Relax: Strange as these physiological reactions to exercise are, they generally aren’t cause for alarm, says New York City-based sports medicine doctor Jordan Metzl, author of The Athlete’s Book of Home Remedies. “Many are signs that you’ve worked your body hard,” he says. “Others are temporary issues you can generally easily address.”
Racer Cough: You cross the line of a crit or mountain bike race and walk around with a nagging cough for several minutes afterward. Blame bronchoconstriction: It’s similar to what happens in people with asthma, but it can happen to anyone. “Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction can happen when you exert yourself at a much harder level than you’re used to,” says Metzl. “The small muscles lining your lungs get a spasm. You see it more in the beginning or end of the year when people may not be in peak shape.” Some people are also simply more genetically prone to getting it. It’s also more common when you’re racing in cold and/or dry conditions because your airways have to work harder to humidify the air as it heads into your lungs and they can get dehydrated and irritated, which leads to constriction and that cough. Breathing through a light scarf can help.
Metallic Taste: You’re hammering up the final roller to the town line sprint and you taste blood in the back of your throat. Those are your red blood cells popping, says Metzl. “When you push yourself past threshold, your red blood cells are being taxed and release some heme,” or iron, which is why it tastes like metal, he says. Red blood cells can also leak into your air sacs during really hard efforts. If it’s temporary, it’s nothing to worry about. (If you always taste blood, you should see your doctor to rule out underlying health issues like infections.)
Runny Nose: Is your nose running? Better catch it! Yeah… Not so funny when every time you get on the bike, you’re launching more rockets than NASA. It tends to get worse in the cold, but exercise-induced rhinitis (i.e. runny nose during exercise) is a common complaint among cyclists, especially, of course, during times when allergens like pollen, dust and dry air are high. Your nasal passages get irritated and mucus production ensues. Interestingly, some scientists believe that air pollution, particularly the nitrogen dioxide found in car exhaust, is a big trigger—which explains why you may find yourself dripping like a faucet when you bike outside, but not during spin class. If your drippy schnoz is really disruptive, you can ask your doctor about a prescription nasal spray. But otherwise, just launch away.
You need a bathroom… NOW: The sudden, urgent need to poop is more common in runners because of the inner jarring mechanics involved in running, but cyclists are not immune—especially on long rides where we’re throwing back a lot of sugary foods and there’s not a lot of blood flow through the gut to manage digestion. Our caffeine habit doesn’t help. You can ease the situation by tweaking your on-bike eating habits toward more real foods like rice cakes and bananas, downing the concentrated energy foods sparingly, and maybe sticking to a single espresso.
Tingly fingers: Your hands play a pretty important role in controlling your bike. So it can be disconcerting when your hands start tingling—or worse, when they go numb. “You have two major nerves that run very close to the skin under your wrist,” says Metzl. “Placing too much pressure on them by riding in a single position for too long can cause finger tingling and numbness, especially down the pinky and ring fingers.” Wear padded gloves to reduce the pressure, and move your hands around on the bars to limit the amount of sustained pressure in any one spot, Metzl suggests. This is harder when you’re a mountain biker, but you can still loosen your grip and move your hands around from time to time to relieve pressure.