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How does the Menopause affect Diet and Fitness?

Updated: Jun 26, 2023


So, firstly lets have a quick recap about this uninvited guest to the party....

The average age the menopause hits is 51 years although it often starts knocking at the door in our 40's. As our ovaries produce less reproduction hormones; progesterone, testosterone and oestrogen, our menstual cycles stop, impacting the body by decreasing the metabolism and insulin sensitivity which can increase fat stores along with an increased loss of muscle mass and reduced bone density. Nice....

It also heralds the beginning, for the majority of women, a maelstrom of unpleasant symptoms including:

  • sleep disruption

  • vaginal dryness

  • decreased libido

  • mood swings

  • hot flushes

  • brain fog

  • heart palpitations

  • headaches

  • joint stiffness, aches and pains

  • urinary tract infections

There is also an increased risk of heart disease, dementia and osteoporosis without these vital hormones.

I was in my mid forties when these gremlins decided to rock up and I was so confused and uneducated about what was actually happening to my body. It's interesting that my husband remarked that surely I knew about these things as I am a woman! Ummm....actually, no! No-one ever talked about it!

Ermmmm..... can I just interject and ask, if anyone knew ANY of this before it started happening to them? I was in my mid forties when these gremlins decided to rock up and I was so confused and uneducated about what was actually happening to my body. It's interesting that my husband remarked that surely I knew about these things as I am a woman! Ummm....actually, no! No-one ever talked about it! Both my mum and my sister had early hysterectomys and went straight onto HRT, so I didn't even have their menopause experience at my disposal. Hallaluliah for Devina McCall, bringing this topic out of the dark ages and into the light. I mean, this will happen to EVERY woman on the planet who reaches middle age and can be so debilitating and frightening. It seemed to hang on, for some reason, as one of those taboo subjects, like asking someone if they had had botox or a boob job, back in the day. No one talked about it! Was it just me this was happening to? As soon as I started doing some research and actually quizzing other women, I was astonished at how many people I knew were in the same boat as me and most of them as equally bewildered by it all as me! There were some that had sussed it all out, but quietly kept the information to themselves - gee, thanks!

But with Devina's help, menopause matters are now more widely discussed, like botox and boob jobs! Hoorah! Women are now more aware that they can access bio-identical hormones, if they wish, to start feeling themselves again. Or, if this is not for them, at least there is comfort in at least understanding what is happening to them, and that it will pass and is natural and normal. It's just wonderful to have an informed choice!

What is still a bit murky for many though, is how the menopause affects diet and fitness. Are we now all doomed to large middles and elasticated clothing? Actually, the good news is: NO! In fact studies show that the above symptoms are more pronounced in women who do not exercise, (particularly strength/weight training) and who do not eat well and who do not have a good sleep routine.

However, fitness after the menopause is not the same as when we were 25. Fortunately you do not need to have the right hormone profile to build lean muscle and lose body fat, but what is true is that your our bodies will not respond quite as it used to in our twenties and thirties. It's a bit like a recipe; when we were younger, we followed the recipe (fitness programme and diet) and you pretty much got the desired outcome. But as we get older, despite following the recipe to the letter, the outcome is not quite as quick or the same. Hormones are like some of the important ingredients that went into the recipe- they were like the freshly plucked herbs from the garden as opposed to the dried herbs in a jar, or the organic carrots plucked from the allotment as opposed to those in plastic wrapping in a supermarket. When we were younger, our bodies responded and recovered from workouts rapidly and were not adversely affected by a bout of unhealthy eating. But, when our hormones started to fall off the edge of the cliff, that recipe now needs tweaking and a few new ingredients need to be added in to create that fabulous, devine dish!

So what are these extra ingredients needed?

Let's take a look at nutrition first:

Menopause nutrition

  1. Calcium: Firstly we need more calcium now to protect our bone density from declining. Some studies at MIchegan University in The States show that post menopausal women who had increased amounts of calcium, had significantly higher bone density that those who didn't take the extra calcium. Calcium rich foods can be found in diary and green leafy veg, fortified soya drinks, seeds, almonds, beans and lentils.

