We are from Venus they are from Mars, right? We know that we are different. We know that our boyfriends and husbands seem to lose fat faster and that we have cramping, we have fatigue, we have hot flashes and a variety of other complaints specific to women. We can blame most of this on our hormones. “Perimenopause—from the Greek words peri(“near”), men(“month”) and pauein(“to cease”)—describes the natural hormonal transition that occurs during the years leading up to menopause and ending 12 months after a woman’s final period (Mayo Clinic 2008).” During this time Estrogen fluctuates and Progesterone decreases which cause women to become more insulin resistant and more stress reactive. This means that we do not process carbohydrates and starches as well and we have higher chances of increased cortisol which can increase belly fat. In this article I’d like to help you understand how we can combat these changes in our hormones with nutritional strategies and specific types of exercise. Make sure you print out the PDF using the link at the bottom of the page. It will summarize everything and give you a checklist!
What we eat can significantly help alleviate the symptoms of perimenopause. How we exercise is a powerful tool to help with the effects of Menopause. However it needs to be done right to attain beneficial results. Read on to see the 6 tips for what to eat and 6 tips on how to exercise if you are anywhere around menopause.
1. Decrease carbohydrates.
Excess of refined carbohydrates can be detrimental to balancing hormones. Women should consider following a low glycemic style of eating and pairing carbohydrates with sources of protein and fat to slow the glucose response.
This means sticking to carbohydrates that are a real whole source, not refined, full of vitamins and eating them mostly after exercise. Sweet potatoes, fruit, wild rice, squash, pumpkin, quinoa are all great sources of quality carbohydrates. If you ask Dr. Jade Teta an expert on Fat loss he says that we should start with no more than 150g of carbs daily and then modify depending on what is working or not.
2. Increase potassium
This helps with water flushing to reduce cramping, bloating, and keeping muscles lubricated. So think potatoes, bananas, acorn squash, fish, avocado, dark leafy greens.
3. Increase healthy fats
This will regulate ovarian hormones by impacting prostaglandins, which is a hormone like substance that effects nearly every bodily function! This will help keep muscles supple, help the digestive system, combats irritability, mood changes, headaches, and anxiety. So eat your salmon, shrimp, hemp seeds (read more here), grass fed beef, flax seed….
4. Check your vitamin levels
Do you have enough Zinc, B6, Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, Vitamin C? Consult your physician to see if supplementation would be helpful.
5. Increase your quality protein
This helps to sustain hormone and brain chemistry. So especially if you are active you need to make sure that you are getting a minimum of a 1/2g per pound of body weight to 1g per pound of body weight.
6. Think about your pre and post workout nutrition more
This is ideally a protein smoothie with around 20g of protein and some healthy carbohydrates like banana or other fruit. I have also been reading more and more about how helpful it can be to add Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s) and or glutamine to help minimize catabolism (muscle breakdown) and increase protein synthesis (muscle building/maintaining). It is also said to help decrease cravings and hunger. Mix your BCAA’s with water or coconut water and sip on it during your workout.
1. Understand women’s’ bodies do not burn fat the same as before
Women hold onto more fat in their muscles. However we also use more fat during long duration exercise. This is only true until menopause. This is important to understand. It is probably due to less estrogen and progesterone in the plasma and decreases in muscle mass.
2. Use short duration high intensity Interval training
The hormonal responses to intense exercise is more efficient at releasing the fat so that it can be burned. When you are breathless and your muscles are burning this releases catecholamines which signal fat to be release so that it can be burned.
3. Resistance Training for better bone health and weight maintenance.
Estrogen fluctuates during perimenopause. This is dangerous because estrogen plays a huge role in bone health. This is why women tend to lose bone density around menopause. Strength training increases hormones such as human growth hormone, estrogen, testosterone, parathyroid hormone which all increase bone formation. Resistance training builds muscles which is more metabolically active therefore you will also use more calories during the day just by having more muscle mass.
4. Use a combination of the Interval and Strength training (Circuit Style Workout)
Circuit training is the most effective way to burn fat. This is the same effect of the above mentioned high intensity exercise. The hormones that allow the fat to be released must be activated by higher intensity bursts. Then once the fat cells are released they can be burned up for energy! By the way, this is the best way to burn fat regardless of if you are around the time of menopause. Be sure to print out the Guidelines Handout at the bottom of the page to see the specifics.
5. Fuel your workout in order to increase muscle preservation and decrease cortisol.
Pre-workout and Post-workout nutrition is imperative if you want to see good results. You need to feed your body carbs after and in some cases before your workouts in order to burn fat. Carbs create a cascade of bodily effects that allow the fat to be used instead of saved. Another interesting tool is taking Branched Chain Amino Acids before workouts to decrease the negative effects of cortisol, control hunger and cravings, as well as increase protein synthesis and muscle repair.
5. Take long (60-90 min) leisurely walks, tai chi, restorative yoga, or bike rides
Decreases in Progesterone cause women to become more stress reactive and therefore it’s quite possible to have higher levels of cortisol. This as you know, can cause increases in belly fat. So low level exercise is the best way to decrease cortisol levels so that your body does not hold onto fat around your abdomen. So even though it may not burn a ton of calories (I know this is what you are thinking) it is important because if your hormones are out of whack your body is not going to release or burn fat anyways.
I have been trying to understand how exercise should be different for women for years now. I still think there is a ton more to learn. However, just taking a look at this article, I hope that you will see that it’s more than just calories in verses calories out. It is more than just how hard can you work and how many workouts can you get in each week and how many calories can you burn. We need to look at our health as a whole picture and realize that it is not as simple as a math equation. Jade Teta’s quote sums it up perfectly. “Become a detective not a dieter.” I hope you will remember this as you think about what workouts and foods you will eat going forward.
To summarize I have created a PDF that you can download by clicking here. Pin this to your fridge or mirror and try to incorporate these strategies into your weekly routine. The link will take you to a new page and on that page you will click on the link.
If you’d like to read the articles or watch the videos that helped me write this article they are listed and linked below.