Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or hit the gym a few times a week, it’s no secret getting your period can put quite the fork in your fitness plans. Between the altered muscle activation, thermoregulatory issues and fluctuating sex hormones and body composition, it’s no wonder research from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found menstrual cycles typically compromise an athlete’s perceived performance. But it doesn’t have to be that way. From absorbent tampons and pads to reusable menstrual cups and underwear, there are tons of options on the market that can help offset some of the discomfort associated with getting your period so you can get back to doing what you love.
While it can be tempting to add the product with the highest absorbency to cart, Dr. Taraneh Shirazian, a gynecologist and Monistat brand ambassador, recommends the lightest product you need for your flow to decrease the amount of maintained moisture. “I would recommend wearing breathable fabrics that wick away moisture, such as cotton underwear,” says Shirazian. She adds that changing pads and tampons frequently during and after your workout can help minimize infections, while menstrual cups are even more effective at minimizing moisture and decreasing vaginal infection risk.
As a certified personal trainer, dancer, runner and all-around fitness enthusiast, I’m always on the lookout for safe ways to stay dry (and pain-free) during high-intensity activity. Here, top athletes share their go-to menstrual products that allow them to practice their preferred sports with peace of mind.
Best pads for working out
For a pad that won’t quit until you do, opt for U by Kotex Teen with wings and overnight absorbency that lasts several hours. “Personally, I don't wear tampons because I find pads more comfortable while playing soccer,” says Ines Delhomelle, a League1 semi-professional soccer player. “I currently use the U by Kotex Teen Overnight pads because they fit perfectly and are really absorbent. They don't come off when I run or jump and they make me more confident overall. I’ve been wearing them for a bit over two years now and I love them.”
If there’s one activity that requires a reliable pad or liner, it’s jumping on a trampoline. Take it from Kierla Ireland, a trampoline fitness instructor, who relies on Always Thin Daily Liners in conjunction with tampons to stay in place during her dynamic sport. “The whole underside of the liner is sticky so it stays in place,” she says. “It’s very thin so it stays flat and doesn’t bunch up when jumping and bouncing.”
For a lightweight option that serves as backup for a tampon, opt for these Always liners with adhesive anti-bunch technology (read: you won’t have to fidget with them while on the court, track or ice). They claim to be five times more absorbent than their thinner counterparts from the same Always line.
“I liked them because I couldn’t feel them when I played hockey,” says Jaymee Shell, a respirology fellow at a Canadian university and former varsity hockey player. She says she only had to change them every six hours and they were great for supporting lighter periods associated with her intrauterine device (IUD).
For little bulk and all the protection, opt for these Always pads with a barely-there feel. “I love the Always Infinity Flex Foam pads,” says Lindsay Hoar, a CrossFit L1 coach and registered dietitian. “They’re not bulky at all. I don’t feel like I’m wearing a diaper or like my pad is showing if I decide to wear leggings. The pad also moves with me and is massively absorbent with little bulk. I have no worries about having a leak when I’m wearing them.”
Best tampons for exercise
For a (virtually) fail-proof tampon that withstands intense high-impact activity, grab Hoar’s go-to Playtex Sport Tampons. “They always stay leak-free during workouts, stay in place during dynamic movements and hard workouts, are comfortable enough to wear for extended periods of time and are easy to tuck away when swimming,” she says.
For a set-it-and-forget-it option, go for these Tampax Pearl Super tampons free of dyes, perfume or latex. “When I play ringette or workout, I usually pop in a tampon, like Tampax Pearl Super to be exact,” says Erica Szwimer, a physical education teacher and ringette player. “I definitely prefer tampons over pads because I don’t feel anything while I’m moving on the ice or in the gym. I actually forget that I’m even having my period, but that could just be because I’m in the zone. I always pair [these tampons] with my super-sexy period granny panties because I don’t care if they get ruined, but usually the tampons hold everything in pretty well.”
Sure, tampons need to feel comfortable when you’re working out, but they should also fit seamlessly into your lifestyle, like these pocket-sized Pearl plastic tampons with a whisper-quiet wrapper for extra discretion. Ireland appreciates how “their very small package fits into my workout clothes’ pockets [and their] braided string gives extra protection from leaks and peace of mind during vigorous exercise.”
I’ve been using tampons with cardboard applicators my whole life, from high school basketball practice to long-distance running in adulthood. While these cardboard Tampax tampons may not be as trendy as their Pearl counterparts, their cardboard applicator features ridges that prevent slipping during insertion, and they’re fully biodegradable, flushable and kinder to the planet. Thanks to their form-fitting technology, they never slide out of place when I’m working out.
Best menstrual cups for working out
DivaCups have become so ubiquitous when it comes to menstrual care, they’re basically what Kleenex is to tissue. Entrust your DivaCup to get you through your next workout with its durable yet comfortable medical-grade silicone material that collects (not absorbs!) liquid, and ability to last up to 12 hours. This version, Model 1, is suitable for folks ages 19 to 34 who have not yet given birth vaginally, so simply select your correct category to find the perfect fit for you.
From the brains behind DivaCup comes the Diva Disc, the only menstrual disc on the market to offer a leak-proof barrier and oval design that won’t rotate or make a mess upon removal. It’s said to hold up to seven tampons’ worth of moisture and can stay in for as long as 12 hours. Its flat shape caters to those with a low cervix, it rolls up into a neat little tampon shape for easy insertion and it features a pull tab for easy removal.
With its buttery-soft silicone material that’ll ensure you don’t feel a thing, the Saalt soft menstrual cup has a fitness-leaning following. This small version is designed uniquely for first-time cup users, and it serves the function of two to three tampons. It has a non-abrasive stem designed for sensitive skin and can be worn safely for up to 12 hours (even while you’re getting your rest day recovery sleep).
Best period underwear and apparel for the gym
Whether I’m spotting or a couple days into a heavy flow, there’s no product I trust more during a heavy training session than Knix’s leak-proof shorts. While I wasn’t bleeding heavily on my wedding day, they did do wonders in collecting sweat (and light spotting) under my wedding dress. They’re fully compressive allowing for a greater flow of movement, feature a non-slip supportive waistband and are completely opaque (read: squat-proof). Still need a backup pad or tampon? Use the discrete side pockets to have them on hand.
These leak-proof briefs from Proof are proof you don’t need to obliterate a pair of perfectly fine underwear in the name of your period. Thanks to the brand’s Leak-Loc technology, each pair (including this practical and classic brief) holds up to five tampons or 10 teaspoons of liquid while fighting odors and moisture. They boast a modest silhouette that provides ample coverage during high-intensity activity, and they come in sizes XS to XXL and period-friendly hues like navy and wine.
While you can’t technically free bleed in InvisiWear mid-rise underwear, they’re athlete-approved for their snug fit and quick-drying properties. “I am hooked on the Lululemon InvisiWear underwear,” says Hoar. "I love the extra coverage and comfortability when I need to wear a pad or tampon during my period. I also appreciate both the sweat-wicking materials and that they’re seamless. I never have to worry about panty lines.” They come in sizes XS to XXL and cute colors like pale linen and powder blue.
If you can’t be bothered to wear slinky underwear under your uniform or workout outfit, opt for these full-coverage anti-bacterial cotton and elastane boyshorts from Aerie that hit at the upper thigh. They hold up to two tampons’ worth of liquid for lighter period days, and feature a gusset for extra absorbency and room to breathe. They come in sizes XXS to XXL in both solid hues and wild patterns.