Unfortunately for female cyclists, we are more prone to urinary tract infections than the average woman.
That comes as no real surprise either because if you think about it, your undercarriage takes a bit of a battering from the saddle: repetitive pedalling motion, friction, heat, sweat, cream etc. Your chamois pad can quickly become the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Being pretty prone to them myself, I can honestly tell you that urinary tract infections really suck.
What are urinary tract infections?
Commonly referred to as UTIs, urinary tract infections occur when there is a bacterial infection somewhere along the urinary tract; in the urethra, bladder or kidneys.
Infections can be caused by internal issues, namely within the digestive system where Escherichia coli (E. coli) can be the culprit. Although for many people, an external influence where bacteria enters through the urethra is the most common cause of UTIs. Women are more at risk of developing an infection because of our anatomy; the short distance from the anus to the urethra, and the urethral opening to the bladder.
When you consider the fact that your urethra is a short open passage into your body, it’s not hard to believe that it takes very little for bacteria to make its way in and begin to multiply. This is one of the reasons why UTIs in men are a lot rarer because their urethral tract is much longer than ours which is why it can be a lot more serious when men are diagnosed with one.
Types of UTIs and their symptoms
Symptoms can vary from person to person, and the severity of those symptoms will largely come down to the type of infection.
An infection of the kidneys is known as acute pyelonephritis and can result in upper back and side pain, high fever, shaking, nausea and vomiting.
An infection of the bladder is known as cystitis and can result in pelvic pressure, lower abdomen discomfort, frequent and painful urination, and blood in urine.
The final type of UTI is located in the urethra, also known as urethritis where the common symptoms are a burning sensation when urinating and discharge.
Other signs that something isn’t quite right is passing cloudy and pungent pee and having the urge to urinate but only managing a few agonising drops at a time.
Urinary tract infections and cycling
Because of our anatomy and our passion for sitting on saddles, urinary tract infections are quite common amongst female cyclists which is a total bummer (no pun intended).
Many of us use chamois creams to help with saddle sores and chaffing, which is fine, but when you couple that with bacteria, pedalling, saddle pressure, and of course, sweat… bacteria can work its way up through the urethra to wreak havoc. While there are no absolute ways in which to prevent urinary tract infections from rearing their ugly heads, there are some simple things you can do to help stop them from rendering you to a fairly miserable mess.
Tips to help prevent urinary tract infections
Now, don’t let this article put the fear into your saddle! Despite urinary tract infections being a total suck fest, there are a few things you can do to help keep them at bay.
It goes without saying that drinking plenty of water helps keep your internals happy and so, frequently flushing out the urinary tract helps reduce the opportunity for bacteria to build up.
Admittedly, cranberry juice is an acquired taste, but it gently coats the inside of your bladder with a slippery film which makes it more difficult for bacteria to stick to. Cranberry juice also contains a lot of anti-oxidants and Vitamin C to help with inflammation from infection.
Once you’ve finished your ride, try to get out of your chamois shorts to rinse off any bacterial build up from all the nasties like sweat and chamois cream.
If you can, wear a clean pair of chamois shorts for each ride, as you normally would with underwear.
Many cyclists, myself included, will go without knickers under their chamois shorts, while others prefer to have that first cotton layer against their skin. However, wearing that extra layer under your padded shorts can increase the heat and friction around your undercarriage which can contribute to the perfect breeding ground for bacteria.
My general rule is if you ever take them off, put new ones on. Fresh knickers when you wake up, clean ones after a shower and whenever you’ve finished a training session. You may be creating more laundry for yourself, but keeping your knickers clean and fresh really does help prevent the build-up of bacteria.
Fabrics like silk can suffocate your foof, creating more heat and moisture – a petri dish for bacteria to thrive in. But of course, the occasional lace and silky delights for when you’re feeling fancy won’t hurt.
When using shower gels, soaps and lotions, ensure you check that they are suitable for your sensitive areas. Fragrances can cause dryness and irritation around the urethra opening which can lead to the attraction of dirt and bacteria.
Post-sexy time wee
Sexy times are bloody fab but pretty gross when you think about the bacteria that gets transferred between two people. Try and get into the habit of going for a wee shortly after, just to flush out any unwanted nasties.
Front to back!
This is something most of us learn from a very young age but wiping front-to-back ensures no bacteria is being spread from your anus to your vagina, to your urethra.
While you can do your very best to prevent them, sometimes UTIs just happen. In the event of developing one, the most common form of treatment is a course of antibiotics prescribed by a healthcare professional.
If you’re one of the rare unicorns of the female community who never suffers from a UTI, you are so very lucky. But, if you’re a magnet to them like I am, know that you’re not alone and simple preventative measures introduced to your general cycling routine can make all the difference.
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