What to eat when running through menopause?
Updated: Apr 3
As a runner, you are aware that your body is your most valuable asset. However, menopause can make it feel like your body is working against you. Despite limited research on how menopause affects female athletes, there's no need to worry. In this article, I will explore what is known about menopause and share tips on how to stay healthy and continue running during this transition.
How can menopause affect running performance and overall health?
Menopause can cause significant changes that affect both running performance and overall health. Reduced estrogen levels during menopause can lead to the loss of lean muscle mass and an increase in fat mass, resulting in a higher risk of health conditions such as obesity, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis. Additionally, menopause can affect mental health, leading to mood changes, anxiety, and depression. However, by staying physically active and making healthy lifestyle choices, you can minimize the impact of menopause on your health and continue pursuing your passion for running.
How much energy should I consume?
Hormonal changes during menopause can lead to decreases in energy expenditure and fat oxidation, which can result in weight gain. However, it's important to note that weight gain during menopause is not entirely caused by hormonal changes but is often associated with decreased physical activity. To achieve the right energy balance, it's crucial to stay active and focus on a high-quality diet that includes nutrient-rich foods and avoids excess high-calorie foods like cakes, biscuits, chips, fried foods, alcohol, and takeaway.
Should I reduce carbohydrates?
As we age, metabolism slows down, and excess sugar and refined carbohydrates can lead to weight gain and other health issues. Low-glycaemic-index diets have a positive effect on metabolic rate, weight, and fat mass in women going through menopause. Outside of exercise, it's essential to limit sugar and refined carbohydrates and instead focus on whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. You can still use carbohydrate-loading strategies, being sure to include enough carbohydrates to boost muscle glycogen stores. There is no evidence that older athletes have different carbohydrate requirements compared to younger athletes during and after exercise. Download my ebook on carbohydrates to fuel for a PB here!
Do I need to adjust protein?
As we age, our body's ability to use protein declines, leading to muscle loss, which can affect running performance. Menopause can accelerate muscle loss, but staying physically active can slow it down. Studies suggest that post-menopausal women who consume more protein have higher lean mass. Therefore, it is recommended to consume at least 1.2g/kg of protein per day, which can vary based on calorie intake, training intensity, and protein quality. High-quality protein sources like eggs, dairy, meat, poultry, and fish are crucial, while vegans/vegetarians need to balance amino acids. To improve body composition and protein balance, protein intake should be distributed evenly throughout the day.
How important are calcium and vitamin D?
To prevent injuries and perform well, it is crucial for runners to maintain strong bones. Unfortunately, bone density decreases after menopause, increasing the risk of fractures. However, studies have shown that adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D can help improve bone mineral density and prevent osteoporosis and fractures. Calcium and vitamin D requirements are higher for menopausal females. Therefore, as a peri-menopausal or post-menopausal runner, it is important to incorporate calcium and vitamin D from sources such as dairy products, leafy greens, fortified cereals, and sunlight into your routine to keep your bones healthy.
I’m not thirsty? Can I drink less?
As we age, our thirst mechanisms become less efficient, making dehydration more likely. Therefore, it is important to understand the significance of proper hydration. For peri-menopausal and post-menopausal runners, the goal should be to consume at least 8-10 cups of water per day, and more if running in hot or humid conditions. However, individual factors such as sweat rate, body weight, and weather conditions should also be considered when creating a hydration plan. Understanding sweat losses and developing an appropriate fluid replacement plan is essential for maintaining optimal hydration levels and peak performance.
Which diets actually work?
The Mediterranean-style diet pattern has shown promise for menopausal women, as it has been associated with a decrease in blood pressure, a reduction in fat mass, and an improvement in cholesterol levels. Additionally, this diet may promote adequate consumption of bone-healthy nutrients such as beta-carotene, vitamin C, and selenium, making it an effective strategy for preventing osteoporosis and fractures in the postmenopausal period. A Mediterranean diet is characterized by a high consumption of plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains, as well as healthy fats, like olive oil and fish. It also includes moderate consumption of dairy products, such as cheese and yogurt, and low to moderate consumption of lean protein sources, such as poultry and eggs. Red meat and processed foods are limited, and the diet encourages the use of herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor food.
Keep moving and lifting!
Menopausal women who engage in high levels of vigorous physical activity tend to have lower body fat and waist circumference. However, calorie-restrictive diets may lead to bone and muscle loss if not balanced with exercise. Therefore, it is recommended to combine both aerobic and resistance training to improve body composition and maintain bone density. By prioritizing physical activity, runners can keep a healthy body composition and reduce the risk of injury.
If you're heading towards menopause and love to run, make sure to balance your energy, fuel up with protein and low glycaemic index carbohydrates outside of exercise, load up on calcium and vitamin D, and follow a Mediterranean diet. Don't forget to stay hydrated and get in some cardio and resistance training. You got this!
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