Healthy Holiday Off Season Tips

07 December, 2017

It might be hard to believe, but 2017 is nearly over, and Christmas is mere weeks away. For most of us, this is one of the busiest months of the year, as well as the most indulgent. The run up to Christmas is filled with parties, the amount of tempting food available everywhere (Christmas cookies in the office! Advent calendars! Christmas sandwiches!) seems to triple, and a steaming mug of mulled wine on a chilly evening (especially after a ride) can be very tempting.
It can also be a tiring time. Between family commitments, traveling, and finding ourselves with an increased workload in the run-up to the new year, the holidays can all contribute to us feeling worn out. To top if off, we’re all more susceptible to colds, coughs, and flu. The more run down we are, the more likely it is we’ll find ourselves in the grip of illness at this time of year. 
That’s why I believe in a work hard, play hard approach to the festive season. We all deserve to let our hair down, but now is a key time to pay extra attention to your nutrition and make sure you’re putting aside time for regular exercise, to keep you feeling strong, energized and well to saddle up. While I've become a pro at traveling and avoiding flu season, I've also developed some habits that are helpful to staying fit and healthy across the next few festive weeks:
Hydrate like crazy
Keen riders will know how vital it is to stay hydrated, but if you’re drinking more alcohol than usual this month, it’s crucial you make an effort to increase your water content. Alcohol is diuretic, which is why we get headaches and feel drained the morning after. Carry a water bottle with you, keep one on your desk, drink lots during and after exercise, and always match an alcoholic drink with a glass of water when you’re on a night out. You’ll really notice the difference if you do! On the days that you do go a bit overboard, you can help your body out by drinking water with fresh lemon. It will help alkalise your system and get your liver back up and running.
Eat properly
Admit it: a miniature smoked salmon bagel washed down with prosecco is not a sensible dinner. That’s not to say you can’t enjoy canapés or party treats; just make sure you’re making time for proper, healthy meals too. Start the day with nourishing, filling breakfasts like poached eggs and avocado or porridge, make sure your snacks during the day are raw and healthy, and if you’re rushing to an event after work, make the time to eat beforehand. Even a banana and a handful of nuts can keep you feeling full for much longer and reduce your cravings once you start to drink.
Rest up
Don’t make late nights a habit. Sleep deprivation can cause mood swings, weight gain and won’t make you feel jolly and festive in the coming weeks: you’ll be less productive and more sluggish. If you’ve got a big party or ride the next day to go to, get an early night before and after it to regain that balance.
Know your limits
You’re not obliged to be the last one clutching the karaoke microphone at your work party. Only you know what works for you, so don’t be afraid to spread your social commitments out to pace yourself. Cyclists are generally very good at managing their limits since most of our free time and energy is spent on riding. Planning ahead helps, so take time to sit down and assess your time and goals. Factor in time for yourself: evenings where you rest, and times devoted to training. 
Sweat It Out 
During December, exercise and riding can be something that slips from people’s schedules, when in reality it should be made a priority. Putting aside time to work out will not only help you avoid gaining weight, but it’ll reduce stress, help keep your immune system fighting fit and give you a break. As with most training, even in the off season, consistency is key - so even if you’re social schedule is booming, make time for those sweat sessions so that all of your hard work doesn’t go out the window.
Give Yourself A Challenge
While images of you resting by the fire with mulled wine in hand are conjured up, Rapha has put forth the call once more to get riders out on their bikes and burn off those party treats and holiday sweets! The Festive 500 is back and is a great way for some to get out of the house after spending all day with the family and feeling like a slouch.What is the challenge? Rapha challenges riders the task of completing 500km over the course of eight days from Christmas eve right up to New Year. Read more about Rapha Festive 500 to join the festivities.
Image Courtesy: @Rapha

Holiday Gift Guide For Babes On Bikes

04 December, 2017

Here it is! A Holiday Gift Guide on what to gift the cycling gal in your life. Whether they’ve been riding for six months or six years, I'm sure there is something cycling related they would love to rock on their bike in the new year. If you're lucky enough to have a cycling buddy, family, or friend who you want to treat or get into cycling, this guide has you covered. 
I want to make sure you’re totally prepared to get your cycling friends or family members the best gifts that make everyone in their cycling club green with envy! So I’ve rounded up a few of my favorite cycling kits, books, tech and gear that I couldn't possibly live without that would make great gifts. These recommendations are mostly geared to women (some could be used for men) and are based on personal experience and feedback from other cyclists that couldn't possibly live without them too. The best part about theses recommendations? They’re guaranteed to get good use!

