It was early in 2020 when Chelsea FC Women revealed the club were using Orreco’s FitrWoman app to monitor their players’ menstrual cycles and tweak their training programme and nutrition around it, in an attempt to enhance performance and cut down on injuries.
Over two years on, the club’s relationship with Orreco and Orreco’s Female Athlete Lead Dr Georgie Bruinvels continues to prosper and develop.
Players Erin Cuthbert and Jessie Fleming have both been on journeys of discovery and explain to us why learning about their own female health has changed their approach towards how they manage their menstrual cycles and why with Orreco’s help, the club continue to lead the way with their culture and investment in this space.
“Female athlete health was not necessarily an area that I was super well versed in before coming to Chelsea and working with Orreco,”said Fleming. “It was interesting to get to know myself better and learn what my cycle looks like and how I can work with that and optimise what recovery strategies I use to allow me to be at my best regardless of what day of the month it is.”
Menstrual cycle symptoms are commonly experienced by women and athletes are no different with Cuthbert explaining her own experience.
“I used to suffer with a lot of symptoms around phase 4 (the phase leading up to your period) and phase 1 (during menstruation) every single month, and I just thought it was normal, those are the cards you’ve been dealt and that’s what women have to deal,” said Cuthbert. “But after speaking with Orreco and after a lot of consultations with Georgie, I realise now that it doesn’t have to be like that. I’ve been able to understand my body and what it needs at certain times, because we’re female but we’re all different.”
Orreco advocate for an individualised approach with each and every athlete, and although this may not be the most scalable approach, the benefits are there to see.
“There’s 23/24 players in this squad who are all different and have different needs and to categorise us in just one bracket was what we did before, but now we’re reinventing ourselves and becoming more individualised” said Cuthbert. “For me I’ve really benefitted from that individual element because I’ve seen a drastic reduction in my symptoms and I’m able to manage my body better on a day-to-day basis.
“The biggest thing for me is questioning everything and Georgie could advise that it’s probably because I’ve not had enough sleep or if my back is tight in phase 4 then Georgie has the answer and I usually need todo some mobility and back protocol in this period.
“It’s about having an action because if you keep leaving things without the knowledge or awareness, then it can fester and end up in an injury but with Orreco it’s proactive.”
Fleming agreed saying: “For a long time, females in sport have been viewed as smaller males but I think we’re very different and to be able to recognise and appreciate those things and build the dialogue and find solutions is really important. I now appreciate that these things are natural and it’s not about working against myself or getting frustrated but recognising that it’s normal and it’s something to work with.”
With this approach in mind, Orreco’s Dr Bruinvels explains how she deals with each player as an individual.
“My role at the club is trying to understand everyone’s unique cycles and understand where they are in their cycle and how this can affect any element of readiness and whether that’s mental readiness or physical readiness.
“The menstrual cycle underpins all aspects of how you feel; your fuelling, your recovery and for me it’s working with each individual to empower them with that knowledge but also working with the multidisciplinary, coaching and medical team at Chelsea, to inform them as best I can about what each phase means for an individual and what can be done about it. I will also inform them what is coming up for the players over the next week in terms of which phases they are in.”
Dr Bruinvels has been spreading this message with the club since the relationship began and reiterated how unique the culture and approach is at Chelsea and why sharing details of a players’ menstrual cycle with the coaching and support team can only be a good thing.
“We know so many athletes are limited by their cycle and the symptoms they experience but they just don’t talk to people or practitioners about it which is why the situation at Chelsea is so unique. It’s brilliant to discuss it and be proactive around it,” said Bruinvels.
“When it comes to the cycle and symptoms players experience, it’s not an excuse or a red flag to miss training, it’s about what can we do about it?
“Hormones drive everything, they are inside us as women. If you’re mentally struggling one day, the likelihood is there is a hormonal involvement or if you don’t feel your physical readiness is great, then it’s likely the same thing. These have for too long been the unanswered questions and through asking the players to monitor their cycles and log their symptoms with the FitrWoman app, it serves as a great tool for understanding.
“It’s been great to see the progress the club have made through being a part of our Female Athlete Consultancy programme and the FitrWoman app over the past two years.”
Chelsea were one of the first football clubs in the world to introduce a menstrual and female health expert through Orreco and Cuthbert reinforces how privileged she feels that her club is resourcing this area and leading the way.
“I certainly think Chelsea are the driving force in this space in Europe at the moment. I feel immense pride, that Chelsea is one of the first clubs to be investing in this and believing in our health and seeing that this is what we as women need to perform and recognising its importance.
“I’ll be the first person to say I was quite sceptical at the start as all this information comes at once when this world becomes unlocked, and when you’re growing up nobody talks about this, it was all new tome, at the age of 19 or 20!
“But my advice would be to try it. It’s just a case of using the app and being diligent with it and over time you get used to it. It’s like making your coffee in the morning, you wake up and log your symptoms and it becomes habitual and part of your routine. Plus, if you believe in something you will do it.”