Welcome back team! Over the last two blog posts we have learned a lot about the science behind perimenopause and menopause and how to utilize different training modalities to build and maintain lean muscle mass and bone density. Now, we will be looking at how to use food to nourish your body to reach your performance through perimenopause and beyond.
If you need a refresher on what perimenopause is and what is going on with our bodies, you can check out part 1 of this 3-part series Athletic Performance Through Perimenopause and Beyond. Click here to read Part 1
As we’ve discussed, the biggest body composition changes happen within the five years before menopause, that one point in time one year from when you had your last period. And we have also determined that you still have control over your body composition post menopause, but you have to use some different strategies as your hormones will have flatlined by this point. We covered those different training modalities in the last post and now we will look at nourishing your body for wherever you are in your menopause journey.
A quick review on why we experience those body composition changes. As our hormones are fluctuating, we are experiencing estrogen dominance in relation to progesterone, even though both hormones are declining. With this fluctuation, we have increased blood glucose, which can lead to decreased insulin sensitivity and then insulin resistance. With insulin resistance, your body can’t get the glucose into your muscle and liver cells for storage, and so chemical signaling tells your body to convert it into another storage molecule; this results in visceral, or abdominal fat storage. Combine that with elevated cortisol from the stress of estrogen dominance and you have even more signaling for visceral fat deposition.
With the decline of estrogen overall, we also have reduced anabolic stimulus for building lean muscle mass and bone density. So along with increase visceral fat deposition there is less hormonal drive to build and maintain lean muscle mass. But luckily, we already know that we have strength training methods and strategies to help with building and maintaining lean muscle mass and bone density. To set ourselves up well for the decline in our hormones and to have a plan to support our bodies once those hormones flatline, we need to look at how to use nutrition and nutrition timing in conjunction with strength training.
Before we look directly on what to eat, it is a good idea to look at what is going on inside our digestive system to make sure what we eat is actually absorbed and distributed with in our body. To do that, we will look at our gut biome and how gut bacteria effects things like:
- General health and wellbeing
- Maintenance of your intestinal lining
- Athletic performance.
The more diversity you have within your gut microbiome, the better response for your immune system for staying healthy, for brain health, for absorbing the nutrition you consume, for tissue repair, and for countering anxiety and depression. In addition to the foods you eat, exercise also contributes to the diversity of your gut biome. When exercising, blood flow is diverted from your digestive system to you muscles, so you have restricted blood flow and heat production that supports the growth of some bacterial populations and limits the growth of others.
Eating a wide variety of plant foods is important to enhance the growth of bacteria that are responsible for positive health outcomes. Plant foods are the food for the bacteria and the more variety of food you consume, the greater the variety of bacteria you will have to support your body. If you only eat kale, you will only have kale eating bacteria but if you eat lots of different plants you will have lots of different bacteria. Each of these different types of bacteria have different jobs and benefits for your body. Good nutrition for you, good nutrition for your bacteria is a win-win situation.
Prebiotics are very fibrous foods that are hard for your body to digest so they can travel to your lower digestive tract and are food for your gut’s healthy bacteria. As much consideration needs to go into feeding your good bacteria as goes into feeding your body for sport and performance. Here are a few examples of where you can find prebiotics:
- Dandelion greens
- Green vegetables
- Legumes (peas and beans)
Now that we’re feeding our gut biome, what else should we consume to maintain and increase the diversity? We also need to look at probiotics. Probiotics are living organisms that when consumed, help to maintain the balance of beneficial bacterial within our digestive system. The easiest way to get in your probiotics is to think about fermented foods. A few examples are:
- Sourdough bread even counts
- Traditional Buttermilk
So it’s a great idea to be thinking about getting prebiotics and probiotics from foods to enhance the growth of your good bacteria and to improve your health and performance outcomes. And when you add appropriate doses of exercise, adequately recover from it, and fuel your body for the amount of activity you do, then you’re just setting yourself up for a really fantastic response to improve your performance potential and continue on in that biological change in a positive manner.
My plan now is not to tell you what to eat but to provide some guidelines on how to fuel for your level of activity and best support muscle synthesis and bone density as you continue your menopause journey. What we do know is that our dietary intake and our needs change with exercise and age. And every time you add exercise, your macro-nutrient (carbohydrates, protein, and fat) needs go up as well. Another point that we covered in the last post, was that in order to build and maintain lean muscle mass you need neurological stimulation with a dose of protein to get the anabolic (growth) stimulus that estrogen used to give us.
Nutrient timing is also super important. To get the most out of all the hard work that you put into your training, enhance tissue repair, improve mood, and not get into low energy availability, nutrient timing is one of the most critical aspects to consider. You want to think about what you are fueling with before, during and after your activity. Post workout is the most important nutrient timing to pay attention to, and this is what I will focus on today. If you would like some more information on the before and during activity nutrition, here is the presentation Eat2Run for Performance from Sarah and Kaydee.