So without much further ado, here are my top picks from stocking stuffers to heart throbbers that will make your cyclist #SMILEFORMILES!

Read - From knowing how sharp your tan lines should be, the latest kit and gear, to inspiring stories from women in cycling, these subscriptions and good reads cover it all.... The Rules / Bicycling Magazine / Casquette Magazine 

Experience - There is nothing better than a cycling adventure to explore new territory in. Whether it's a cycling holiday in the French mountains, Vietnam, or the West Coast of America, a cycling trip is always a winner and great way to escape the winter.... Adventure Cycling Association Guided Tour / Exodus Travels / Hooked On Cycling
Ride - They have probably been eyeing a new ride or need an upgrade. If you want to treat them big, a new set of wheels is sure to make them #SMILEFORMILES... Ruby Road Bike by Specialized
Accessories - Every #NEWBIKEDAY should have some accessories for saftey, hydration, and snacks... Machines For Freedom Logo Bottle / Knog Oi Bell Road Runner Burrito Bag /
Tech - Cyclist are hardcore when it comes to their performance and always trying to get better. Tech can help them get their, whether it's a Strava App subscription, an Apple watch to manage training, or a new Garmin cycling computer, these are sure to help them get from zero to hero.... Strava For Apple Watch Garmin Edge 520 Bike GPS
Nutrition - Going from zero to hero requires a lot of training. Fueling and recovery days should definitely be done like a hero too. Monthly subscriptions to healthy-delicious snacks and equipping them with hydration is sure to get them to their best.... Osmo Nutrition For Women / The Feed

I hope this guide helps you check off the lists of gifts to buy. If there are any recommendations you may need for beginners or more advanced cyclists, please feel free to send me an email. Happy shopping!

Ultimate Winter Cycling Guide

30 November, 2017

Depending on where you live, ‘winter’ can mean different things to different people – in New York, it means inches of snow and temperatures that plummet to below freezing for three months of the year. But even if you’re a casual winter cyclist and ride when you can (or feel like it) the more you ride the more you enjoy it. Being in condition for the new season means more enjoyable mileage the further down the road you get. And you don’t need to be a racer to have winter training plans or riding goals. Winter riding is all about base miles so that you can keep trim and ready for the harder training come Spring. So for now, don't worry about heart rates, power meters or targets, just get out and ride.

The other major part of winter riding is preparation: during the summer, throwing on a jersey and bib shorts and rolling out just after work seems as easy as filling a bidon. But when the nights are long and the mornings are frosty, motivating yourself to crawl out of bed and pull on several layers takes more strength. So make a commitment to the ride, check and embrace the weather, your kit and bike to be 100% correct the night before. And also, know the difference between a problem, and an excuse. Just think, are there really any barriers between you and the great outdoors? It is possible to ride in the snow and the dark if you have the right kit, equipment and preparation.

So to get you prepared, here are a few things to keep in mind when you're craving a ride in the winter wonderland.

Prep Your Ride

Check The Weather - I'm a weather channel enthusiast. I always keep an eye out for good weather days to plan kit and gear ahead of a ride. Check temperature, sunset, and wind. You want to be able to get a warmer ride in before it gets dark and keep in mind that winter winds make the temperature feel colder so you can better equip yourself and bike with this knowledge. If you have to ride a road bike, plan to ride routes that have been plowed, and give the roads some time to dry out in between snowfalls and rain. Fitness bikes, hybrids, and mountain bikes can all accept knobby studded tires and in many cases are already set to go for a winter ride no matter the weather. 

Tires - Riding through snow can get a bit tricky. The traditional tire dimensions of most road bikes, which tend to be quite skinny, do not cut it when the road is slick. Ride the widest tire that your bike can handle. Cyclocross bikes are a good alternative for slushy roads, as they are typically shod with wider tires. Although the difference might look insignificant, a wider tire substantially improves traction and control. The knobbier cyclocross tires help grip in snow, but for the deepest snow and ice, some riders swear by studded tires, which incorporate small metal studs in the tread.

Lights - Look for the brightest bike lights you can find, preferably those that cast a wide viewing angle. Rechargeable lighting systems work the best but are pricey. The less-expensive clip-on variety work well, too. Just keep the batteries fresh so they are at their brightest, and get the lights with the widest viewing angles and beams you can find.

Be Visible - Visibility is important for safety. It sounds like a basic idea but, on a snowy January afternoon, you might not realize how much you can fade into the whitewashed landscape. In general, I find that cars are much more respectful of keeping their distance in the winter months, but do all you can to help them see you even if it's not dark yet. Wearing reflective gear can help you stay noticeable on the road.

