The menopause generally occurs in women between the ages of 40-60 and is a time of significant emotional and physical change.
Reproductive hormones naturally decline and the female menstrual cycle comes to an end.
The menopause can be a stressful and anxiety-inducing time. It can result in weight gain, loss in bone density, hot flushes, insomnia and mood swings.
The menopause and weight gain
During the menopause, your hormone levels will decrease, your metabolism will slow and you become more prone to storing body fat, particularly around the mid-section.
You may find that unless you adjust your calorie intake and activity levels, you are likely to gain weight.
It's important that you have an idea of the number of calories, based on your activity levels, age and weight, that you should be consuming daily.
You can use the following formula to work your total out;
For sedentary women aged 40-60, this is 8.3 x your weight in kilograms + 846 x 1.4 (or 1.5 if you are more active).
This figure is your target calorie intake per day.
If you are unsure, ask a registered fitness or health professional to help.
To aid in maintaining a healthy body composition throughout the menopause, you should consume enough protein at each meal.
This is because your lean muscle mass naturally decreases as you age.
Therefore you must maintain and even improve your muscle mass through diet (increased protein) and exercise (resistance training).
The average Brit only consumes around 10g of protein at breakfast, so find ways to increase your intake in the morning.
You could make yourselves scrambled egg, an omelette or porridge with nuts and seeds.
It's also important that you consume protein after strength building exercise to help stimulate muscle repair and recovery.
The menopause and weaker bones
During the menopause, declining oestrogen levels cause the depletion of bone density to accelerate.
To help combat the amount of bone loss, you should consume adequate calcium, vitamin D, protein, ensure a healthy BMI and incorporate weight-bearing exercise.
Over the age of 50, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for calcium increases to 1,200mg/day (Ross et al 2011).
A food-first approach to meeting this is ideal because calcium supplements are often discouraged because of potential heart disease (Li et al 2012).
Dairy products, leafy greens, almonds, tofu and sardines are all excellent choices to meet 2-4 daily servings of calcium-rich foods.
Vitamin D is essential in helping the body absorb and use calcium.
If menopausal women need more calcium, they need more vitamin D too.
However, vitamin D is not found in many foods other than fortified products, salmon, egg yolks and some mushrooms.
The best way to boost your vitamin D is in fact, through sunlight.
15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure on your face, arms and legs every day, is enough for the body to start naturally producing it (Holick 2004).
Take care in the summer and hot climates, we don't recommend an unprotected 15 minutes in the mid-day sun.
Seek guidance from your GP or a registered dietician regarding supplementation because in some cases, it is sometimes necessary.
The menopause, hot flushes and insomnia
75-85% of women experience hot flushes and poor sleep quality during the menopause (National Sleep Foundation 2019).
Your nutrition can have a vital role in managing these symptoms.
A 2013 study found that refraining from drinking caffeine and alcohol and increasing your water intake, may reduce the frequency and severity of your hot flushes.
Foods that contain phytoestrogens (plant-derived oestrogens) such as soy milk, soybeans and tofu, are also thought to relieve some menopausal symptoms by functioning as a mild form of the hormone oestrogen in the body (De Cremoux et al 2010).
It's worth noting that there has been some controversy on these foods, however emerging reports suggest they may be of benefit to women going through the menopause, by lowering the incidences of hot flushes, without serious side effect.
As always, we recommend seeking the advice of your GP or a registered dietician before making changes to your diet, exercise routine or supplementation.
To sum up
The menopause can be a challenging time for many women.
Hormonal changes can lead to weight gain, loss of bone and muscle mass, hot flushes and insomnia.
Your nutrition can play a leading role in managing and improving these effects.
Increase and evenly distribute your protein intake, ensure you eat the right amount of calories and get adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D.
If in doubt seek the help of your GP or a registered dietician.
Ben Yates is a personal trainer based at Places Gym Hinckley and Hinckley Leisure Centre in Leicestershire.
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