I recently posted a podcast on menopause for the athlete on my facebook page facebook.com/tribirdsport it was very interesting listening to what other women are going through & what steps they have taken to still be able to participate in sport even at higher levels. I am in the early peri-menopause stage myself & I do think knowledge is power to getting to grips & finding alternative ways to lighten the symptoms. Also talking about it with other women really helps, one with my sanity that I’m not going crazy and offering up what’s working for them plus we do have a good chuckle about it.
Some of the symptoms of Peri/Menopause are:
- Irregular periods
- Vaginal dryness
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Sleep problems
- Mood changes
- Weight gain and slowed metabolism
- Thinning hair and dry skin
- Foggy brain
- Loss of labido
But what was also mentioned in this podcast that I never knew were itchy skin (I have this), bowel issues (for example runners trots that they never had before), cramps but debilitating, generally not feeling like yourself and this can go on for up to 10 years.
It was the loss of sleep that seemed to be the biggest issue with athletes whether due from night sweats, anxious brain or just constantly waking up & then this crosses over into the day time of having no energy, motivation & just feeling drained.
THE AGEING PROCESS
As we age our VO2 Max gradually reduces therefore slower race times (thank goodness for age categories), so more recovery between training sessions is needed. Another part of the ageing process is lean muscle starts to decrease so Strength & Conditioning should be an important part or addition to your training to help maintain muscle & prevent loss of bone density which is due to the loss of oestrogen. An area in the podcast regarding bone density was that running alone was not enough even though it is a weight bearing sport as stress of running isn’t enough to support the bone stress to bone development turn over. Adding plyometric power based exercises was advised for example body weight or weighted squats, lunges, pushups, Squat Jumps, Star Jumps, Box Jumps, skipping etc to keep the muscles stimulated therefore keeping the lean muscle mass development & increase the bone mineral density development, so adding these into your strength workout or pre run warm up workout is a good idea. Another area coaches, PT’s & athletes can get wrong is thinking that as the athlete is older they need to slow down but that is a misconception as what they really need to be doing is ramping up the intensity with adequate recovery.
Nutrition was another area they talked about on the podcast is that pre/menopausal women become more carbohydrate sensitive so need to reduce total intake of carbohydrate & getting most of this from vegetables & grains (think ones that come packed with micronutrients) – Quinoa, Spelt) rather than the simple carbohydrates we tend to use for racing. Increasing protein intake due to the fact that we are losing the stimulus for lean mass development. Eating real food, a quote from the podcast I liked “we are not as smart as nature,” because we get a lot of co factors from real food for example, eating an orange: we tend to pee out a lot of the vitamin c from a tablet form compared to an orange because the orange has enzymes & co factors that allow us to absorb the vitamin c. Think about what real food you could eat during a race, this would also help with reducing GI distress that is common from these high sugar processed gels/bars etc. How do you fuel the fact that pre/menopausal women need a reduction in carbohydrate intake, how much should we be eating? A general rule of thumb is 40% Carbs, 30% Protein, 30% Good Plant Based Fats (help increase good gut bacteria) but this is not for everyone so play around & find what works for you. During post exercise the protein needs to go up to 30-40g when in menopause to help promote protein synthesis to stimulate muscle protein development and relatively quickly afterwards too. Here is a post exercise smoothie you could try, (i tried it & it was yum)
- Banana (can be a frozen banana)
- Chia Seeds
- Flax Seeds
- Cup of Non Fat Greek Yoghurt (non fat after training as want it to get into your system quickly)
- Protien Power scoop or Nut Butter
- Almond Milk, Oat Milk, Soya Milk
- an Expresso (I didn’t add this to mine as didn’t have any at the time) but it will make it like a latte smoothie.
Here are some natural remedies I have heard about & tried. Fennel tablets helped with mood swings to start with but I now take Black Cohosh that help with hot flushes & moods. But I have heard Soy is also good.
- Black Cohosh
- Soy Isoflavones
- Red Clover
If you need to be on HRT get on it & get off it as soon as you can due to some of the risks but if the symptoms of menopause are unbearable then speak to your GP about it as there are different doses available now.
Not every woman has a bad time through menopause, some just sale through it but lets talk about it more for the women that are having a tough time because talking to other women who are dealing with menopause as well can make you realise that your are not going crazy & not alone & this feeling that you are not yourself is part of it & as I said at the start you may even all have a laugh together about the crazy things you have said or done due to it. For the coaches & PT’s out there that work with women athletes of this age think about maybe adding a section to your profiling questionnaire asking them if they are going through the menopause & what, if any, actions they are taking to help with it. Getting it out into the open at the start will make it easier to talk about it when training is going ahead, so if there is a really bad week & you can’t workout why, this could be the reason & will make it easier to have this discussion.