Fenders - Tires are guaranteed to throw slush, snow or rain up at you. Even if you're covered in Gore-Tex garments, the cold liquid will get heavy and start to pull heat away from your body. Fenders don't have to be extravagant, just basic enough to keep spray from hitting you. Front fenders should reach a couple of inches in front of and behind your fork. Rear fenders should either be full length or, if a clip-on variety is used, have the ability to angle up to compensate for less length. If you're riding in milder temperatures with rain, an Ass Saver can go a long way.

Panniers - If your bike commute is farther than a couple of miles, you're probably going to need to carry work clothes. There are 3 options for this: backpacks, messenger bags or panniers. For winter riding, I like to use a waterproof backpack. It offers a slim profile and a stable 2-strap configuration. A messenger bag has a single strap and, if not loaded carefully, can shift around and throw off your balance. This can be a nightmare when the ground is wet or snowy. Panniers are good but they do make your bike a little wider. This can be a concern when riding in winter because it's best to stay farther out from the curb then you would in the summer—which means that you are closer to cars than normal.

Winter Kit
Wool Is Your Friend - Good judgment goes a long way. Always remember that when you add wind chill, the “feels like” temperature can be much colder when riding than standing on your front porch. Staying dry is also crucial, so invest in a good quality wool socks and merino wool baselayersThe goal of a base layer is to keep you dry. Merino wool or any synthetic wicking fiber (such as polyester or nylon/spandex) works well. Cotton soaks up sweat and holds it next to your skin, making you feel cold, so avoid that.

Shell - For cold, dry conditions: I have found that a soft-shell jacket like Machine For Freedom's Day Break Wind Jacket makes the best outer layer. A soft shell keeps you warm and dry while allowing a little wind to penetrate—this helps to counter the heat your body produces. In milder conditions, you can get away with just a vest as an outer layer.

For cool, wet conditions: Riders in snowy and rainy areas such as the Pacific Northwest and Northeast require a good waterproof or water-resistant shell. Look for ample breathability and a longer cut in the back and arms so it won't ride up on you while cycling. Generous vents in the front and along the chest work best, but underarm zips work well, too. Most cycling rain shells come with 2-way zippers, which is a godsend on a bike. They allow you to zip open the jacket from the bottom while covering your arms and upper torso. This is a tremendous way to shed heat.

Tights A good pair of winter tights are essential if you are planning on cycling in cold weather. I love my MFF MVP bib tights in cooler temperatures from 45F+ but when it gets freezing, I have to pull out my thermal tights to keep my legs from cramping up in the cold. It's essential you keep your muscles warm as you don't want to injure yourself or fatigue too quickly.

Head CoverageYour head (along with your hands and feet) is prone to getting chilled and losing large amounts of body heat. It is also near impossible to warm up again just with physical activity. A wool cap (or helmet liner) worn under your helmet is sufficient for most days, with a balaclava or a wool buff carried just in case. Just make sure the cap you wear is thin enough to fit under your helmet. In rainy conditions, a cap with a visor helps to keep your forehead warm and water off your glasses. 

Gloves For milder areas where rain is a factor, wear waterproof gloves. Best are cycling gloves with grippy palms and fingers, since handlebars can get slippery when wet. Many companies make gloves suitable for cold-weather riding—don't get too hung up on the intended activity of the product. For instance, snowboarding gloves will keep you warm even if you are not snowboarding, but you must make sure you can still safely operate the shift and brake levers while keeping your extremities warm.

Shoes - The key to warm feet is to get some extra insulation into your footwear. Clipless bike shoes tend to fit small so all of your power can be transferred to the pedal stroke, but that limits the thickness of socks you can wear. A good rule of thumb is to go a half size bigger with your shoes. I wear a slightly oversized pair of shoes that I can use with a warm wool sock. I then slide on a pair of thermal waterproof/windproof booties over those. If you don't use clipless shoes and pedals, you can wear lightweight, waterproof hiking boots that accommodate thick socks.

Again, avoid cotton. Cotton socks just can't keep you warm when it gets wet, and you will get wet when riding in cold months (think road slush, rain, freezing rain or just the sweat produced from riding).

Eyewear - Also be aware of any uv light reflecting off snow, road salts, and sand that may impact your skin or eyes. Getting mud and grit in your eyes can be both painful and dangerous on a bike, and the chances of that happening are greatly increased in winter mud and rain. One way round the problem is to invest in some UV protective clear riding specs
Ride Safely

Be Predictable - As with your spring-through-fall rides, you should always ride predictably. Limit any sudden or erratic movements and use hand signals when turning or changing lanes. Remember to be as visible as possible.

