Riding with Your Menstrual Cycle : Guys Beware

Tampon Box
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How do I ride during my menstrual cycling?

A tough question, that only seems to be asked by women with very tough skin or no shame. It is something that all women go through, and daily riders can’t take the few days off to deal with their monthly “friend.”

Here are some of the best suggestions I can give :

  • Tampon BoxIncrease exercise the days before your cycle starts.  Exercise seems to relax those muscles and make the cycle go faster (for me.)
  • Plug it, and have a pair of shorts for those extra strong days.
  • Keep a couple extra tampons in a ziplock, air-tight, bag in our saddle bag.
  • Plan longer rides around stopping points were you can change out your tampon.
  • Avoid binging on trashy food and make yourself feel good with fresh fruits and vegetables.

Suggestions that I have received from friends or on forums :

    • Add calcium to your diet – Machka
  • “Three separate investigations have demonstrated that the dysphoria, anxiety, depression, and somatic symptoms of PMS all respond favorably to either increased dietary calcium intake or daily calcium supplementation (10, 11). Increased calcium intake proved to benefit significantly all four major categories of PMS symptoms (negative affective symptoms, water retention symptoms, food cravings, and pain symptoms). A small randomized, placebo-controlled crossover trial of 33 women and a larger, multicenter trial involving 497 women both demonstrated a reduction in symptoms by calcium supplementation (9, 10). Furthermore, when compared with asymptomatic women, women with PMS were shown to have exaggerated fluctuations of the calcium-regulating hormones across the menstrual cycle with evidence of vitamin D deficiency and secondary hyperparathyroidism (12, 13).” – Endojournals.org
  • Intercourse reduces cramps
  • Lots of exercise

51 Comments

  • calitexican says:

    i actually usually take the second day off if possible because that is my worst day. but the other days i use a combination of “instead” (which is like the keeper/mooncup) and a panty liner. instead is good because you don’t have to remove for 12 hours, and would come in handy for longer rides.

    i also agree with avoiding bad food, even if you crave it. i find the cramps aren’t as bad if i eat better around that time.

    • Linda G says:

      Aquadblvee asks about dealing with your bloods while on longer tours. As someone who spent my 20’s bike touring, whatever works for you for riding in general, will work on a tour. That might include taking 1 or more rest days; finding a hotel or campground with plumbing; putting used tampons/pads in a ziplock for later disposal; or digging a hole to dump a diva or keeper.

      I would caution you about camping while on your period in grizzly bear country, as the smell is said to attract.

      Now that I’m on the other end of my reproductive cycle, a spare water bottle to dump over my head during hotflashes helps keep me cool.

      Tailwinds

    • RandoQueenie says:

      I actually usually take the second day off if possible as well, also because that is my worst day. I always use “Instead” because it doesn’t need changed for 12 hours.

      A GRAPHIC note about the Instead is that during “bio breaks” you can vacate the majority of what the cup holds if it is a heavy flow day by using your kegel muscles when you go – especially helpful during long tours.

      An extra water bottle (can be small like a gel bottle) is always good for cleansing during stops on those tours incase you are in between facilities (it happens).

      It is helpful as well as packing an extra instead in the ziplock if you are camping overnight or feel 12 hours is too long.

      I am prone to Menstral Migraines, ibuprofen 24 hrs in advance of my first day helps with that but suppliments of B12 & Calcium while eating right seems key to me.

  • jb says:

    skip the tampax and get a diva cup. you really don’t have to worry about leaks etc. I know it sounds a little freaky if you’re not used to the idea but I might seriously fight someone if they tried to force me to go back to the old way. Sometimes I forget I even have my period.

    http://www.divacup.com/

    Besides that I actually usually feel a little more tired when I’m riding but generally getting some real exercise decreases my pain so the ride is more of a cure for my issues than something to work around.

  • Vertigo29 says:

    I would also recommend using a “DivaCup’ which doesn’t allow leakage and you only have to change it once every 4+ hours. Plus its good for the environment and last 10 years!

    • Bike Shop Girl says:

      JB & Vertigo

      I’m checking out the DivaCup now..