  2. Protein: Eat plenty of protein. Women tend to eat significant less protein than men as they don't eat as much meat or none at all. As we get older our muscle mass will naturally start to decrease, so protein becomes even more impotent to consume. It also helps to lower levels of body fat. A study found that women who have 1.1g of protein, per 1lb of body weight per day lost more body fat than post menopausal women who ate only 0.8g per 1lb of bodyweight. Why is this?

a. Protein is more filling as it's digested more slowly by the body, so it helps to curb the appetite and helps you stick to a diet plan.

b. Nutrient portioning effects mean that your body has other uses for protein in every cell of the body, so it isn't just stored as body fat, which will happen when we eat any dietary fat that is surplus to requirements.

3. Caffein & Alcohol: Limit caffein and alcohol as these are both linked to increasing hot flushes, night sweats and heart palpitations. Both these substances also disrupt sleep.

4. Sugar & Processed Carbohydrates: Limit added sugar and processed carbohydrates (breakfast cereals, white rice, white pasta etc) as these increase blood sugar levels causing higher levels of insulin resistance which does not help with weight loss and can increase the frequency and severity of hot flushes.

5. Phytoestrogen Foods: Eat phytoestrogen foods which is a compound in foods that acts like a weak oestrogen in the body and can be found in soya, chickpeas, strawberries and courgette. There is no conclusive evidence about this yet, but there is some research that is looking promising that phytoestrogens reduce hot flushes. These foods are super healthy for you in any event, so it's hardly a risk incorporating them into your diet.

How about exercise?

Menopause fitness

I recommend 3-5 hours of vigorous physical activity per week. Ideally, I suggest 80% of that time be focused on strength training using weights, resistance bands or body resistance. The remaining time should be cardio. Doing a bit of both will maximise results, adding muscle which increases the metabolism, whilst burning excess body fat stores. Many women worry that they will get bulky from lifting weights, but this is just not true. The female body is not made up in the same way as a man's body and you would have to use very heavy weights, many hours a week with a very specific diet plan to follow to get 'bulky'. Instead, you will look toned and athletic. Weight training also helps strengthen bones, helping to prevent osteoporosis.

Patience is required though ladies, as the process can be a bit slower for us than for those in their twenties. But that does not mean that it isn't possible and with consistency you can still get knock em dead results!

I was peri-menopausal in my mid 40's which is when I started my challenges and got into THE best shape of my life! No joke! So ladies, do not despair.

Bottom line, hormones can NOT stop you losing body fat, it just may slow it down a little. Stay patient. A beautiful, slim, heathy body is yours for the taking, if you are prepared to get to work. I was peri-menopausal in my mid 40's which is when I started my challenges and got into THE best shape of my life! No joke! So ladies, do not despair; You do NOT have to put up with unwanted physical changes. in your body. Join my next challenge and you will see! I provide all the meal plans and recipes to follow which incorporates the foods recommended above, along with an exercise plan to follow.

This is me at 46 showing my first results after 12 weeks, then a 3 month break and back again for a further 12 weeks, but with the aim to build lean muscle as I felt I had got too lean and scrawny. I was super proud of my achievement, but it's not a good look as you get older and the more I understood about the secret of ageing well, the more I realised that building muscle, staying out of the sun, drinking lots of water, a good diet and good sleep routine is key.

This is me now at 50. I'm not as lean, but I am stronger, lifting much heavier weights and very happy with the balance I have now attained, with being able to go out, socialise, eat out and drink, but still keep in good shape and be able to wear what I like:

So, what about you?

Why not jump onto my next Menopause Warriors 6 week plan where I have tailored the nutrition and workouts specifically to meet the health needs of menopausal women. You will also receive details and a list of supplements recommended to support your body through this time. Any questions then please do message me via the contact form on my website or through Facebook

It's time to get your old self back again ....

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