Training & Nutrition

Ask The Expert: Can Cycling Alleviate PMS?

Keep PMS at bay by bike

“Ride Bike” isn’t always number one on the list of things you’d like to do during the days before your period starts, but it could well be a great way to relieve symptoms.

Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS) symptoms are caused by fluctuations in sex hormones – a rise in progesterone, and a fall in oestrogen. This affects brain chemicals such as serotonin, glutamate and GABA – resulting in alterations in mood, and energy levels. These are usually accompanied by physical symptoms – stomach cramps, headaches or back pain.

We asked Dr Tamsin Lewis, AKA ‘Sportie Doc’ – a former pro triathlete, medical doctor and psychiatrist for her recommendations for dealing with PMS.

“Moderate Exercise in most women helps PMS symptoms. A gentle 1-2 hour ride, preferably in good weather with some company can do wonders for mild PMS symptoms. However, this is not the time to go out on a hilly, intensive or interval training session.”

We also enlisted the help of marathon runner and Doctor Rebecca Robinson as well as Doctor and cyclist, David Warriner.

“Exercise may have similar benefits to antidepressants, this is because exercise can alleviate fatigue and may enhance mood through the release of endorphins.”

They did add that there is very little scientific evidence to support the theory that exercise improves symptoms of PMS, but that anecdotal evidence implied it did, when coupled with a healthy lifestyle – not smoking, limiting alcohol, and eating well.

They explained why easier sessions might be best suited to these days: “A rise in progesterone [before your period] raises body temperature… so performance in warm conditions may be affected. Simultaneously, a decrease in plasma volume, coupled with reduced sweating, can lead to decreased exercise tolerance in such conditions. Increasing fluid intake with electrolyte replacement drinks can help overcome the negative effects of these changes.”

They added: “The alterations in fluid status and temperature regulation can generate extra physiological stress. So keep a training log, build in additional recovery if hard training is planned and respond early to signs of fatigue with rest.”

Your comprehensive guide to menstrual cycling

Eating well and looking after yourself is important – Dr Tamsin Lewis advised: “Do not restrict carbohydrate at this time as needs are increased and restriction lowers levels of the happy hormone serotonin which worsens mood and pain perception.”

She added: “I’m not saying go head for the nearest bar of chocolate but choose slower release carbs and those rich in B vitamins – sweet potatoes, quality honey, a homemade granola.”

Is a menstrual cup the answer?

At CuroSeven, Dr Lewis works with athletes to help them reach optimal performance – when working with women they measure levels of hormones via blood and saliva tests to help inform their approaches to nutrition and training – she said: “If significant pain and life-interfering symptoms happen most months I would see ask for a hormonal review with your doc… most conventional docs unfortunately still tend to put people on the pill to control symptoms but there are better ways through diet and lifestyle interventions.”

Approaches need to be individual to the athlete, but she added: “Know your Vitamin D levels, and consider taking an Omega 3 or fatty acid supplement high in EPA – such as Evening Primrose Oil – food choice should be rich in B Vitamins.”

 As Dr Lewis has explained – if symptoms are persistent and life-interfering, seek medical help.


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