Black Ice - In harsher conditions, watch out for areas with melted snow. Snow often melts in the sunlight but refreezes in lower temps or as the sun sets. These are likely places to find black ice, which, as with auto driving, is probably the single most dangerous aspect of riding a bike in below-freezing conditions. If you start sliding, just relax and go with it, you'll be wearing enough padding if you fall.

Road Conditions - In milder areas, you have less to worry about in the way of ice or road debris. But the same riding techniques apply: ride loosely and proactively, watching out for anything dangerous to your wheels and body. Ride as close to the curb as is safe, which due to road debris is not necessarily as close as is possible. Always pay attention and know what is around you at all times. 

Bike Maintenance

Clean Your Bike - Make sure to bring the bike indoors after a wet ride to let the water drain out. Trapped water can corrode frames, or freeze and burst the stays if not properly drained. This can even happen in unheated garages over the winter.

Winter is tough on a bikes exposed drivetrain. There is just too much sand, salt and debris on the road to keep your chain and derailleur free and working. Gears tend to get mucked up after only a week or so in my area. They can also accumulate slush as you ride, and when the temps drop to well below freezing that slush can start to freeze up when you are stopped at a light. Once that happens there is little to do but find a warm spot to let them defrost. Even in areas where the temperatures don't get below freezing, the winter months tend to bring on rain. Rain washes dirt and grime onto the road where your wheels will throw it into your bike's drivetrain.

Cleaning your bike is important, but if you are riding frequently and can’t get to it between rides, it isn’t absolutely necessary to clean it right away. However, keeping the bike clean will help prolong the life of the bike and the components, as well as make you more motivated to get back out for a ride. It is a good idea to clean the bike before use on an indoor trainer as well. Dirt and debris can easily be lodged inside the trainer and cause some unforeseen issues.
Other Tips

Hydrate and Eat - Remember to stay hydrated. This is just as important when it’s below freezing, and fatigue can often times sneak up on you. This includes bringing snacks along for the ride and staying ahead of fatigue. Food is key to your winter cycling comfort. Without sufficient food intake, your body doesn't have the right kind of fuel to produce heat or energy. In warmer climates, lack of food causes you to tire easily and lose power, but in cold conditions it can make staying warm next to impossible. Eat a meal or have an energy snack before you head out.

Skin Care - I wrote a whole post about Winter Cycling Skin Care you can read up on. Leaving any skin exposed can spell trouble, especially in frigid conditions. Frostbite is real, and it can set in pretty quickly. Be sure to moisturize, wear SPF, and cover up if it's freezing out.

Warm Up - A warm core is the best way to get out when you first start out on a ride. Before I get on my bike I do shoulder reaches, jumping jacks, and knee kicks and quad stretches to get my temperature and muscles warmed up. This helps me to fight that little voice saying "stay in, it's warm" and get going on my ride.

Regardless of the weather, you benefit greatly by riding a bike more. The exercise alone is an almost unimaginable reward. Instead of sedentary transport by car, the very act of going from place to place by bike gets your heart pumping, blood flowing and the calories burning, leaving you with a winter glow rather than a fade. At first, it might seem to be a daunting activity—bundling yourself up to ride through winter snow, ice, rain or even just cooler temperatures. But give it a chance... and you'll be ready to #OPTOUTSIDE all winter.

Hydrate Like A Girl With Osmo

29 November, 2017

When it comes to hydration, women have a whole other thing going on. Turns out, combating fluid losses may not be a one-size-fits-all proposition. Female physiology shifts with the monthly changes in estrogen and progesterone levels, and those fluctuations have an impact on our ability to hydrate. Plus, research shows that when women drink fluids according to the standard recommendations, they may not reach peak performance—probably because many of those recommendations were developed from tests on college-age guys. Who knew!
“Women are not small men,” says Stacy Sims, Ph.D., exercise physiologist–nutrition scientist. “They’re five times more likely than men to have GI problems when exercising, whether it’s bloating or gas or diarrhea. Women are also more likely to suffer from heat exhaustion and heat stroke.”
It all has to do with blood volume, says Sims, and for optimum performance, it’s ideal to keep it high. When a woman’s estrogen and progesterone levels are high (during the luteal, or premenstrual, phase of her cycle), she loses around 8 percent of plasma volume—the watery part of the blood. The high progesterone also causes a resting rise in core body temperature of about 0.9°F, which can shorten the time it takes her to fatigue (and decrease her heat tolerance).
Sodium levels are also key, because that’s what helps transport water into the blood, but those elevated progesterone levels make this harder: Progesterone fights for the same receptors as aldosterone (the hormone responsible for excreting sodium), which increases the amount of sodium your body kicks out. And if you’re on the Pill or other hormonal birth control? The estrogen and progesterone in your system can be as much as six to eight times higher. So what's a girl to do?
Most of these female-specific fluctuations can be balanced and with the right hydration and smart eating, says Sims. Compared with men, women are more likely to need more sodium—as well as potassium, which works with sodium to get water into our blood—and different sugars to properly rehydrate. Glucose and sucrose are the easiest for us to digest; fructose often causes bloating because the female body has trouble metabolizing it as efficiently.

