Q. Can you share some nutrition tips for those of us who are going through menopause? The hot flashes and weight gain are real struggles!
You asked I’m answering!
Menopause isn’t easy for most women. One of the most irksome challenges facing women during or after menopause can be unwanted weight gain. Menopausal weight gain is due to many issues, including fluctuating hormones, a downshift in metabolism, and decreased muscle mass. There’s no magic pill that fixes everything, but there are lots of little changes that can tilt the scales in your favor. Weight gain does not have to be an acceptable given!
Menopause is a complex, multifaceted subject; I am breaking it down into biteable posts.
Decreased Muscle Mass And What To Do About It
Muscle requires a few more calories than fat to maintain, so as we lose muscle, our metabolism slows down. Our body muscle mass starts decreasing after age 30 (!), where we lose anywhere between 3-5% of our total muscle mass each decade.
Maintaining a healthy amount of lean mass helps optimize health for everyone regardless of age or gender. Muscle mass is essential to maintain strength. Building and maintaining lean mass is also a great way to stave off decreased insulin sensitivity that occurs naturally with aging. Higher muscle mass (relative to body size) is associated with better insulin sensitivity, supporting a healthy body fat level.
It’s not a cliche to say resistance training is the fountain of youth. Incorporating resistance /strength training is the greatest way to continue building and maintaining your muscle mass. Lucky for you, as a Questie, you are already getting top-notch exercise advice and routines from our coaches.
Strength training is more important than ever as we get older, combined with adequate protein to support the effort.
Let’s discuss feeding those beautiful muscles. There’s some evidence that older adults are not as responsive to protein as they age, meaning they need more of it to function optimally than younger adults. And the need increases further if you are a menopausal woman. The decline in muscle mass and function is known as sarcopenia and is due to various factors, including decreased activity levels and poor nutrition. For older women, one of the biggest drivers is menopause-related hormonal changes. Research shows that estrogen loss, which is important in maintaining muscle and bone mass, can contribute to sarcopenia. Thus, getting enough protein—which can help stave off the loss of lean muscle—is crucial for older women. A recent study suggests that a high protein intake through middle and later life, especially for older women, may be particularly impactful in maintaining physical function.
Ok, so, how much protein do I need?
Your protein requirement depends on your particular age/needs/exercise/lifestyle. Generally, adults’ protein recommendation is to consume 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight; but research is showing that older and more active women may want to get 1 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram.
Recommendations for how much protein is enough for older people vary.
Adequate vs. Optimum
The RDA and other sources state that 0.8 g of protein/kg of body weight per day is adequate for all adults. But research indicates that protein requirements increase with age. Current studies suggest that most people over age 65 should take in about 1 g to 1.2 g of protein/kg of body weight per day to gain and maintain muscle mass and function. There are no separate recommendations for people between ages 50 and 65, but it stands to reason that getting enough protein during that time would make good nutrition sense. You need a combination of exercise and high-quality protein. Older adults are less efficient in using amino acids for muscle protein synthesis than are young adults. Exercise increases the efficiency of muscle protein synthesis in older adults.
Doubling the RDA gives you “optimal protein,” more than 40 nutrition scientists advanced at a recent Protein Summit. The findings from which were published in 2015 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Over a day, that looks like 20-30 grams per meal and 12 to 15 grams per snack, for a total of 90-105 grams daily.
Research suggests that eating at intervals spread out by a few hours may enhance the body’s appropriate use of protein to maintain skeletal muscle mass as best as possible. Spreading protein throughout the day may also help the body digest and utilize it better than all at once or in very large doses.
While studies are mixed about whether consuming more protein leads to weight loss, research is pretty clear that protein can help you retain more of your lean muscle as you lose fat. One 2011 study suggests amping up protein to as much as 1.8 to 2 grams per kilogram (roughly 0.8 to 0.9 grams per pound) of body weight per day to stave off muscle loss when restricting calories. Cutting back on refined carbs to balance out the extra calories from adding protein can help menopausal women. Protein also decreases appetite and can help with cravings.
If you think you may need more protein, I recommend breaking down the increase to make it feel more digestible. It can be helpful to think of this as a per meal protein recommendation, so it’s not overwhelming to ensure you get enough in over the day.
Try tracking your protein with an App or the old fashioned way with pen and paper to see how much you are eating.
Bottom line: Protein needs change with age. Eat enough protein for your needs at every meal and lift weights to help maintain muscle mass to help with menopausal weight gain.