    • arsarca says:

      YES! I love the Diva cup. Have been using it (and before that, the rubber cup that looks just like it whose name I can’t remember) for, wow, 16 years. AMAZING.

  • Kate says:

    Have to say I find this kind of thing childish. If very young female cyclists are reading this, it might take you a while to get used to periods, but nothing should stop you exercising and having fun, sometimes it just takes a little thought and a tiny bit of planning. Ladies in their 20s, 30s, 40s, have you not already overcome this?

    • Bike Shop Girl says:

      Kate – There are many things that one person might thing is common sense, why the next person might be clueless.

    • christine says:

      as a new cyclist in my 30s….its definitely something I’m worried/curious/anxious about.

  • Randie says:

    Wow, I was waiting for this article. I know we all think about it, just dont talk about it. I ride with a group of guys, so I was alone on this topic. I just dont ride when its that time…my body just wants to rest during that time. My group of guys just “knows” why ;-)
    I find that walking helps with any cramps or back pain. Living in NYC i can walk anywhere. I can wait the 4 or 5 days before i can ride again, no big deal.
    Thanks for posting this topic though, good one.

  • Kate says:

    Clearly. Won’t bother posting again.

  • bathory says:

    I third the Diva Cup! BEST THING EVER. So so so so so so much better than tampons.

  • beth h says:

    For the minority of the population who cannot use tampons (I’m referring specifically to those among the generation of women for whom toxic shock was a real problem), I recommend taking a day or two off the bike, then using a thin super pad and applying Aqua-phor ointment or similar to irritated areas. There’s no shame in taking public transit now and then!

    I heartily agree with Randie that walking is a great way to alleviate the worst of the cramping and get outside without causing undue stress to the body.

  • DW says:

    This is an important topic! Not childish at all. Yes, young girls need to know the world doesn’t stop every 25ish days. But the “How” of the “tiny bit of planning” can either be learned through incredibly painful/embarrassing/discouraging trial and error, or openly discussed in a mature manner, which Bike Shop Girl has done here.

    If these things aren’t discussed, and discussions of them are derided as “childish,” then young girls either won’t try, will try and have varying degrees of success, or will give up after a disaster or two. Is talking about whether or not to wear panties under your bike shorts any different?

    I’m really shocked and I have to say, offended, that anyone would call this discussion anything but brilliant and long over-due. Some people don’t regularly use tampons, or as Beth H pointed out, fear TSS. Or maybe they have very heavy periods, or very long periods. Or ride with a pack of guys. Or have white bike shorts (which is probably a whole different discussion…).

    As a noob (<2yrs cycling), ANY information I can get my hands on, I cherish. From helmets to toe-clips. Guys glibly discuss chamois butter and scrotal-rash-avoidance, but somehow talking about feminine-product-choices-compatible-with-hours-on-a-saddle is a problem? I'm missing something. I'm 37 and sure I've 'gotten the hang' of this over the last 25ish years, but I've not been passionately biking (or bike commuting) for those 25ish years…why would anyone assume I (or anyone else) would automatically know all the ins and outs of getting my old body adapted to this new routine? If people didn't post articles about how to layer for winter biking, I'd still be suffering…and I've been dressing for winter for a lot longer than I've been shopping for pads and tampons. It's not about common sense…what works when you are in yoga class does NOT work when you have a piece of leather wedged between your labia for 3 hours on a metric century. We can debate about saddles that relieve the pressure on "soft tissue" of the female anatomy all day long, but somehow talking about the impact of menstrual products on that same "soft tissue" under new conditions should just be common knowledge? Really?

    Personally, when I started seriously cycling, I came up against this question and searched high and low looking for advice. OH Bike Shop Girl, why couldn't you have posted this like a year earlier and saved me the chaffing of my life!?!?! Let me just say, "driweave" is like sandpaper under the right conditions.

    BSG – Please talk about these things. Few other experts are..and it's important! If you save even a couple of those "young girls" (or old hags like me) the trial and error of adapting their old routine to the new cycle lifestyle, then more power to you. It's part of life, just like nutrition! Would a discussion of bowel movements be childish, but the opposite end of the digestive system, hunger/energy, (power bars, etc), would be acceptable?

