Exercise and Fertility
There’s no such thing as being too fit, right? Well, that all depends on what one’s goals are. If you are a woman trying to conceive, too much exercise might actually be your downfall. In fact, as fertility specialists, we can spot a potentially “over-exercised” woman from the door of the waiting room. When we have a patient who looks incredibly fit, and she complains about irregular or no-periods and and difficulty conceiving, our first question will be, “How often do you exercise?”
And, women aren’t the only ones who are affected. Men who exercise to the point of exhaustion on a regular basis can also have problems with healthy sperm production.
The good news is that the body recovers quickly and taking a break from your normal routine can often yield a conception within a handful of months or less.
Are You a Female Athlete?
It is important to note that we are not talking about your average 30-minute exercise routine, five times a week – or even a daily exercise program. We are talking about hard-core workouts and athletic training that requires at least an hour of training or more, in a constant effort to boost performance and endurance. Also, women whose hormone levels are most affected by extreme exercise commitments tend to have body fat percentages of 20% or less (normal is about 21% to 35% depending on your age).
There are several reasons why excessive exercise and infertility can go hand-in-hand. Excessive exercising can drive the body into a “starvation state,” and the body’s reproductive system goes into a shut-down mode where estrogen production decreases. No estrogen = No fertility. Another downfall to continuously low levels of estrogen are osteoporosis and heart attacks, which are additional reasons to avoid this “shut down” state. Eating enough calories to compensate for the fuel you’re burning can be a good place to start if you aren’t ready to bail on the marathon training just yet.
When your body fat dips below normal, and estrogen levels drop you may experience irregular periods, lighter periods or a ceasing of your periods altogether, called amenorrhea. When this happens, you are at risk for fertility problems.
The following steps can help you get pregnant without stopping your training altogether.
- Track your menstrual cycle. Consistently track your cycle and describe it. This will help you to establish whether or not your periods are regular. The typical cycle lasts anywhere from 21 to 35 days and begins on the first day of your period (not the day your period finishes). If you notice your periods are longer than 35 days apart, there’s a good chance your hormones are being affected by your training schedule.
- Ovulation tests. Where most women use OTC ovulation tests to try to get pregnant, you can use them to make sure you’re ovulating in the first place. The sticks are like pregnancy test sticks and measure the amount of luteinizing hormone present in your urine during the days before you ovulate. No ovulation = Potential Hormone Imbalance.
- Eat enough calories. Eating enough calories is the key to ensuring your body stays out of starvation mode. Eat sufficient amounts of healthy proteins and fats and don’t eat too much fiber since too much can affect ovulation. As a standard, a 135-pound woman who has 20% to 25% body fat and is an extreme exerciser should consume between 1900 to 2000 calories per day. Talk to your doctor about the recommended caloric intake for your body type and lifestyle.
- Visit a fertility specialist. If you’ve tried unsuccessfully to conceive for 12-months or more (6-months if you are over 35), schedule an appointment with a fertility specialist. The sooner you establish potential causes of infertility the faster you’ll be on your way to finding solutions.
- Freeze your eggs. If you aren’t willing to give up your sport just yet, consider freezing your eggs. They can be used later on when you are ready to shift gears and become a parent, while allowing you to reach your maximum potential while you can.
If you think struggles with fertility may be the result of your exercise schedule, pull back a little and see what happens. You may be pregnant before you know it. Give Kansas City’s best fertility clinic a call if you’d like to set up an appointment with one of our specialists.
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RRC has over 200 years of combined experience. As a leading reproductive health, infertility, and in-vitro fertilization (or IVF) center based in Kansas City, we're proud to have the highest level of expertise available to our patients.