top of page
Search

MENOPAUSE: THE ROLE OF STRENGTH TRAINING AND NUTRITION DURING THE CHANGE

Updated: Apr 10

Menopause is a crucial period in every woman's life as it marks the complete cessation of sex hormone production in her body.


Of particular interest in this period is the steroid hormone estrogen. Due to its hundreds of vital functions in the female body, it strongly impacts a woman’s mental and physical functioning during the change. This includes an increased risk of heart disease, loss of bone density, age-related muscle loss (sarcopenia), reduced insulin sensitivity, an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, and many others.


In relation to mental health, estrogen plays a key role in the production of the brain chemicals serotonine and dopamine. Serotonine is the "happiness" molecule, while dopamine improves vigor and mental sharpness. If the level of these brain chemicals drop, mood and cognitive function can take a gigantic hit, which in the worst case scenario can lead to anxiety and depression.


With the implications of menopause, socio-economic consequences also have to be considered. Research has demonstrated that out of more than 70% of females who develop menopausal symptoms, 25% of them feel that these have a negative impact on their private life and work life. Furthermore, around 5% of women find it extremely difficult to perform at work while experiencing symptoms, and in 10% of cases the symptoms are so severe that they leave their job.


While the menopause can be a highly challenging time for many women, Strong For Life is committed to helping you discover your mental and physical strength to create long-lasting changes in your health.


For a better and smoother ride benefiting all.


KEY HORMONES

ESTROGEN

A sex hormone performing many vital functions in the female body:


  • Increasing bone density and accelerating bone healing

  • Improving insulin sensitivity (and thus decreasing the risk of type 2 diabetes)

  • Reducing inflammation

  • Producing dopamine and serotonine for improving mood and cognitive function

  • Helping rebuild muscle tissue

  • Releasing glucose into brain cells for better energy production


Due to the lowering of estrogen in peri-menopause, and the complete cessation of its production during and post-menopause, it is apparent how a woman’s mental and physical health can be impacted through such drastic hormonal changes.  


TESTOSTERONE

In contrast to other reproductive hormones, testosterone declines at a steady pace as women approach menopause. Still, its levels remain relatively high compared to estrogen and progesterone during and after menopause.


Managing and keeping testosterone at healthy levels becomes the main driver for hormonal health in women after menopause.

 

Testosterone plays several key roles in the female body:


HEART PROTECTION

Testosterone increases the production of nitric oxide which allows for the relaxation of arteries (meaning they are less stiff) and strengthens the heart muscle. Testosterone also inhibits the accumulation of aortic plaque which would normally lead to an increased risk of heart disease.

 

BONE FORMATION

Testosterone receptors are located on cells which are responsible for forming new bone tissue. Low testosterone levels have been associated with an increased risk of fractures in the hip as well as vertebrae in women. A major reason why men have a much lower risk of osteoporosis than women is due their naturally higher levels of testosterone.

 

IMPROVING METABOLIC HEALTH

Testosterone improves the sensitivity of muscle cells to insulin and plays a key role in regulating blood sugar.

 

COGNITION AND MOOD SUPPORT

Together with estrogen, testosterone has anti-inflammatory effects on the brain. Studies have shown that it has protective properties against Alzheimer’s disease by minimizing the accumulation of plaque in the brain which can lead to severe memory loss. Testosterone has also been shown to improve the regeneration of nerve tissue which can improve cognitive and memory function.

 

IMPROVING SEXUAL FUNCTION

When testosterone is increased in the body, libido and sexual function increase.



STRATEGIES FOR IMPROVING TESTOSTERONE BALANCING

STRENGTH TRAINING

Lifting heavy weights on compound lifts like squats, deadlifts, presses, and rows improves so-called anabolic drive in the body, which means that high levels of testosterone are produced for periods of time during the day. Around 16-18 months of serious strength training are required to elevate baseline testosterone levels.


SLEEP

It is during sleep when hormones such as testosterone are released in higher amounts to repair the body overnight. Shoot for 7-9 hours of solid, uninterrupted sleep. While this can prove challenging in today's world, it is better to stop making excuses.


SUPPLEMENTS

Zinc has been shown to assist in the production of hormones including testosterone, while Vitamin D3 enhances the sensitivity of receptors that inform the body to produce testosterone.