    Maybe if more women openly discuss such things, more women will get on the bike! More power to you, BSG. Ignore the dissenters.
    <3

    • Bike Shop Girl says:

      Thanks DW!

    • sotty says:

      Amen DW! Only wish I’d found this a few days ago, but now I have some ideas for next month. Newbie rider here and it’s a VERY valid discussion.

    • Halfnotes says:

      I am also a new rider and searched for this very question. I am 36 and absolutely agree with you. If this was a gymnastics blog, then we would be talking about how to keep from embarrassing ourselves while doing split jumps and flying around a tiny wooden bar. I appreciate BSG and all the info. I have been spinning for 4 yrs and now will be training for BAK this summer!! All of these tips are timely and useful!!

      I also agree regarding no question is a stupid one. Any information that I can glean from talking to pros/experienced riders or reading online is great!!

      DW, thanks for taking a stand for all of us, particularly the newbies, and thanks BSG for having the courage to post the stuff that we aren’t supposed to talk about!! :D

    • Suzanne says:

      Well said DW. My sentiments exactly… I have permanent scars from a 7 hour triathlon which left me off the bike and not running for four weeks last year- these are the things we need to be discussing! Going to check out the diva cup and instead… Thank you bike shop girl!

    • Well said and all good advice here. I appreciate your passion DW, but consider that “Kate” may be an internet troll, just trying to get a rise out of us. Keep up the informative comments ladies. :)

  • I was actually wondering what other women did about this topic. The real aspect of it I have been inquiring to know, but I haven’t got the nerve to ask, is how women deal with this on a long bike tour. I just can’t imagine having to deal with a cycle while on a tour with camping involved. I suppose a lot of bags are used to dispose of the used items. However, I suppose a Diva Cup would eliminate any problems. I honestly would love to know so I’m prepared for when I go on my next tour.

  • Joni Christine says:

    I salute all women who are willing and able to discuss this important topic – Congratulations! I believe that we do need to unite, discuss, and brainstorm ways on how to empower, take the best care, and respect ourselves.

    In my personal experience (I commute daily as well as ride the roads, mountains and tour), I <3 the Diva Cup (there are different brand names/same idea). This option not only allows me to feel comfortable but also keeps my clothes well protected. It does take some practice!

    About 12 years ago, I decided to use all natural cotton tampons made by women (instead of the commercialized tampons that uses fiber glass in their products) and then 8 years ago, I made the 'big' switch to using the Diva Cup and Glad Rags. Not only has this switch physically felt significantly better in my body and against my skin (Glad Rags are 100% organic cotton) but this switch is also better for the world by reducing tons of waste (think packaging as well as the used product). The switch also saves me loads of money.

    On another level, this switch has empowered me by inviting me to become more connected with my body and menstruation blood. By using these products, I gain the opportunity (if so desired) to touch, smell and to see what my blood looks like, and to see how much blood I am releasing when I empty the cup and when I wash my rags. At first, it was very awkward – as I never had done anything like that. Now, it is very rewarding, informative and even sacred/ritual. My plants and trees benefit from the iron in my menstrual blood.

    I know this may be hard for a lot of women to read because we have been taught by society, our doctors, our mothers even, that menstruation is a 'curse' and it is 'dirty' and that we don't need to talk about it. We have been taught to 'cover up' our 'secret' with language, clothing, scents, etc. I strongly encourage all of you to become curious about your own ways of talking about and perceiving menstruation.

    On a practical level – again every body is different – I personally do not go on rides during the first three days of my cycle. I DO still ride my commuter that allows me to sit up and be very comfortable in order to get work. Although, during my menses I dedicate my time to restoring my body and emotions through rest and relaxation. I eat well, practice yoga postures for menstruation and journal. I still usually lift free weights for my upper body. When on tour, I take the first day of my cycle off from riding (as that is the most painful day for me) and try to enjoy camping. On tour, I mostly use the Diva Cup. I bring a little pocket shovel to dig a hole in the ground to dispose of my blood and rinse the cup off with water (if I have enough water, all natural unscented soap is used too). At night, I may use the Glad Rags and I store the used ones in a little bag that Glad Rags specifically designs to hold in any smells – works great! – until I wash them). Riding with the Glad Rags is not very comfortable for me.

