story waiting to happen in my book.

Still, Nagasu isn’t worried. If it happens, she says, the best thing to do is “pretend like it never happened,” but, of course, there’s ways to ensure it doesn’t. “Panty liners,” she told Cosmo, “are super helpful if you just want to protect your underwear.” Basically, anything you’d do to barricade your period from seeping out onto a new pair of jeans applies here.

Nagasu is also unfazed by her period during a performance because exercise can help ease the pain of abdominal cramps.

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I may not follow a training schedule anywhere near as strict as an Olympian’s, but as someone who fancies herself an athlete by my own standards, I can vouch that when I regularly exercise, I feel a difference in the severity of my PMS. Likewise, Nagasu told Cosmo that being on the ice and doing her thang helps alleviate her cramps, which means sitting out of a workout session or competition would be actually do more harm than good.

Of course, like anything else, you’re the only one who can determine what’s best for your body. If you feel borderline debilitated and can hardly make it off the couch, let alone run on a treadmill, don’t feel bad about taking a rest day. On the other hand, if what you’re feeling is more reluctance than anything else, exercise physiologist for USA Cycling Women's Track Endurance Program and co-founder of Osmo Nutrition, Stacy Sims, PhD, says you’re better off hitting the gym.

She told, “When your period starts, your estrogen and progesterone levels drop. And because of this, women can access carbohydrate/glycogen easily, as compared to high-estrogen time periods [when we] rely more on the slow breakdown of fat. The more active you are [overall] and more regular you are with your activity, the better your periods end up being—less cramping, less heavy flow."

Periods are both natural and healthy, so getting yours shouldn't stop you from being active.

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Listen, I’m sure anyone with a uterus can attest to the fact that periods can be a figurative and literal pain, but your menstrual cycle is nothing to be ashamed of, and it certainly shouldn’t stop you from doing something that you love.

Personally, I think part of the stigma that comes with periods in sports, is the fear that your symptoms or flow might interfere with your performance. I’m not saying this isn’t a valid concern, but what I am saying is, so what? More often than not, exercising on your period will benefit your body and relieve symptoms, and if, somehow, blood leaks onto your uniform, it’s not the end of the world. It might be a little embarrassing at the time, sure, but the moment women stop feeling like they should be ashamed by their period is the moment these concerns can be put to rest.

In my opinion, we could all learn a thing or two from Nagasu's "what happens, happens," attitude when it comes to our period. Like I said, your menstrual cycle is a part of your female nature, and you shouldn't feel like for those three to seven days you need to hide away and nurse your woes with heating pads and chocolate bars (though, they do help). Olympian or not, if you truly love being active, don't let something as natural as your period hold you back. Instead, take Nagasu's advice: Stick a tampon up there, and keep moving.