Start thinking about drinking before your workout. “Try to go into an exercise session feeling hydrated,” says Sims. If you’re gearing up for a high-intensity or endurance-based effort, pre-hydration (filling up anywhere from a few to 24 hours before) is crucial to help increase the sodium balance in your body. Then keep it in check by sipping throughout your workout. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends drinking three to eight ounces of a sports drink every 15 to 20 minutes for workouts longer than 60 minutes, but Sims says it should be based on your body weight. (She suggests five to six milliliters per pound of body weight per hour—the lower end for cool conditions, the upper for warmer temps.)

"That’s a general starting point," says Sims. "It’s personal. If you’re working out for 45 minutes or less, it’s important to drink before and after, but hydration during exercise is not needed unless you’re low on body water to begin with—say, at the end of the day or when you’ve first woken up."

According to Sims, most recommendations for pre-, during, and post-exercise hydration and fueling are based on studies that use 18- to 22-year-old guys. Unlike men, we have high and low hormone phases throughout the month, during which estrogen and progesterone fluctuate, causing slight changes to metabolism, glycogen, and blood plasma levels, all of which affect performance, recovery, and how hard you can push during a workout. That’s why it’s hard to include women as test subjects for sports drinks and products. But by not studying females or only looking at us during a low-hormone phase, scientists and experts are only getting half the story.
When I first heard of Osmo Nutrition I learned that Machines For Freedom had partnered with them offering discounts for their women's line. I was in the market for an electrolyte that didn't upset my stomach and the more research I did, I followed the line back to Sims who is the founder of Osmo and created the women's line to specifically address hormonal challenges. Like many of us, I do feel the impacts of my hormonal fluctuations during my cycle so to help improve my power output and endurance, as well as avoid premenstrual-performance decline, I started using Sim's line of Osmo Nutrition For Women from preload, active, and recovery solutions. Osmo's women's specific line is made with 100% natural ingredients and formulated to counteract with hormonal changes. A bit about each mix:

  • PreLoad Hydration hyper-hydrates, crosses the blood-brain barrier and “counteracts hormone-induced drop in body water,”. It also increases power and endurance, and helps reduce muscle fatigue. Amino acids work alongside sodium to expand total body water, reduce central nervous system fatigue and dampen the breakdown effects of progesterone. This line is pineapple margarita, light salty flavor but not overbearing. I personally believe this one is an acquired taste that I developed into liking (tastes much nicer with a bit of honey added).
  • Active Hydration has a bit more glucose, sodium and potassium to increase power output and improve endurance. With an optimized ratio of glucose to sucrose and greater sodium and potassium levels per serving, it helps to offset reduced plasma volume and higher sodium losses that women experience. A light sweetness and mango flavor. I wanted something that tasted more like water without the sugar phlegmy texture in my throat, this hit the spot.
  • Acute Recovery has more protein and glucose. Women have a shorter acute recovery window – about 30 minutes – so it’s important to refuel shortly after training.  Post-exercise, this drink mix helps shift the woman’s metabolism into recovery mode, promote muscle repair and speed glycogen restoration. A honey and spice flavor, very delicious! I personally like adding this one in warm almond milk.
The bottom line: Woman up when you hydrate and you’ll be able to push through your training, no matter how intense. This is no "shrink it and pink it" product, Osmo products for women are based on scientific studies conducted on women; they uniquely address the needs of female athletes and deliver proven benefits. They haven't failed me yet and keep me strong on days of my period when I need to train. I may not be 100% on top of my effort but I'm definitely performing and recovering quicker than I have been. Thank goodness.

