I’ve had my period during more big cycling events than I can count. Probably the biggest was Ironman Louisville in Kentucky. I had been rigorously training for the better part of a year. Then, as the event neared, I got bloated and moody and started having GI issues. Layer that with how cranky you also get during a tapering-off week before a major race and, well, it wasn’t pretty. So I was oddly relieved when my period started the day before the race: All the PMS stuff was out of the way and all I had to deal with was the bleeding.

There’s no right answer on how to best ride out your flow, but here are a few suggestions you might want to consider when managing your period during a ride.

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Think twice about pads. Pads are the worst choice for cycling. For one, they’re very difficult to adhere to a chamois, many of which are channeled and therefore don’t have a flat, smooth surface to securely attach the pad to. Even if it does stick, you can bet it’s going to move and bunch up as you sweat and sit and stand and move around on the saddle, which sets you up for rubbing and chafing and, honestly, the mess you were trying to avoid in the first place.

So while a pad is probably okay for an easy spinning day, you may want to consider another option for harder efforts—even going so far as to skip protection and get everything out of your cycling kit in the laundry later. You’ll also want to be prepared to change the pad if you’re riding longer. From a hygiene standpoint, menstrual blood and sweat can make pads brew up a perfect storm of bacteria in your bib shorts, setting you up for infection.

Tuck the tampon string. Tampons are a popular choice among women cyclists because they’re convenient and generally minimize mess. One bit of advice I learned the hard way: Tuck that string in a bit. I’ve actually had rope burns on my sensitive tissues, which is as comfortable as it sounds. And if you’re on an extended outing, carry a spare so you can put in a fresh one after a few hours.

Leaving a tampon in all day can cause toxic shock syndrome (TSS), a potentially lethal bacterial infection. To keep matters in perspective, TSS is extremely rare and was more common in the 1980s when women were using extremely absorbent tampons (no longer on the market), which increased the likelihood of bacteria collecting and causing staph infection. But it’s still wise to change tampons regularly and to use those with less absorbency (i.e., regular rather than super) when you can just to be as safe as possible.

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Consider the cup. I only recently tried “the cup,” which is shorthand for the DivaCup or Softcup. So many active women were gushing about them that I was compelled to run out and buy a box so I could give a firsthand account. And I can say unequivocally, I’m sold.

They are, as they sound, medical-grade silicone cups that collect rather than absorb your flow. They reportedly hold at least three times as much fluid as a super tampon, are less prone to leaking than a tampon, and can be worn for 12 hours. They’re also convenient. You just remove, rinse, reinsert, and go. Yes, it’s a little messy, but you’re going to wash your hands anyway, right? You don’t have to carry a spare, dispose of some pretty gross garbage, or worry about a bacterial infection. They’re also way better for the environment.

I found them to be remarkably easy to use and to leak far, far less than any tampon I have ever tried. Any woman who has used NuvaRing as birth control will get it positioned correctly immediately. Others might have to practice to get the cup in the right place. But if you follow the instructions on inserting it, the device really does slip right into place without much trouble. I use the Softcup, but more brands are coming on the market all the time, so the odds are good that if you don’t care for one style, you’ll be able to find one that works for you.

This text originally appeared in Bicycling’s Big Book of Cycling for Women

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selene yeager
“The Fit Chick”
Selene Yeager is a top-selling professional health and fitness writer who lives what she writes as a NASM certified personal trainer, USA Cycling certified coach, Pn1 certified nutrition coach, pro licensed off road racer, and All-American Ironman triathlete.