    Again, I understand that every body is different and we all have our different views. This is just my perspective and hope that it can be informative to someone. Safe and Happy Riding!

    Please check out the following sites:

    http://www.gladrags.com
    http://www.divacup.com
    http://www.keeper.com

  • Radicalrye says:

    I totally support going with a diva cup and use the Party In My Pants washable panty liners.

    The cup took a little getting used to at first, but I find it wayyyy more comfy when riding my bike and I haven’t had a leak yet (not even on my heaviest day)!

    I’m 24 and wish I would’ve known about these alternatives from the first day I got my flow.
    So for any doubters out there…don’t knock it till you try it!

  • Bliss Chick says:

    Amen on the Diva Cup and the recommendation not to neat bad food. I’ve been using the Diva for a few years now, and it’s great to know that it’s a common item for other female cyclists. Every woman should at least know it’s an option.

    Thanks, Bike Shop Girl, for posting such a quick and informative article.

    • Pamela says:

      DIVA CUP! I did my first century on my second day of my period… and it was the first cycle I’d tried the diva cup. I can’t imagine trying to carry tampons with me, let alone stripping off my jersey and bibs every few hours to change one out. The Diva cup was LIFE CHANGING. No exaggeration.

  • Emily says:

    Thank you!!!

  • Michelle says:

    Thanks for posting this! I am a new cyclist and I did not know that you are not supposed to wear underwear with biker shorts. AND I did not know about the Diva cup.
    Whoever said this posting is “childish” is living in the 1950’s when no one talked about real shit and went around pretending to know. I hate that. But I love that I found this even though this posting is from 7 months ago. Keep it up! Thanks to all who posted!

  • Michelle says:

    Thanks for posting this! I am a new cyclist and I did not know that you are not supposed to wear underwear with biker shorts. AND I did not know about the Diva cup.
    Whoever said this posting is “childish” is living in the 1950’s when no one talked about real shit and went around pretending to know. I hate that. But I love that I found this even though this posting is from 7 months ago. Keep it up!

  • jh says:

    I have been trying to figure what bike seat is beat. As we age, sometimes stress incontinence is a real issue and it again involves pads. The diva cup isn’t going to cover that issue. I am glad we have this thread, but wish you could do one on the stress incontinence issue as well. I would love to know what women do. Would a flex form saddle giving slightly with each rotation work better than a fixed? Inquiring minds want to know.

  • christine says:

    as a new cyclist I was curious too. not brave enough to ask my cyclist friends…

    I do already use the diva cup, so its nice that so many second that.

  • Z says:

    Thanks for getting this conversation started! I race 24 hour mtb races, and want to get more into adventure racing. It sucks so much having to stop to change tampons during races! Especially if no facilities nearby.
    I heard some racers go on the pill straight through – no periods ever. Docs say its safe, I’m giving it a go.

    • Bike Shop Girl says:

      Z – let us know how it works out!

    • Hey Now! says:

      I know this is old but I’ve been on the pill straight through for years. Talk about freedom! But now as I’m aging it looks like I may have to go off and I dread the thought of cycling and leaking etc. looks like I may be getting a cup!

  • Jill says:

    I am not sure if this suggestion helps, since the topic is “riding when you’re on your period,” but I’d like to suggest the Mirena IUD. Most Mirena users cease having periods altogether, and that is an incredible help for the active outdoorswoman. I have been happily period-free for seven years and I can’t imagine having to go back to dealing with monthly bleeding!

  • TattenBealk says:

    Hello all! I like this forum, i inaugurate many inviting people on this forum.!!!

    Great Community, consideration all!

  • I race in 24-hour mountain bike races and long adventure races. It just isn’t fun to have to stop to change out a tampon every 2 hours, and in most adventure races you have to pack-in-pack-out.
    So I now take the pill straight through (no placebos) and after a couple of months, I am now period-free. Which makes endurance racing soooooo much easier! No more cramping, no messes, no worries!

  • Biscuit says:

    Diva cups yeah!!!

  • christy says:

    I’ll just go ahead and echo all of the other ladies on this thread…
    DIVA CUP!!!!

  • Sarah says:

    Thanks for great advice! Just bought a diva cup so hope it works for me!

