Sports Nutrition for Women Over 40
The Hormone Challenge
If you are female and over 40 then you may be able to relate to this blog. Perimenopause and even menopause symptoms can often take us by surprise. Some women experience changes earlier than 40 if they have had a partial or a total hysterectomy.
Let’s face it ladies, our body changes and our moods changes and we go from being hot to cold and don’t forgot about how we once felt pretty energetic from sun-up to sundown. Suddenly, our sleep is off. We are tired in the morning and, in the afternoon, we tend to feel low energy as well as salt or sugar cravings. Is it all hormonal? Well hormones are part of the decline, however, so is not changing our diet, not participating in strength training and not sleeping.
Studies have indicated that after 40, muscle strength decreases by about 1% per year. Between 60 and 70 muscle strength decreases by 15%.
Sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass) occurs as we age. Muscle mass and muscle function decreases, which ultimately causes muscle strength to decline.
Slowing the loss of Muscle Mass
Studies show that a diet that is comprised of non-inflammatory, protein rich foods, coupled with both strength and cardiovascular exercise can help retain both muscle mass and muscle function.
I went through menopause at an early age, 44 to be exact. My body slowly began to change. I started to accumulate fat in my mid trunk area and felt bloated and gassy all the time. I was a runner and did some strength training at the time, however one thing became clear, it was not enough. My strength began to decline, and the body fat started to increase.
I knew better then to look for a quick fix. Having witnessed many of my clients trying the latest fads, I knew those methods would ultimately fail. My training as a dietician and an IFMCP validated that it’s all about slow and steady, making better choices and learning what your body needs at different times in your life.
The Importance of Diet and Supplementation
When I was in the midst of menopause, my hormones were out of control. My adrenals were taking over, and estrogen, progesterone and testosterone were all on a decline. I had to change up my diet (give up my vegan lifestyle) and focus in on good quality protein, veggies/fiber and healthy fats.
I’m not saying that you cannot be a vegan and support your body through menopause, you just should take the time to find the right sources of protein that fits your body’s needs. For me, the vegan lifestyle was causing me to lose muscle. I found for my body type didn’t need a lot of fat. I needed more protein and it needed to be spread out throughout the day. I also needed to do regular detox’s to support my liver, as my hormones were out of control.
I used supplement support in the form of Vitamin D, magnesium, adrenal support and liver phase I and phase II support. I needed to clear the toxins out of my body to not cause more in-balance.
The 40+ Female Athlete
The older female athlete seems to be pursuing a sport as a way to exercise, whether it be a 10K, ½ marathon, playing tennis or running an ironman. Women want to compete or improve health or maintain fitness.
Most women over 40 will see a decrease in muscle strength, bone mass, flexibility and range of motion. They may notice a decrease in their maximum power and in maximum oxygen consumption.
It’s very important that the female athlete take in enough calories to support her chosen sport plus what she needs daily. Looking at calories, the actual macros (protein, fat, carbohydrates), and the micros (iron, calcium, potassium, vitamin D, magnesium, etc.) are key to a well-balanced diet. Remember it is individualized so it’s important that you work with a dietitian who understands sport nutrition.
1. Drink Fluid. Our fluid levels decrease as we age due to a decrease in muscle mass. If you are not hydrating properly there is less sweat available. It is important that you take in not only enough water but that you are keeping your electrolytes in check (potassium, sodium).
2. Eat Low Glycemic Index Carbohydrates. These are very important from a nutrient standpoint as well as a soluble and insoluble fiber support.
3. Distribute your protein throughout the day. If you eat protein only once a day (and a lot of it) then your body is not going to use it correctly. You will store the extra as fat and promote insulin release.
4. Include fiber in your diet, especially soluble fiber. I’ve been saying this for over 20 years. Soluble and insoluble fiber is key for a lot of reasons. It helps to promote good bacteria in your gut, it fills you up, it helps to stabilize blood sugar, and it helps to clear out unwanted hormones.
5. Consume Healthy Fats. Healthy fats are very important for our brain and for energy. How much you consume will depend on your specific training needs. One thing that we do know, is healthy fats give us a very satiety feeling.
6. Get a Bio-Impedance Test. A Bio-Impedance machine tests your lean, fat free mass and fluid levels. You will need to find a dietitian that uses this machine. I’ve been using one for over 20 years and it helps take the focus away from the scale, shifting the focus to healthy lean body mass. For everyone, but especially women over 40, once we lose lean body mass, it is hard to regain it and we’ll start to see a rise in body fat.