STRESS MANAGEMENT

Pregnenolone is a hormone which is the precursor to both testosterone and cortisol. When we are stressed, the body cares less about reproduction than it cares about flight-or-fight to warrant survival. In other words: if you're chronically stressed, your body produces the stress hormone cortisol in favour of testosterone.



INFLAMMATION

At the onset of menopause and beyond, inflammation levels in the female body increase due to lowered estrogen and testosterone, as well as higher levels of the pro-inflammatory hormone cortisol. Systemic inflammation impairs the muscles’ ability to respond to anabolic stimuli. In other words: it becomes harder for females to build muscle tissue during and beyond menopause. Strong associations have been shown to exist between higher levels of inflammatory markers (for example, TNF-a) and an impairment of muscle protein synthesis. Furthermore, mTOR – a key signalling pathway for building muscle – is blunted in response to elevated inflammation markers.

 

HOW CAN WE LOWER IT?

STRENGTH TRAINING

Lifting heavy weights has been shown to be one of the most powerful tools for lowering systemic inflammation in the body.


Heavy strength training increases muscle mass which lowers inflammation and helps to buffer the effects of inflammatory markers in menopausal women.


A purported mechanism behind this effect is an increase in myokines – powerful immune system modulators which are released in response to an increase in muscle mass.

 

SUPPLEMENTS

One of the most effective supplements for counteracting inflammation as well as anabolic resistance are omega 3 acids in the form of fish oil. Research has demonstrated that taking 4g of fish oil daily over two months increases the activation of proteins responsible for signalling pathways to build muscle tissue. It has been argued that the inflammation-fighting properties of omega 3 acids are responsible for these findings.


Another supplement worth considering for menopausal and post-menopausal women is curcumin. A major aspect of anabolic resistance is that the body is fighting oxidation and thus inflammation. Curcumin has been repeatedly shown to be a powerful agent against both mechanisms by being protective against the NF-kB inflammation pathway.



STRENGTH TRAINING

Lifting heavy weights has several benefits that can offest the negative consequences experienced during menopause:


  • Countering dynapenia, the age-related loss of physical strength. Due to a less favourable hormonal environment, changes in muscle architecture as well as impaired nervous system performance, strength training is crucial for preventing and reversing the age-related decline of physical strength. In fact, most chronic diseases show an inverse relationship with how strong someone is. Females: make friends with a barbell.

  • Improving insulin sensitivity. This means that the body is better able to process, store and take up carbohydrates when needed, rather than storing them as body fat.

  • Increasing bone density. As estrogen is heavily involved in increasing bone mineral density, its loss during menopause can put women at a greater risk of osteoporosis as well as fractures.

  • Building muscle mass. As testosterone drops and inflammation increases during menopause, strength training plays a key role in building and maintaining muscle mass to offset the debilitating effects of sarcopenia.

  • Increasing metabolic rate by increasing muscle mass, which usually drops after menopause.

  • Regulating sleep. Menopause can disrupt a woman's quality and quantity of sleep, which strength training has been shown to improve.



NUTRITION

PROTEIN

As testosterone decreases during menopause (while cortisol and inflammation increase), there is a greater demand for protein intake for females in order to build and maintain sufficient muscle mass. Studies have shown that in order to maximally increase protein synthesis, a ‘leucine threshold’ of 1.5 grams must be met in 3-4 meals per day. In other words: 30-40g of protein are required several times a day to ingest 1.5g of leucine – an amino acid which has been shown to be crucial for igniting the muscle building pathway.


It is therefore crucial for menopausal women to pay attention to consistent protein feeding during the day as this keeps the anabolic environment up in their body. Comparatively, low protein meals would fail to elicit a potent enough anabolic stimulus to keep building muscle mass efficiently.


We recommend that women who are going through the change consume between 1.5g and 2.2g of protein per kg body weight per day.


This is far more than the standard recommended daily allowance (RDA) – a number which has been repeatedly shown to be insufficient for building and maintaining muscle mass as well as for preventing the debilitating effects of sarcopenia in the long run.


