As people who menstruate already understand, the monthly visit from Aunt Flow can throw a serious wrench in your plans. From sudden drops in mood and energy to debilitating cramps, it is totally fair if cycling is the last thing that comes to mind when that time of the month is upon you.
That said, whether you use your bike for transportation, exercise, mental health maintenance, or all of the above, riding during your period might not only be necessary, but it could actually help improve some of the negative symptoms you experience. Although it can indeed be extra challenging to work up the motivation to ride when PMS strikes, understanding how cycling can help might be just the extra push you need to get out of the door.
Cycling has the potential to help address a series of the most common systems, from bloating and cramps to lethargy and irritability. That said, what is most important during this time is listening to the cues your body is giving you, making sure you don’t overdo it, and having the right gear or sanitary products on hand to ride comfortably if you do decide to hop on a bike.
To help you feel more confident and prepared to ride while on your period, let’s break down how this portion of your cycle works, why exercise can help, and what you need to feel protected while on the go.
Making sense of your cycle
Understanding the various phases of your menstrual cycle can be a game-changing revelation for anyone with a period. Empowering you to make more mindful decisions and feel more in control of your moods and emotions, we highly recommend spending some time diving into the many resources available. Some personal recommendations include Roar by Stacey Sims, which has an excellent chapter dedicated to the menstrual cycle (from an athlete’s point of view), and Maisie Hill’s Period Power, which provides a comprehensive blueprint for aligning daily life with the menstrual cycle.
It is important to remember that menstrual cycles can vary in duration from person to person and range anywhere from 21 to 45 days. Although anything in this range is completely safe and normal, the typical cycle will last for 28 days and comprise four phases.
There are three main hormones at play throughout; oestrogen, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and progesterone. These hormones work together to prepare you for releasing an egg to be fertilised during ovulation. As your body transitions between phases, the levels of these hormones will rise and fall, which can affect your mood, appetite and energy levels – pretty much everything!
Here, we will focus on what happens at the beginning of your cycle, aka the day your period arrives. During this phase, you’ll bleed for around five days, losing approximately 60ml throughout the duration. Of course, it can be uncomfortable to ride on your heaviest days, but you certainly don’t have to forgo cycling entirely.
How do my hormones impact my ability to ride?
As we will repeatedly emphasize throughout this article, every person is unique, and there are no rules that apply across the board. However, tailoring your routine to your cycle, a technique known as phase-based training, can be a great way to take advantage of your physiology, feel your best, and perform at your fullest potential.
FitrWoman is a great app that can help you track your menstrual cycle and get personalised training and nutritional suggestions tailored to the changing hormone levels throughout the month. In general, though, when you are bleeding, it usually coincides with a dip in oestrogen, which causes the body to switch from burning fats to burning carbohydrates. This happens because insulin sensitivity is heightened as our bodies seek glycogen.
It’s time to know your menstrual cycle! (we mean the hormones behind what drives this cyclical process).
The menstrual cycle is a natural and normal process and everyone is unique.
— FitrWoman™ (@fitrwoman) October 20, 2021
The best way to keep yourself feeling ride-ready during this time is to increase your intake of slow-release foods such as oats and pasta. Your body will burn these for fuel which will help keep your energy levels up when cycling. So if you want to enjoy the other benefits that cycling can offer during your period, definitely don’t ride on empty or limit carbs during this time.
Can cycling help alleviate menstrual cramps?
Yes! If you suffer from menstrual cramps, then cycling or other light exercise can be a highly effective way to get some relief. When you’re engaged in aerobic exercise, the flow of deoxygenated blood through the venous system happens more rapidly.
As a result, you benefit from an increase in prostaglandins and other chemicals proven to reduce discomfort in the pelvic region. Doctor and former pro triathlete, Dr Tamsin Lewis, aka SportieDoc, recommends a gentle ride without the pressure to perform is a great way to help combat mild symptoms of PMS.
How can I stay projected while I ride?
When it comes to period protection, there are more options now than ever before. And as we keep saying, though, it is about trying out different options and finding what works for you. Many cyclists swear by period panties when it comes to comfort, as they can be worn for a long time and cause minimal irritation. Modibodi is a popular brand that offers excellent protection. For many long-distance cyclists and bike-packers, menstrual cups have also become the protection method of choice.
Thanks to the fact that they’re reusable, you don’t have to worry about disposal, and they are better for the environment. They’re also a breeze to use and don’t take up precious space in your bag or pockets. If you do decide to try out a new type of menstrual product for riding, though, we advise you to stick close to home the first time around. That way, if you realize it isn’t the one for you, it won’t be a big deal to swing back home and make the necessary change.
What if I just really don’t feel like it?
With all that said, the number one thing to remember is that it is crucial to listen to your body and permit yourself to rest if that is what you need. It’s also worth noting that your period will change from month to month, so don’t be discouraged if you have to take a few days off. If you do have intense symptoms that persist over time, though, you should speak to your doctor. Prolonged heavy bleeding, tiredness, or significant discomfort are possible signs of oestrogen fluctuations and perimenopause. They could end up affecting you with anaemia or other health issues if left untreated.
Riding a bike with your period works wonders for some but doesn’t mesh with everyone’s flow. Listen to your body, continue learning, and track the phases of your period to ultimately harness the power of your unique cycle.