  • Lydia says:

    did you really just quote machka from bikeforums? she dishes out horrible advice just so you know [not always, but twice she did to me]

  • Vanessa says:

    This is so fabulous, I had been looking for don’t advice because my cramps are pretty heavy but my flow is erratic and comes every 35 days, not 28. I am ordering myself a diva cup ASAP, as I have heard all kinds of stuff from my friends too. I just started commuting a few months ago and I fell off my bike once due to my cramps being so intense. I have since decided to stay off on my first day, exercise, yoga, whatever core work I can do squats, leg lifts, etc, to relieve some pain, then by the next day, if I eat right that is, I can get through most of my commute without having to take too many breaks. I have a copper IUD and am a big believer in sustainable anything, so hopefully the diva cup or some other menstrual cup will work out.

  • Lucie says:

    To be honest I agree with Kate, why all the hype. What did you do when you were younger? Did none of you participate in sport then? And DW why on earth have you got “a piece of leather wedged between your labia” you’re supposed to sit on the saddle not wedge it! It’s no big deal I grew up horse riding and didn’t miss riding because of my period. Having said that I did carry on riding with a broken coccyx so maybe I’m not an everday case. If ever a sport would require planning, horse riding all day in a pair of cream jhodpurs would! But I never had a problem, women have been doing this for millions of years. Calm down and carry on. Stay hydrated, exercise helps, yoga speeds the whole process up. But basically do what feels right for you .But don’t feel you have to miss out.

    • Not everybody played sports when they were young. I grew up in the city, poor – my parents couldn’t afford team sports for us – and honestly, very little interest in anything but the library. So, when I was younger, I wasn’t doing anything that made me question how to manage my periods. I certainly didn’t go swimming when I was on, and the rest of the time, I wasn’t an active kid.

      So, many of us don’t have that experience behind us. Keep your shaming to yourself. ‘common sense’ its such a classist concept – not everybody has the chance to have those experiences to learn from.

  • Sally says:

    Slap down a diaper (pad / serviette) & “ride, Sally, ride!” 39 yrs old, that’s 2 decades of bleeding a full week of every month & a raft full of the Red Sea never kept me from pedaling!

  • Leslie amira says:

    Thanks for the tips. Training now for my first century ride and worried about staying dry without abrasion…..the moon just lines up that way…like picking a date for a pool party!

  • kk says:

    iron…. cheerios, leafy green vegetables… increase the nutritional iron intake to prevent fatigue from blood loss, reduce chances of anemia for anyone with a heavy cycle. I noticed tremendous exhaustion and found a study that showed women who had higher dietary sources of iron were less tired during their periods. I noticed a difference within a month. The next month I was riding and (indoor) rock climbing without a hitch. My supplements were kale or spinach at least 4 nights a week with dinner and cheerios for breakfast.

  • Nicole says:

    As a woman who has had painful and heavy periods, I found it very difficult to move around. Since I stated riding my bike 2 years ago, it’s gotten a lot easier. Here are some tips that I hope will help…

    1. The week or days before: eat your vegetables and load up on fruit.

    2. Water, water water! Despite what some people say, water DOES help (at least for me).

    3. Iron. You’re losing blood, so make sure you eat something with iron in it.

    4. Take an additional pair of underwear/clothes. Pads WILL move around!

    5. When you get tired, STOP!

    6. Pack some ibuprofen…

    7. I would invest in a very comfortable seat. This is optional, but for me, my Cloud 9 gel seat takes a lot of pressure away from that area.

    8. Restroom breaks! Stop in one from time to time to readjust, change or whatever…

    All of these tips are things I’ve tested myself and they do help in my riding experience. Happy biking, ladies!

  • Pam S says:

    Thanks for this conversation! As a 3yr cyclist, I have been on the sidelines during the first 3 days. Pain, heavy flow, & the fear of leakage. I did one ride 15km & thought I had prepared well. I had a tampon, heavy duty pad, & I thought I’ll bring a change of clothes. Just in case. Am I ever glad I did! Finished the ride just as it was dripping down my shorts! Soaked through everything! So I have been on the sidelines for my first 3 days since then. These convos need to happen in order to know there are alternatives!

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