Cycling, underfuelling and amenorrhea

michelle arthurs brennan fuelling feature

Amenorrhea is so rife in the amateur peloton that a lot of riders – and even coaches – think it’s ‘normal’. There’s also a tendency to believe that ‘unhealthy’ habits are evident in obviously low weight. Not true.

After about a decade of switching between no periods and hormonal contraceptives, I decided to address the issue. When I stopped restricting carbs and started fuelling my sessions, my cycle came back – and I didn’t even put on any weight (actually I lost weight).

I knew I wasn’t alone in my experience, so I launched a large scale survey to understand how male and female cyclists were being affected by attempts to reduce weight.

Our Cycling Weekly reader survey found that 30 per cent of female and 15 per cent of male respondents exhibit symptoms of RED-S (chronic or repeated mismatch between energy demand and energy intake).

Cessation of menstruation is a symptom of RED-S in women. In men it’s harder to spot. RED-S can result in low bone density, among other health concerns. It’s a topic I am extremely passionate about spreading awareness of, as it affects so many cyclists – some of whom may have no idea they are at risk.

In order to assess menstrual function in female cyclists, women on hormonal contraceptives were removed from the data. In female cyclists not on hormonal contraception, 39 per cent reported menstrual dysfunction with gaps of longer than six months in menstruation — and up to 20 years. It is worth noting that some cyclists reported being prescribed hormonal contraceptives to counter a lack of natural period.

I spoke to experts about how we can overcome misconceptions to become healthier (and faster). Read it here.

Further resources:

Published by michellearthursbrennan

I'm an NCTJ Journalist and work at Cycling Weekly. Previous to this, I was the Editor at Total Women's Cycling. I've also dabbled in marketing and copywriting - having been Marketing Coordinator and Social Media/Content Editor at Evans Cycles. My first job was working on a local newspaper.  I've written for a variety of titles on a freelance basis, too. I got into cycling when I entered my first triathlon in 2010. I now race crits, road races, time trials, and do a lot of track training for not very much track racing.

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