Once the pathways “resistant” to muscle protein synthesis are cleared through appropriate diet (i.e. sufficient protein & anti-inflammatory foods), optimal levels thereof can be achieved in menopausal women that are equal to those of younger populations.

 

VITAMIN D3

With a decline in estrogen production, the body’s ability to slow down bone breakdown is impaired (note: estrogen is bone-promoting), as well as its ability to switch on Vitamin D receptors in the gut to increase the absorption of calcium. This means that calcium absorption into the bone is diminished due to poor Vitamin D and estrogen levels. In order to improve this situation, females are recommended to have their Vitamin D status checked and take appropriate action if needed. Further important effects of Vitamin D3 are a reduction in inflammation, greater muscular strength, as well as better mental health (the brain boasts a high number of Vitamin D3 receptors).

 

OMEGA 3 & 6

Omega 3 & 6 acids consumed in the right ratio are critical for the proper metabolism and balancing of prostaglandins. These are lipid compounds which regulate pain, inflammation, blood pressure, hormone production, and gut function in menopausal women. The benefits of omega 3s have been thoroughly researched and are well-established: Omega 3 in the form of EPA and DHA come with the benefit of fighting depression, improving heart health, as well as mitigating joint pain, inflammation and muscle pain. DHA and EPA have been shown to improve both physical and mental health, while also reducing the risk of long-term diseases and other health complications. One lesser-obvious essential fatty acid crucial for improving symptoms during menopause is gamma-linoleic acid (GLA) – an omega 6 fatty acid that is predominantely found in evening primrose oil and borage oil.

 

ADRENAL SUPPORT

The adrenal glands produce steroids as precursos for the sex hormone testosterone. B-Vitamins as well as magnesium have been shown to play key roles in optimal functioning of the adrenals.

 

REMOVING PROCESSED FOODS

Ditching processed foods from the dinner plate not only decreases inflammation, but strongly increases insulin sensitivity in menopausal women. It also improves gut health, which plays a central role in mood function, cognition, and immunity. As a note: the utilisation of fibrous vegetables in the gut is essential for the production of the "happiness" neurotransmitter serotonine - of which 90% is produced in the gut.


RESVERATROL

A plant compound found in red grapes, it reduces oxidative stress and inflammation to improve overall health status in females. Furthermore, it can help increase insulin sensitivity and thus improve the management of blood sugar.


CALCIUM D-GLUCARATE

This compound helps support detoxification by helping the body to remove excess estrogen produced by fat cells from the female body.

 

A NOTE ON CARBS

For women, decreased levels of estrogen as well as progesterone lead to a reduction in insulin sensitivity. Coupled with the increase in cortisol, this can further increase the sensitivity to triggers that send a woman into stress mode. In effect, during and after menopause, a woman’s ability to process carbohydrates is hampered, which makes the improvement of insulin sensitivity a main goal for her. As we have pointed out in this article, strength training makes muscle cells more sensitive to insulin.


From a nutrition perspective, shifting a focus from very high amounts of carbs (especially refined ones) to a higher protein diet improves a woman’s insulin sensitivity further. We would like to herewith strongly advise against low-carb diets as carbohydrates are essential for building strength and muscle mass. Consuming less than half a lettuce leaf a day will make you as weak as your neighbour's whippet after a round of opium.


While the effects of menopause can have severe consequences on their quality of life, every woman should know that they are not alone. Strong For Life is commited to providing effective strategies to improve a woman's long-term health. Most of all, we are eager to increase any woman's physical strength to levels they haven't even dreamt of.


You are welcome reach out to us via the contact form, and let's make your physical strength and long-term health a top priority.



References:

Anton, J.M. et al. (2006). Resistance training, insulin sensitivity and muscle function in the elderly. Essays in Biochemistry, 42 75–88.15.

Aristizabal, J.C., et al. (2015). Effect of resistance training on resting metabolic rate and its estimation by a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry metabolic map. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 69 (7), pp. 831-6.18.

Avis, N.E. (1996). Women’s perception of the menopause. European Menopause Journal, 3 (2), pp. 80–4.12.

Avis, N.E., and McKinlay, S., (1995). The Massachusetts Women’s Health Study: An epidemiologic Investigation of the Menopause. JAMWA, 50 (2), pp. 45–9.

