Bike Talk: Cycling Along Your Cycle

01 November, 2017

For the longest time, I had accepted that for a few days out of the month, I was going to struggle on my bike. I cycled through but slower, aching, and longing to skip commutes and rides. For a lot of women, the weeks leading up to and during menstruation leaves us exhausted and unable to perform our best on our rides. Many of us have written off cycling during the menstrual phase but taking a whole week off can be a damper to our training goals. Our menstrual cycles are complex, intricate, and for some unpredictable to plan training around, however, learning how our hormones affects our bodies can help us better plan cycling along our cycles.

Female hormones play a significant role in a variety of aspects related to hydration, nutrition, performance and recovery.  Therefore, as women who participate in a endurance sport, it would benefit us to dig in to the science of our unique physiology and use it to our advantage. Here are some insights to knowing your flow and how to use the cycle phases to get the most your our training.

Know Your Flow
By knowing your cycle you will be able to predict the day your period will arrive. By tracking your cycle, you are better equipped to plan and optimize training and rest days. As you track it, you're able to notice patterns in your cycle as it relates to sleep, diet, training, stress, and more. Personally, I use the Aunt Flo Period Tracker and without fail, I can predict my period and track my hormonal phases for when to crank up or back off on the volume of training sessions. Our bodies are different day to day, so tuning in is essential to learning how to work with your flow.
Sync with Your Cycle
Getting a sense of what's going on during your cycle–and how that affects your training–can help you evaluate and adjust your training and recovery. If you're needing a reminder on what’s happening physiologically during each phase... read this. Syncing training or any activity with your cycle will not just help training and recovery but also your health and wellbeing. Planning with my flow has saved me a lot of time and discomfort. When those first two days of aching and heavier bleeding arrive, I plan those as rest days. The third day after, I get back on the saddle and feel stronger to tackle my next challenge. 

Now here is the educational part of the cycle phases and how to work with each. Take note that I am no expert or doctor but I am very educated on this front and part with you what I have learned from my personal experience and what I have researched from the experts to help myself. From duration, what you'll be feeling, to insights on how to use these hormonal fluctuations to your advantage, I hope these insights can help you understand your body better and plan to train to get the most out of each phase as you cycle to a stronger you.

Phases One and Two: Follicular Phase and Ovulatory Phase
Duration: 7-14 days, right after menstruation
Cycle Scope: You’ll experience a boost in energy levels.
Insight: This is a good time to increase mileage and intensity or introduce new challenges like hill repeats, longer mileage, and higher volume training. If you have a race scheduled during this time, take advantage of the extra pep in your step!Phase Three: Luteal (Premenstrual) Phase
Duration: 10-14 days
Cycle Scope: Your energy levels decline slowly throughout this phase, so running effort levels may feel harder than normal. For instance, your breathing and heart rates may be higher than usual when you run your normal training paces.
Insight: During this phase it's useful to focus efforts on technique and lowering volume of intensity. Try restorative yoga, easy effort runs, cross-training, and shorter endurance rides. This is the time to tap into what your body needs–rest, recovery, and restoration. Nutritionally, consume a little more protein and branched-chain amino acid’s before exercise and bump up your carbohydrate intake through the end of Phase Four.
Phase Four: Menstrual Phase
Duration: 3-7 days
Cycle Scope: This is the most recognizable of all the phases. You may feel like avoiding your bike, tired, legs feel like they weigh a ton, or crave specific foods. Your workouts may hurt more than normal, and you may have a warmer body temperature, higher breathing and heart rates at your normal pace during the early to mid-stages of this phase.
Insight: Your body is craving rest, sleep, nurturing, so log extra sleep and take it easy on your rides. If possible, swap in an extra restorative yoga class, lower impact workout like recovery rides, walking, swimming, or a short run. You may feel more fatigued during workouts, too. This is especially true if you struggle with harsh symptoms. Although it may feel like a loss, instead, think about it more as a time to allow the body to heal and grow stronger. 

An important note: If you're plagued by cramps, don't take NSAIDs or other anti-inflammatory drugs just before or during exercise since they interfere with kidney function. Instead, go for a run or easy ride to ease the pain. I know the last thing we want to do is exercise but it can help lower prostaglandins (read about prostaglandins here) which can help ease cramps and boost your mood.

While it's important to stay active and mindful of the difference in our female physiology, it's also crucial to pay attention to the full picture — including taking rest days when needed, eating a balanced diet, and getting enough sleep to fully recover to come back on the saddle stronger.

Images 1. @MachinesForFreedom / 2. @AuntFlo / 3. @Jay_Tok

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