We don’t ‘do’ the word taboo here at Go Paddling. We’ve covered the topics of paddling when pregnant, and paddling through the menopause, but one topic that has been noticeably absent is paddling on your period. We thought it was about time to tackle that!
Whether you have a cycle or not, it’s important to understand the impacts not only on your body, but also understand the impact it could have on members of your group as a coach or leader too. Having a period certainly doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go paddling, and it most definitely doesn’t mean you can’t plan awesome adventures. But what it might mean is you can use and embrace your cycle to make the most productive use of your time. By understanding your flow and hormonal levels, as well as practicalities like where you can change a pad, cup or tampon on a paddle adventure, it takes a whole level of stress out of the equation for both paddler and leader or coach. So, let’s get stuck in!
Let’s consider the science first
What is menstruation?
- Menstruation is a series of events controlled by the female reproductive system & defined as the time from Day 1 of a woman’s period (bleeding) to the day before their next one.
- Typically lasts 28 days but can last anywhere between 21-35 days.
- The cycle is split into 3 phases (Follicular, Ovulation & Luteal)
Generally, the below timescales indicate when each phase occurs:
- Day 1: Egg isn’t fertilised so the uterus (Womb) sheds its contents. This is the start of the Menstrual cycle / first day of period.
- Days 5 -14: Follicular phase = Oestrogen levels rise prior to the release of an egg.
- Days 12-18: Ovulation occurs (release of egg from ovary).
- Finally days 16-28: Luteal phase = Progesterone levels rise to implant an egg.
*This can vary for each female & therefore timescales may differ between individuals & across cycles.
Did you know, various phases can affect your body in different ways?
- Menstruation = Your energy, focus, and productivity levels are at their lowest during menstruation. Give yourself time to rejuvenate in this time and get plenty of rest and sleep.
- The Follicular phase = You have heightened energy during this phase thanks to rising estrogen levels. It’s a good time to learn and drive to succeed may be higher.
- The Ovulation phase = The hormonal peak of testosterone gives you an outward focused energy, while the estrogen peak makes you feel energetic and proactive. This is the ‘go get ’em’ phase!
- The Luteal phase = Productivity levels are low. It’s a natural winding-down time. You can take advantage of this phase’s reflective, intuitive nature.
Is there a way you can use this information to get the best out of your paddling? Whether that’s competitive or a little pootle along the canal. Can you use the knowledge about your own cycle to squeeze the most out of your paddling?
Knowing and understanding your own cycle is important. But consider how this information might also affect:
- members at your club; remember it’s not just teenagers that might be affected by this
- clients on a course you’re running
- any females you train on the water or in the gym
- multi-day adventures you’re planning – are there places to change? Are you making the most of your own cycle?
Sometimes there won’t be a way around it. You might be running a course and a paddler turns up suffering from crippling period pains, or cancels last minute. Sometimes it’s not always about having a solution, but being understanding and personable. Just food for thought.
What on earth do periods have to do with paddling!?
Well, your whole cycle from start to finish has an effect on your hormone levels. That in turn means there’s likely to be some days when you’re on top of the world, and some days when you feel tired and lethargic. Then there’s a whole bunch of days in-between. By understanding your own cycle it can help you be more productive in your training, your paddling, your planning and more. Ultimately, by tracking your cycle you can understand your body and therefore your paddling strengths and weaknesses a little more. There are lots of apps you can use to track your cycle. British Canoeing suggest a few here.
It’s important to note we’re not at all suggesting you shouldn’t be paddling on your period, or at any other time. All this information is designed so you can make informed choices based on your own body 🙂
Products available to keep you paddling on your period
Moving onto that ‘time of the month.’ Let’s face it, it’s not always pleasant, especially when you know you’ve got a paddling trip or course coming up. Heading out on a paddle often means there’s no toilet around for miles, and the more remote the location, the more difficult things become. But fear not, period anxiety shouldn’t stop you from doing anything! With the amount of products available on the market now, there’s something for everyone.
We enlisted the help of #ShePaddles ambassador India Pearson, a stand up paddleboard instructor and yoga teacher, to help explore some of the plastic free and adventure proof alternatives out there.
- Period pants. Available from various different outlets, including Cheeky Wipes and Modibodi, period pants are easy to use and plastic free. Their absorbent material acts in a similar way to traditional pads, but without all the plastic and all the faff. Simply replace your normal underwear with your period pants and keep on paddling comfortably all day long. No need to change, and holding up to 2.5 tampons worth of menstrual fluid, they’re available in a variety of sizes and volumes and sit comfortably under your normal paddling gear.
- Re-useable towels. Similar to the pants above, these handy, reusable towels are available for different levels of flow. Use them in the same way as a ‘normal’ pad but instead of throwing away at the end, you can pop the towel into a waterproof bag, wash and go again.
- Menstrual cup. These handy cups have been around for years but with a heavy focus on plastic pollution have had a bit of a resurgence. The menstrual cup is a device which is used in a similar way to tampons. Its purpose is to collect menstrual fluid rather than absorb it. Insert in the morning and empty at the end of the day, it’s the perfect companion for a long paddle or multi-day adventure. It can last up to 12 hours without emptying, perfect for paddling. You’ll need access to somewhere to dispose of the cup contents, clean water and some wipes, but apart from that, you’re good to go for days with just this one little device.
Did you know? Sanitary products are the 5th biggest polluters on British beaches. Not only are these options perfect for paddling, they also reduce single use plastic waste too!
What about changing – there’s never any toilets around!?
This is often something we don’t consider, especially when planning trips. Often the answer to ‘where can I go to the loo’ on a paddle trip results in an adventure pee in the bushes. But that’s not possible on your period if you actually need the toilet to change your towel or tampon. That’s where the beauty of the longer lasting options above comes in handy.
However, we understand these options aren’t suitable for everyone. When you’re planning a leadership or coaching course, or an adventure on the waterways, think about the need for access to a bathroom. You don’t know who’s going to be coming on your course and what their needs might be on the day. Planning ahead and taking away some of that anxiety for people could make all the difference, especially when you have females attending your course.
Not forgetting nutrition…
There’s a lot of evidence to suggest you are what you eat in this area! Infact, a lot of athletes now eat different foods to complement their period as well as their training schedule. We’re not going to delve into detail here, but you can find some interesting suggestions on the Healthline website here about what foods you might want to eat and avoid during certain phases of your cycle.
If this is a topic you’re interested in, we’ve got a few book recommendations for you. Something to read before bed and perfect for lockdown!
- Period Power: Harness Your Hormones and Get Your Cycle Working – Maisie Hill
- Period Power: A Manifesto for the Menstrual Movement – Nadya Okamoto
- It’s Only Blood: Shattering the Taboo of Menstruation – Anna Dahlqvist
- Wild Power: Discover the Magic of Your Menstrual Cycle and Awaken the Feminine Path to Power – Alexandra Pope
Where to go for further information
The British Canoeing #ShePaddles initiative have collated information throughout November, with further information about paddling and periods. Click here to visit the #ShePaddles news section.
Looking to connect with other women? Click here to join the women’s paddling community on Facebook.