Training & Nutrition

Riding Every Day of the Month: Your Guide to Menstrual Cycling

Understand your monthly cycle so you can perform your best on the bike

Contrary to the liberating pictures painted in the past: meadow dancing, over happy joyous laughter with your fave gal pals; having your period isn’t as fancy as the ads make it out to be. After years of monthly woe, it’s just annoying.

Bodyform gets honest, and tells it like it is

While we’ve adapted our diaries to avoid those bikini waxes that fall on bleed days, and stuff the secret compartments and desk drawers with emergency tampons, the one thing we shouldn’t have to sacrifice or postpone is our cycling.

Feminine hygiene company and monthly saviour, Bodyform, has been been on-form recently. Kicking the pseudo-reality of flowers and roller coasters in the butt with their new “Blood” campaign really peaked our attention and we were thrilled to see them breaking the blue liquid tradition and daring to show real women, real sports, and real blood.

The campaign of course created some controversy – and one particular mortified male response prompted the brand to react in the most eloquent and comedic way they could. Watch the wonderfully witty comeback from Bodyform here.

Their primary goal of all of this was to encourage women to understand their cycles, and not let blood get in the way of day to day life. Let’s face it, some days you want to sushi roll yourself into a blanket, adopt the comforting foetal position, and have a solo pity party. Well don’t!

Your monthly cycle can be broken down into 4 stages where your hormones break out in civil war and take you through an emotional, and hungry roller-coaster. The stages are expressed from day 1 – 28, with day 1 being the first day of bleeding.

Of course not everyone (particularly athletes) has a regular cycle, but you can adapt the stages to your own calendar of experiences by dividing your ‘month’ into four chunks. So what are these stages, and how can you get through them?

Stage 1: Days 1-15: Open the Floodgates

A highly over exaggerated visual, but the feeling can be all too relateable.

While it feels like a chomping shark is chewing on the inside of your womb, your hormone levels are out of whack. You may be feeling your worst with cramps and blood loss, but it’s actually a great time to hop on the bike and pedal through it. Yes, really.

Exercising can help stretch and relax the pelvic muscles responsible for cramps, and your low oestrogen levels mean that your body uses carbohydrates as fuel, rather than fat. So crack open those oats and get some slow-release energy foods in the body. Ensure you increase your water intake to compensate for the loss of fluids though.

In addition to water loss, you’re losing a lot of iron as you bleed, so you’ll need essential fuels to replenish the tanks. While blood cells are quite low at this point, add some berries into your daily diet for a much needed antioxidant boost.

One of the biggest helps to get you through stage 1 is keeping a positive mental attitude. Don’t let your period get in the way of happiness, and doing things you love most.

Stage 2: Days 6-13: Go Get ’em Tiger

The flow has stopped and the cramps have gone, so now it’s time to get up and go, because you’re at your peak.

Your oestrogen levels are on the rise and that stimulates growth cells. It’s for this reason that fat deposits itself around the breasts, bum and hips giving you a fuller looking figure. But it suddenly feels ‘OK’ because you’re at your peak.

At the same time, there is a rise in testosterone which is great for sculpting muscle mass and building connective tissue between bones and muscle. It’s because of this that women tend to gain more strength and muscle during the first half of their cycle, rather than the second half.

Boost your protein intake for strength and muscle repair, whilst keeping on top of your carbohydrates for re-fuelling.

Stage 3: Days 14-22: Burn Baby Burn…. Disco Inferno

You’re rolling into the third stage of the menstrual roller-coaster and both your progesterone and oestrogen levels are running high. Unfortunately, that can result in emotional turmoil where you can feel a little bit of everything, all at the same time.

Foods to boost mental well-being

However, this is the time when fat burns best as a fuel, so you should take on more endurance focused training. Carbs are stored and fats are burned, but don’t forget to replenish with healthy fats like fish, avocados, nuts and seeds.

Stage 4: Days 23-28: FIGHT!

Brace yourselves because the final stage can be the hardest, emotionally and physically. Your hormone levels are plummeting, including your happy chemical serotonin levels.

The pre-menstrual phase will vary from person to person. You may get angry and irritable, feel ‘down’ or perhaps you become a full on fridge raider… or you may be a unicorn, and suffer no side affects whatsoever.

It’s common to feel a little sluggish, achy and fed up. It doesn’t help that you begin to retain water, making you feel bloated, and your skin can suffer those pesky break outs. Your core body temperature can increase by a whole degree which can leave you feeling flustered, sweaty and just very uncomfortable.

Of course, the best thing you can do is get out, get moving and exercise through the hazy cloud of “bleugh”. Training gives you a natural endorphin boost to help overcome those negative feelings.

In short, the menstrual cycle is confusing, annoying and exhausting. It’s a never ending roller-coaster of cravings, unexplainable emotions and quick successions of lows and highs.

However, it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom when you know how to combat the symptoms to give yourself the winning edge.

Of course, menstrual cycles will vary from person to person, and we’ve not even touched upon the myriad of external factors such as stress, lifestyle and contraception. It’s important to understand what’s going on in your body in order to overcome obstacles, and carry on doing what you love most.

You may also enjoy:

Sex and Cycling: What it’s all about

Tips for Cycling on your Period


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