Baker, L.J. and O’Brien, P.M. (2012). Premenstrual syndrome (PMS): a perimenopausal perspective. Maturitas, 72, pp. 121-5.8.

Breen, L., & Phillips, S. (2011). Skeletal muscle protein metabolism in the elderly: Interventions to counteract the ‘anabolic resistance’ of ageing. Nutrition and Metabolism , 8-68.

Churchward-Venne, T., Burd, N., & Phillips, S. (2012). Nutritional regulation of muscle protein synthesis with resistance exercise: strategies to enhance anabolism. Nutrition & Metabolism , 9-40.

Dideriksen, K., Reitelseder, S., & Holm, L. (2013). Influence of Amino Acids, Dietary Protein, and Physical Activity on Muscle Mass Development in Humans. Nutrients , 852-876.

Fiatarone, M., Marks, E., Ryan, N., Meredith, C., Lipsitz, L., & Evans, W. (1990). High-intensity strength training in nonagenarians. Effects on skeletal muscle. Journal of the American Medical Association , 3029-34.

Ferris, L. T., et al. (2005). Resistance training improves sleep quality in older adults a pilot study. Journal Of Sports Science & Medicine, 4 (3), pp. 354–360.

Fry, C., Glynn, E., Drummond, M., Timmerman, K., Fujita, S., Abe, T., et al. (2010). Blood flow restriction exercise stimulates mTORC1 signaling and muscle protein synthesis in older men. Journal of Applied Physiology , 1199-1209.

Fujita, S., Rasmussen, B., Cadenas, J., Drummod, M., Glynn, E., Sattler, F., et al. (2007). Aerobic Exercise Overcomes the Age-Related Insulin Resistance of Muscle Protein Metabolism by Improving Endothelial Function and Akt/Mammalian Target of Rapamycin Signaling. Diabetes , 1615-1622.

Gao, Q. and Horvath, T.L.. Cross-talk between estrogen and leptin signaling in the hypothalamus. American Journal of Physiology: Endocrinology and Metabolism, 294 (5).12.

Greiwe, J., Cheng, B., Deborah, R., Yarasheski, K., & Semenkovich, C. (2001). Resistance exercise decreases skeletal muscle tumor necrosis factor a in frail elderly humans. Journal of the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology , 475-482.

Gordon, B.A. et al., (2009). Resistance training improves metabolic health in type 2 diabetes: A systematic review, Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice, 83 (2), pp. 157-175.14.

Griffiths, A. et al. (2016). EMAS recommendations for conditions in the workplace for menopausal women. Maturitas, 85, pp. 79–81.9.

Gurney, E.P. et. al. (2014). The Women’s Health Initiative trial and related studies: 10 years later: a clinician’s view. Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 142, pp. 4-11.7.

Hardee, J., Porter, R., Sui, X., Archer, E., Lee, I. L., & Blair, S. (2014). The effect of resistance exercise on all-cause mortality in cancer survivors. Mayo Clinic Proceedings , 1108-15.

Hvas, L., (2001), Positive aspects of menopause: a qualitative study. Maturitas. 25; 39 (1), pp. 11-7.10.

Hong, A. R., & Kim, S. W. (2018). Effects of Resistance Exercise on Bone Health. Endocrinology and metabolism (Seoul, Korea), 33(4), 435–444.17.

Kerr, D., Ackland, T., Maslen, B., Morton, A., & Prince, R. (2001). Resistance training over 2 years increases bone mass in calcium-replete postmenopausal women. Journal of Bone Mineral Research , 175-181.

Kovacevic, A., et al (2018). The effect of resistance exercise on sleep: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 39, pp. 52-68.19.

Kopenhager T and Guidozzi F., (2015). Working women and the menopause. Climacteric, 18 (3).8.

Kraemer, W., & Ratamess, N. (2005). Hormonal responses and adaptations to resistance training and exercise. Journal of Sports Medicine , 339-361.

Kraemer, W., Hakkinen, K., Newton, R., Nindl, B., Volek, J., McCormick, M., et al. (1999). Effects of heavy-resistance training on hormonal response patterns in younger vs. older men. Journal of Applied Physiology , 982-992.