Images 1. @machineforfreedom 

Finding Your Endurance

20 November, 2017

The world of winter health and well being is an interesting one. A plethora of Instagram images of people’s beautiful hygge candle lit homes, delicious food or a motivational quote letting me know that I can get through another winter day, it can all feel a little overwhelming when there are literally 4 months of it to go. With 2018 coming up many are already planning next years goals for marathons, triathlons, and other sportives to get through winter. Not all of us are motivated to partake in these events but setting goals for an sportive can help us all get into the right mindset in staying fit and active on our bikes this winter.
The key is finding out what works for you. What do you want to achieve? What do you enjoy? Everyone is different and that’s great. I often get asked why I sign myself up for endurance rides such as an NY Grand Fondo as though they’re hoping for my response to be, “to find inner peace and a deeper connection to my soul” or to “find my spirit animal”, “my true purpose in life” etc. Whilst that may inspire others and get them through a workout it just doesn’t resonate with me and that’s ok.
I’m simply interested in the body’s physical limits and how to push them further. How far can I stretch myself? What am I truly capable of? The fact that I'm a ‘stubborn Leo is not the reason I find myself out on my road bike, 30miles in, drenched with cold sweat and covered in mud with no signs of quitting. Even on my days off from training, you can find me and my bike out for a spin. I’m not crazy, I'm not obsessed, I’m dedicated to my body and goals.And that’s the key right, that’s the big secret to motivation. Find something you’re passionate about, that makes you feel better, stronger, happier than when you started and soon you’ll stop making excuses for not going for that ride or run. You’ll find yourself looking forward to your next session no matter how cold, early or dark it is. 
So this early 2018 year I am embarking on a few adventures that are going to test me to my very core. They’re going to test my mental and physical strength, my passion, dedication and my undeniable desire to be the best I can be. I’m going to be blogging my process and hoping to inspire those of you out there who say ‘oh, I couldn’t possibly do that’ and put yourself down before you’ve given yourself the opportunity to stand up. It’s all mind over matter.
The fact is, you can do anything you want to do, you just have to be willing to work for it. Yes, I'm all for some #mondaymotivation on social media but to achieve that goal you need to put the phone down and go get your sweat on. Do what ever ignites a fire in your stomach and puts a smile on your face. So here’s to winter goals that they scare you a lot but excite you even more. Goals that you have to grow in order to achieve them! What are yours? Here are mine:
A New Year A New You Half Marathon Santa Monica
Rapha Women's Ride: Braver Than The Elements Los Angeles
Campanolo GFNY World Championship 2018 New York
My hope is to show you that anything is possible, even in the harsh winter. You don't need to be a pro athlete, you don't need to be a super hero. Just you as you are. You are enough.

Bike Talk: Cycling Along Your Cycle

16 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

Spin Class Essentials

14 November, 2017

Since my last post about What You Need To Know About Cycling Studios, you've had time to test an indoor cycling class to see if you would like it. If you did, now is the time to take the guesswork out of what to pack in your spin class bag. Packing just the right amount, you can ensure that you have all of your workout essentials without feeling weighed down on your commute to class. When it comes to packing for spin, it really is all about keeping it simple.
By knowing what to pack for spin, you can go confidently into your spin class knowing that you have all the essentials you need before and after your session. How relaxing is that? This round-up of spin essentials can help you comfortably move onto becoming a spin enthusiast or you can use it as a gift guide for that spin/cycling enthusiast in your life for the holidays. So, before you head to your next session, or add anything to your holiday wish-list, make sure you add these 10 workout essentials into your spin bag, or... um... Christmas shopping cart. 
Breathable Top With Coverage -  In an indoor cycling class, you’re slightly bending at the hip and leaning over the entire class – the last thing you want is your top clinging to sweat and climbing up your back, cramping your style. Opt for a top with breathability and maximum coverage, like Lululemon's Sculpt Tank with mesh fabric and panels that keep you cool, so all you have to worry about is wiping off the sweat from the bike after class.
Hi-Rise Tight Shorts might be ideal in a hot yoga class or on a run, but you’ll want to keep them away from the spin room…trust me. If you’re set on being as breathable and dry on a spin bike, opt for Lululemon's Iconic tight that was made for a high rise fit so they don't slip down and show your bottom and sweat as you bend over the bike. Made with moisture wicking mech and fabric for some serious sweating, you'll be glad for these.

