From reading both Roar by Stacy Sims and Menopocolypse by Amanda Thebe, I have learned that as women move through perimenopause, they can experience changes in body composition. Many women will experience some fat gain during this time and this can be for many reasons.
This may come as a surprise to women and it is good to understand why. I have tried to simplify the information in the books to help explain why it can happen. My personal inclination is to address this because it affects my sporting performance and for health reasons rather than for vanity.
Whether you want to work on it is entirely your own business. This blog post is not intended to shame anyone struggling with their composition during this time in their lives, it is my own way of processing the changes my body goes through.
Based on what I discovered so far, these can be the reasons for women experiencing changes to their body composition through peri-menopause and menopause
During peri-menopause the amount of estrogen produced goes down.
Pre menopause, estrogen helps you deal with stress, so when you are in a high state of stress – because of work, family, etc – you produce a hormone called cortisol that helps you access glucose to run or fight this stressful situation. In turn, Insulin is suppressed to allow the glucose to be released, rather than stored.
However, when you are moving through perimenopause, you are gradually producing less estrogen, meaning you can’t deal with stress so well, and as a result, you produce more cortisol that can become less insulin sensitive. This means you create more insulin than you need, leading to fat storage, particularly round the belly.
- Muscle loss
During perimenopause, your estrogen declines. Dr. Stacy Sims explains that this results in an imbalance between protein synthesis – turning protein into muscle and breakdown where your muscle breaks down to get protein for energy. There is more of the breakdown part of the process. This means that, the ability to make muscle from resistance training and eating protein becomes harder.
This will affect your strength and power and over time, even your quality of life.
- Burn less fat
Dr. Stacy Sims describes a study where, during a 45 minute cycle at “fat-burning” zone, post menopausal women burned 33% of fat, and menopausal women burned 23% less fat than younger women.
I’m not going to go into detail but, Thebe, in her book, also mentions that there has been
a) a connection between lower estrogen and your hunger hormones and
b) A connection between fluctuating estrogen causing bloating and water retention, this can also be as a result of stress of the menopause
While there are benefits of having some fat, there are also some actions you can take to slow down the aging processes. It is quite a simple list – I recommend you to read the books for more detailed information.
- Small changes to your nutrition
a. While ensuring you are eating a good amount of carbohydrate, alter your carbohydrate consumption to eat a bit more fruit and vegetables and a bit less grains, breads and pastas.
b. Increase your quality and quantity of your protein intake. Dr. Stacy Sims explains that women need more protein during this period of their lives. As well as this, eating extra protein after tough workouts (ideally within the 30 minutes), will help you produce more muscle while you recover.
- Strength training
To help slow down the muscle loss, start lifting heavy things. In combination with the changes to your nutrition, this will help you become stronger and build muscle again!
- Reduce your stress levels
A great way to do that is through regular exercise, a balanced diet, good sleep, meditation, yoga and walking.
- Focus on being healthy rather than skinny
Going on very restricted diets can do our bodies more harm than good. While we shouldn’t overeat fat, taking fats completely out is not a solution. Our body needs them for several functions, such as hormone production.
- Embrace the changes
If you spend your whole life worrying about every bump and lump, you won’t be happy. Try to embrace the changes as we go through life. Accept a bit more fat and enjoy living in the body you have. There is no stopping the fact that our bodies change as we get older.