When Dr Stacy Sims agreed to come on my podcast I was over the moon, what a treat. My copy of her legendary book, ROAR is almost worn thin. It’s a book I recommend to every female athlete and a valuable source of information through all stages of our life. And her research on menopause is especially interesting to me now.
If you don’t know Dr Sims, she is a Senior Research Scientist at the University of Waikato. She is an applied researcher, innovator and entrepreneur in human performance, specifically sex differences in training, nutrition, and environmental conditions. She’s basically OUR WOMAN, finally somebody fighting our corner for us ladies.
On this podcast episode, we cover A LOT of ground. I highly recommend putting 40 minutes aside and taking notes!! I have highlighted below some of the main talking points from Dr Sims.
Keto and Intermittent Fasting in Menopause
We know that the ketogenic diet works fantastically well for epileptic kids, where we see decreased seizures when they have circulating ketones in their diet. Unfortunately, this clinical diet has been hijacked by the fitness industry without any real viable science. We know that the keto diet decreases carbs in the diet, but the long term research is just not there, especially when considering sex differences. A woman needs carbs for healthy functioning endocrine system, then when we enter perimenopause and become more carb sensitive, the need for adequate carbs is more important then ever. Keto diets are just too extreme for our body to function in healthy manner.
Intermittent Fasting (IF), increases the body’s catabolic (breakdown) state and we can see an increase in cortisol. During exercise this then increases the stimulus for to store body fat, causes downturn in our metabolic rate and thyroid function. The advocates of IF makes claims of increased longevity and changes to our DNA yet exercise in itself causes all the positive aspects, but without stressing the body in a negative state.
Menopausal women need to focus on low glycemic load foods, which are high in fibre such as fruit and veggies. High fibre helps feed the gut microbiome which is directly connected to our brain health, mood, immune system, depression and anxiety. So it is really important to foster a healthy gut. This is also where we see keto fail, with it’s low fibre intake.
Women see a large increase in boating and water retention during menopause, estrogen has a direct effect on intestinal cells and we sometimes see this shown up as leaky gut. This then leads to dietary changes to help us feel better (hand me the chips someone!), lethargy, feeling bloated and fatigued. Studies have shown a decrease in mood, depression and an over-growth of bad bacteria in the gut. Eating whole foods (fermented and high fibre) that promote pre and probiotics are the easiest way to look after gut health.
Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s) can really help women to keep
amino acids circulating in the blood. One of those essential amino acids is leucine, which crosses blood brain barrier to help with brain fog and central nervous system fatigue. BCAA’s are a great addition the menopause toolbox.
Estrogen is anabolic (build-up), progesterone is an antagonist. So when progesterone down-regulates and isn’t as prolific in the body, we have more uptick for muscle protein synthesis. Sounds great right? Unfortunately, when both estrogen and progesterone decline through menopause we see ourselves in a greater catabolic state, almost all of the time (we can’t build muscle easily) DAMN! This in addition to our sensitivity to carbs, our decrease in muscle protein synthesis (MPS) leads us to an increase in abdominal adipose fat.
The antidote is to increase protein across the board, to keep that stimulus going. We know that older women don’t get enough protein, our appetites and thirst are muted, so we should really focus on protein intake through whole foods mainly, with supplements if required.
A decrease in proteins leads us to a loss of lean mass and muscle fibre integrity. An increase leads us to an increase in lean body mass, which then improves quality of life and menopause symptoms.
Plyo + Power Training and Recovery
As a promoter of metabolic strength training, I was happy to see that the latest studies back up the work I am doing. Dr Sims stated that jump training is effective for improving body density and lean body mass. Running on the other hand, even intense interval training puts the body in a catabolic state where is cannot preserve and maintain bone density. These interval trainins are great for metabolic condidtioning though. Running isn’t a strong enough stimulus or multi-directional stressor to maintain and build bone, it creates too much cortisol for muscle synthesis.
Women in menopause need to build muscle and improve bone density and this is achieved by weighted strength training such as jumps and lunges, that are multi-directional, have resistance and are fast, so essentially creating power. They are also a way to avoid being in a catabolic state too long and maximise our body’s requirements.
Aiming for 3-4 workouts like this a week, alternating with a recovery day will help get us out of the catabolic state and allow MPS to occur.
Alleviate Fatigue with Adaptogens
Adaptogens, are back in vogue. There is some solid research showing that adaptogens can help moderate stress responses to the declining estrogen and progesterone. So you may see improvements to brain fatigue/fog and cognitive issues. If you are struggling with these issues, it’s worth trying dietary changes with adaptogens, such as ashwagandha, mushrooms and maca.
Insomnia and Melatonin
Sleep issues are so pervasive in menopause, it can completely impact a woman’s quality of life. Sleep occurs when the body’s core temperature drops and melatonin is part of this process. Unfortunately for us menopausers, estrogen impacts our natural melatonin production and we have less control over our system (think hot flashes and night sweats). One answer is to try tart cherry extract, which is a natural stimulate for melatonin production. It’s worth drinking it cold to help drop the core body temperature to get you into that sleep zone. Dr Sims suggests, 200ml of very cold tart cherry juice, or in capsules with ice-water. It’s her preference over melatonin tablets which are taken as a continuous dose and you can develop a tolerance, should always be cycled, tart cherry is a way to avoid this.
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