Supportive Bra - There is nothing worse for us ladies in spin class than bouncing around on the saddle with no support (at least for me!). I particularly sweat a lot on my chest and back so having a breathable supportive bra like Lululemon's Invigorate Bra with mesh ventilation on the back and cooling material keeps me looking and feeling dry without compromising support.
HR Monitor Watch Monitor you effort with an activity-tracking GPS and Heart Rate Monitor watch like the Fitbit Charge 2 to help you achieve your goals. At the end of a workout you can track your calories burn, elevation gain, heart rate zones, and % of effort output spent in a zone. I use this especially for tracking my rides, progress, and time I spend in my heart rate zones to help me achieve my overall health goals.
Water-bottle + Electrolytes You’ll be sweating a lot, which means you’ll need to stay hydrated. I love bringing my MFF cycling water bottles and adding Osmo Nutrition Active Hydration to my water to replace all those electrolytes I'm sweating out, plus it helps increase power output, improves endurance, and overrides premenstrual performance decline so that I can increase resistance and push through those long climbing intervals without slowing down and giving in.

Fringe Fighter Headband While indoor cycling is a low-impact activity, you’ll still be moving around in and out of the saddle – and get plenty sweaty. Be sure to secure your hair with some no-snag hair bands and keep your sweat and fringe away from your face with this fringe fighter and sweat absorber headband.

Towel - You're body will sweat but also be aware of slippery handlebars as it can create a dangerous if you slip off. Lay a mid-sized towel over your bike’s handlebars to keep your hands in place and help you wipe your face to stay dry during your class. Make sure your towel is long enough to cover the handlebars’ length, but short enough that it doesn’t get in your way!
Gym Tote - Opt for a medium-sized tote bag that can help you carry your spin-cessories in style. Luckily, the new wave of active-wear that’s has gone on trend has created new waves of functional and chic gym totes, like the Lululemon's All Day Tote, that I’d gladly sport long after I'm through with spin class.
MFF Day Break Jacket - Often times (especially in the early morning and afternoon), the spin studio will be a bit chilly when you first walk in. Don’t worry, you’ll warm up soon enough. But until then, keep a light and breathable jacket handy – one you can easily slip off post-warm up with no fuss and slip on when you have to dash. I'm absolutely wild over my Machines For Freedom Day Break Jacket which is breathable, light, and carries all my essentials from keys, phone, headphones, post spin protein bar, and towel.
TIEM Athletic Spin Shoes - Investing in a pair of indoor cycling shoes should be first on your to-do list. I always have my TIEM Athletic spin shoes with SPD cleats that fit directly into the spin bike’s pedals. What's great about these is that I don't have to take them off after class as they are useful for walking and running too! If you’re just trying out indoor cycling for the first time and don’t want to invest quite yet, make sure you wear hard-soled shoes - not enough support and too much flexibility in the sole can lead to injury.
Image Courtesy @Luluaddict 

What To know About Cycling Studios

07 November, 2017

As the days become shorter and colder, indoor cycling, and especially studio instructor-led group cycling classes, are an excellent way to enhance your cardiovascular fitness and improve your lower body strength while keeping the winter pounds off. As with all forms of exercise, though, it's not right for everyone. For the past year I have used studio indoor cycling classes to enhance my cycling fitness and lower body strength. While I prefer to #OPTOUTSIDE on my bike, I'm not lucky enough to have the time to be outdoors to train while it's starting to get colder and darker earlier these days so I've started taking my rides indoors.
There are many ways to train indoors during the colder seasons but if you're like me where you enjoy the setting of a class to motivate and push yourself in with a structured training session, loud music, nice classmates and instructors, then indoor cycling classes are for you. If you're dabbling with the idea of keeping your fitness levels up with an indoor cycling session, here's what you should know before you sign up for your first studio class.