Kumar, V., Selby, A., Rankin, D., Patel, R., Atherton, P., Hildebrandt, W., et al. (2009). Age-related differences in the dose-response relationship of muscle protein synthesis to resistance exercise in young and old men. Journal of Physiology , 211-217.

Lang, C., Frost, R., Nairn, A., MacLean, D., & Vary, T. (2002). TNF-alpha impairs heart and skeletal muscle protein synthesis by altering translation initiation. Endicronology and Metabolism , 336-347.

Layne, J.E. (1999). The effects of progressive resistance training on bone density: a review, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 31 (1), pp. 25-30.16.

Liao, K., Hunter, M.S., and White, P. (1994). Beliefs about menopause of general practitioners and mid-aged women. Family Practice, 11 (4), pp. 408–12.13.

Lewis, R. and Newson, L., (2019). Menopause at Work: a survey to look at the impact of menopausal and perimenopausal symptoms upon women in the workplace, Newson Health Menopause & Wellbeing Centre, Winton House, Stratford-upon-Avon, UK.

Maki, P.M. (2013). Critical window hypothesis of hormone therapy and cognition: a scientific update on clinical studies. Menopause. 20 (6), pp. 695-709.4.

Milman, S., Atzmon, G., & Huffman, D. (2014). Low insulin-like growth factor-1 level predicts survival in humans with exceptional longevity. Aging Cell , 769-771.

Muñoz, A., Max, C., (2013). Nutritionally Mediated Oxidative Stress and Inflammation, Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, vol. 2013.13.

Phillips, M., Patrizi, R., Cheek, D., Wooten, J., Barbee, J., & Mitchell, J. (2012). Resistance training reduces subclinical inflammation in obese, postmenopausal women. Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise , 2099-110.

Poehlman, E.T. (2002). Menopause, energy expenditure, and body composition. Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, 81(7), pp. 603-11.10.

Ruiz, J., Xuemei, S., Lobelo, F., Duck-chul, L., Morrow, J., Jackson, A., et al. (2014). Muscular Strength and Adiposity as Predictors of Adulthood Cancer Mortality in Men. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention , 1468-1476.

Sato, K., Iemitsu, M., Matsutani, K., Kurihara, T., Hamaoka, T., & Fujita, S. (2014). Resistance training restores muscle sex steroid hormone steroidogenesis in older men. The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology , 1891-1897.

Schaffer, G. (2020). Menopause: still a taboo subject? Future You Health. https://futureyouhealth.com/knowledge-centre/menopause-study-2020 

Sherwin, B., (2003). Estrogen and cognitive functioning in women. Endocrine Reviews, 24 (2), pp. 133-51.

Singh, D. et al. (2010). The role of estrogen in bone growth and formation: Changes at puberty. Cell Health and Cytoskeleton. 3, pg. 10.2.

Sikora, E., Scapagnini, G., & Barbagallo, M. (2010). Curcumin, Inflammation, Ageing and Age-Related Diseases. Immunity & Ageing , 1742-49.

Smith, G., Atherton, P., Reeds, D., Mohammad, B., Rankin, D., Rennie, M., et al. (2011). Dietary omega-3 fatty acid supplementation increases the rate of muscle protein synthesis in older adults: a randomised controlled trial. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition , 402-412.

Tella, S. H., & Gallagher, J. C., (2014). Prevention and treatment of postmenopausal osteoporosis. The Journal Of Steroid Biochemistry And Molecular Biology, 142, 155–170.2.

Toth, M., Matthews, D., Tracy, R., & Previs, M. (2005). Age-related differences in skeletal muscle protein synthesis: relation to markers of immune activation. Endocrinology and Metabolism , 883-891.

Vernon et al. (1990), Media Stereotyping: A Comparison of the Way Elderly Women and Men Are Portrayed on Prime-Time Television, Sociology Department, Faculty Publications, 5.4.

Viña, J., et al. (2013). Role of oestrogens on oxidative stress and inflammation in ageing. Hormone Molecular Biology and Clinical Investigation, 16(2).3.

Woods, J., Wilund, K., Martin, S., & Kistler, B. (2012). Exercise, Inflammation and Aging, Aging and Disease , 130-140.

81 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page