Training & Nutrition

Ask The Expert: Can Cycling Alleviate PMS?

Keep PMS at bay by bike - but take it easy and concentrate on nutrition

There are some days hormones dictate that you don’t feel like riding – should you get on the bike anyway?

“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 relive 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.

She said: “Moderate Exercise in most women helps PMS symptoms. A gentle 1-2 hour ride, preferably in good weather with 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.”

A gentle ride in good company can make all the differance. Photo credit: Matt Ratcliffe

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

They agreed: “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.”

Recipe Collection: Fatigue Fighting Treats  

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.”

Keeping well hydrated is important

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 home made granola.”

Recipe: Power Granola 

At CuroSeven, Dr Lewis works with athletes to help them reach optimal performance – when working with women they measures levels of hormones via blood and salivia 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 Primose Oil – food choice should be rich in B Vitamins.”

 As Dr Lewis has explained – if symptoms are persistent and life-interfering, seek medical help. Once your period starts, your body has slightly different needs, too – check out these 7 tips that can help when cycling on your period. 


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