Classes Are Expensive
Most large gyms offer group fitness classes as part of a membership or for a nominal additional monthly fee. The same can't be said for cycling-specific studios though. Because group cycling classes are these studios' only form of bread and butter, they charge a premium for each class, often between $15 and $35, depending on the studio and location. Most cycling studios offer some form of a "first class free" benefit so you can test-drive an instructor or location before laying out a lot of cash. And if you decide you're in love with this type of cardio, there are ways to save money on studio classesSome smaller gyms may have monthly unlimited cycle classes only memberships, which I recommend as you can attend as many classes and pay less than what most studios offer.
Studio Bikes Are Different
Spin bikes are designed to mimic the full experience of cycling outside. As such, the seat is narrower than a traditional stationary bike, and the handlebars and seat can be adjusted vertically and horizontally to better accommodate your body shape and riding posture. Spin bikes also feature a heavy flywheel at the front of the bike that's connected directly to the pedal. This mechanism is similar to a traditional bike, placing the power of the pedal in the rider's hands—literally. The rider controls the speed of each pedal stroke, as well as the resistance of the flywheel, which is manually adjusted with a knob or handle. You can switch in an instant from no resistance at all—as if you were riding down a hill—to heavy resistance, as if climbing a steep mountain. Also, your feet are clipped into a set of pedals, fixed to the bike, making it possible for you to fully engage through an entire pedal rotation—both the downward pushing motion and the upward pulling motion. 
Classes Are Intense
If you're not a fan of sweating or high-intensity workouts, group cycling classes may not be for you. These classes are specifically designed to take you on a "hilly" ride as instructors call for regular changes in resistance and intensity, coaching you up and down a series of virtual slopes often to the sound of blaring, heart-pumping tunes. The experience is a combination of challenge and excitement that leaves you with aching legs and a sweat-soaked body. 
You may be able to burn between 400 and 600 calories per class due to the challenging nature of the workout. The actual number of calories you'll burn is highly individual and varies based on your height, weight, sex, muscle mass, and age, as well as how hard you push yourself during a workout. Try using a heart rate monitor and calorie burn calculator like the FitBit Charge to get a better estimate for your height and weight. 
Form Is Critical
Like cycling, indoor cycling is a voluntary form of physical stress, and more specifically, it's a voluntary form of high-intensity physical stress. This means injuries are possible, particularly if you push yourself too hard, fail to use proper form or cadence, or ignore the importance of rest and recovery. For instance, poor posture can lead to shoulder, hand, and knee pain; leaning too heavily on your bike can diminish calorie burn as you reduce muscle engagement; and failing to breathe properly can limit the flow of oxygenated blood to working muscles, causing performance deficits, dizziness, and other unpleasant symptoms. It's always important to listen to your instructor notes on form and your body to avoid overdoing it, especially if you're new. 
There's a Right Way to Set Up Your Bike
One of the benefits of indoor cycling is the ability to adjust a bike's handlebars and seat to fit your body's frame. Since not all bodies are the same, even minor adjustments to the seat height or the forward/backward positions of the handlebars can make for a more comfortable and safe ride. Correctly making these adjustments, however, isn't always intuitive. This is one of the reasons it's a good idea to take a few classes before starting to ride on your own. A group cycling instructor can help you adjust your bike the first few times you ride, providing you with pointers and tips for finding the right fit on your own.
One big pointer: When you stand next to your bike, the seat should be roughly the same height as your hip bone, like your normal bike. This allows for a full extension at the knee during each pedal stroke. 
Saddle Soreness Is Normal
If you haven't been on a bike in awhile because of the season change, you may be surprised to discover a bruised-like feeling through your groin on the days following a class. This is normal. While initially uncomfortable, you'll discover that you no longer develop the same bruised feeling as your body grows accustomed to the workout, which will take a few classes. If, however, you'd like to avoid feeling sore altogether, you can try wearing chamois shorts or tights.
Indoor Cycling Etiquette Is Real
Just as there is proper gym etiquette, there's also proper indoor cycling etiquette, particularly when it comes to group cycling classes. For instance, it's considered bad form to be on or answer your cell phone during class, or to leave without wiping down your bike. Brush up on the basics before you take your first class, and if you're heading to a new studio, ask the instructor if there are any studio-specific rules you should know in advance.
Not All Instructors or Studios Are Created Equal
Some studios and instructors are better than others, and sometimes "better" is a matter of personal preference. For instance, some studios rely on loud music and beat-based, almost dance-like choreography, while others focus more on traditional cycling form based on heart rate, RPM (rotations per minute), or watts. Likewise, some instructors provide clear and crisp cuing and modeling, while others have a more "fluid" approach to riding a bike (and still others model poor form and poor instruction). It's a good idea to try several studios or instructors before settling on your favorite or deciding indoor studio cycling isn't right for you.
Indoor Cycling Offers Many Benefits

After your first studio class, you'll have no doubts about the activity's ability to increase your heart rate while making your lower body burn. Classes and workouts are seriously tough, and as with all forms of cardiovascular exercise, cycling can enhance heart and lung function and help improve body compositionIn short, if you enjoy the workout and are prepared to stick with it (consistency is really the key in any exercise program), indoor cycling can pay off big time when it comes to total wellbeing in the winter.

While I know most cyclists prefer the outdoors and indoor bike trainers, there are benefits to a studio structured class that you can't get in your garage or online. Every time I leave class, I not only leave drenched in sweat but I feel energized and flushed with happiness. Spin has helped me keep my health strong, weight normal, and has blasts those seasonal blues away all while keeping my legs strong for that QOM that I'm dreaming of next season. 

In another post I'll share with you gear for studio classes cause like cycling kit, I like my studio cycling kit to be functional and stylish too.

Images @IHG
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