We have all had training sessions that were harder than planned or went longer than anticipated. Usually, you feel okay and get the session completed. The key is to support your recovery from that situation and each session you do, so that you are ready and able to hit your next target and intensity goal. We know that we need that strong neuromuscular stimulation and force along with a protein dose to achieve our goals when estrogen is low. And in order to hit that target, you need to recover well from your last workout. My philosophy is that you are not really fueling your current workout but preparing your body for your next one.
Ideally, you want to have your post workout recovery nutrition, with a protein dose, within 30 minutes. A base estimate is about a 40-gram dose, including 3.5-4grams of leucine, with your other essential amino acids. This dose sends a signal to the body to stop the breakdown response of exercise, reduce cortisol, and works with the exercise stress to stimulate that anabolic response that estrogen used to give us to build lean mass and keep our skeletal muscles strong and working for us. Here is a recovery smoothie that includes cruciferous veggies for estrogen metabolism, bananas for prebiotics and protein for muscle repair.
Mango Green Smoothie Bowl
- 1 Banana (frozen)
- 1 cup Frozen Mango
- 1 cup Baby Spinach
- 1/4 cup Vanilla Protein Powder
- 3/4 cup Unsweetened Almond Milk
- 1/2 Kiwi (peeled and sliced)
- 1/2 cup Blueberries (fresh or frozen)
- 1 Tbsp Hemp Seeds
1. Throw the banana, frozen mango, baby spinach, protein powder and almond milk into a blender. Blend well until smooth.
2. Pour into a bowl and top with kiwi, blueberries, hemp seeds and any other favourite toppings. Enjoy!
Small amounts of protein spaced out evenly throughout the day is much better at maintaining lean mass and stimulating muscle protein synthesis than big doses sporadically. Every meal should be looking at a 30 to 40 grams and every snack should be 15 to 30 grams. To have a more personalized number for your protein requirements, use 1.6 to 2.0 grams per kilogram per day, and you can evenly divide that up throughout the day. The lower end is generally recommended for exercises of low intensity/duration and the higher end is recommended for frequent, prolonged, or intense endurance exercise, resistance workouts and novice athletes.
For your meals that are not geared directly towards your workout, your plate should be portioned as one half as colorful fruits and veggies, put your protein on top, and then you can have a side or an accent of your whole grains. The reason for the decreasing the amount of carbohydrates is when our hormones start to flat line, our insulin resistance increases. So, when not working out, we want our carbohydrates to come from fruits and vegetables. We want to use carbohydrates that will increase our blood sugar around the time we are working out, especially for those high intensity interval session that use carbohydrates for fuel, but we want to keep our resting blood sugar low so that we utilize burning fat at rest, yay.
When looking for good lean protein foods, you can utilize an
d omnivore diet or a plant-based diet. There are many options for both. When focusing on plant-based protein options, focus on getting in all 9 essential amino acids.
- Hemp hearts (10g per 3 Tbsp)
- Chia seeds (4g per 2 Tbsp)
- Quinoa (5g per serving)
- Soy (edamame, tofu, tempeh – about 9 grams per serving)
- Nuts & seeds (~5-6 grams per one ounce serving)
- Lentils, beans (~7 grams per half cup cooked serving)
- Rice, oats, buckwheat, millet (~4-6 grams per serving)
- Algae (spirulina, chlorella – about 6 grams per Tbsp)
The omnivore diet can be any kind of lean mea
t preferably bison or organic , beef, chicken, fish and eggs.
- Organic, free-range eggs (6 grams protein per egg – half in yolk, half in white)
- Grass-fed, wild, organic meats, poultry and fish (~25g per 3oz serving)
- Grass-fed whole milk cheese (~7g per ounce), yogurt (12g per 3⁄4 cup serving in full fat Greek yogurt), kefir (9g per one cup)
A quick review: we know that fluctuation of estrogen and progesterone affect your responses to insulin and contributes to an elevation in blood sugar. As your hormones flatline you are reliant on high intensity interval training to increase production of the GLUT4 protein, which drives glucose into the cells without using insulin. When you’re not exercising, then you don’t have that working for you.
If you’re eating cruciferous vegetables and eating a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, you not only support your gut biome but it also helps with this estrogen metabolism and reduces the estrogen dominance effects we discussed in part 1 of this series. This is why it is a great idea to get your non workout carbohydrates from fruit and vegetables, not only from the insulin standpoint but to help mitigate some of the estrogen dominance effects.
Okay, this seems like a lot of information to digest, pun intended. I think it is a good idea to stop here for today and pick up our discussion in my next post where we deep dive into the gut biome and inflammation reducing strategies.
Train well and empower yourself.
Strength and Conditioning Coach