Jules Strauss

Total Endurance Nutrition

Changes in body composition during peri- and post-menopause

The menopause is a stage of life that most people are familiar with as the end of menstruation. However, the term peri-menopause may be less familiar. Peri-menopause describes the 5-10 years prior to the menopause as the body begins to transition towards the end of its reproductive life.

Peri-Menopause

Many females report a number of undesirable changes that occur during this time of peri-menopause. But for female athletes this can be even worse, as the changes interfere with what had previously been a very normal training routine. Symptoms that are often reported include unexplained weight gain, fatigue, brain fog, sleep disturbance, joint tenderness and poor thermoregulation (control of body temperature).

During peri-menopause, levels of the sex hormone oestrogen drop, and this can impact how fuels (carbohydrates and fats) are metabolised and stored. The ‘unexplained weight gain’ is usually the result of an increased fat mass and a decreased muscle mass. This is one of the most common queries (peri-)menopausal athletes seek support with at Total Endurance Nutrition, so here we consider why this happens and how you can overcome this.

Changes in body composition

Loss of muscle mass

As we age, there is a natural decline in muscle mass and strength in both men and women. However, in women this decline occurs more rapidly as menopause approaches. This highlights just how important it is to get adequate protein in the diet for peri- and post-menopausal females – protein is critical because it provides the building blocks to build and repair our muscles. As we age our protein requirements increase and so as an older athlete you should be aiming for 1.5-2.0 g protein per kg of body weight per day.

In order to maintain a steady supply of protein (and therefore the muscle building stimulus) to the body, athletes should aim to consume protein at regular intervals though the day and particularly prioritise consumption of a protein (and carbohydrate) rich snack or meal after training. Ideally, aim to consume this within an hour of finishing training.

Preparation is critical here, especially if you have to dash to work after training or have kids to deal with as soon as you step off the turbo.

Why does fat mass increase?

As women reach the menopause the ability to burn fat both at rest and during exercise is reduced. Again, this is linked to the decrease in oestrogen. Importantly though, the lower levels of fat burning also coincide with a reduction in energy expenditure. And it is this combination of a decreased fat burning and decreased energy expenditure which leads to the change in body composition. If you are burning less energy during exercise but eating the same diet as your pre-menopausal years, then it is inevitable that over time, body composition will gradually change. Together with the reduced ability to build muscle, it quickly becomes apparent why the peri- and post-menopausal athlete finds themselves losing muscle mass and gaining fat mass.

What can I do about this?

As an athlete, trying to improve body composition can be challenging as you try to manage a high quality and consistent training plan with carefully planned energy (and carbohydrate) intake to support specific training sessions. There is no one-size-fits-all approach here and this is why working with a nutritionist can be particularly beneficial.

At Total Endurance Nutrition we can work with you to understand your individual energy requirements relative to your training and use this to facilitate maintenance of training alongside energy and carbohydrate manipulation. This will support you to improve your body composition at a time when it can feel like your physiology is working against you.