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Menopause and low carbs - effects on higher intensity athletes? | Coaching Adults

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Posted in: All other topics on coaching adults

Menopause and low carbs - effects on higher intensity athletes?

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  • Coach_Chris

    I coach and prescribe training for bike riders of all ages and have so far been unaware of any side effects of menopause on my athletes, maybe because they were already on HRT?  One of my riders (early 50's) recently got in touch:

    "I have to say that I'm worried about my performance but it's not down to you - I think it's an age/ hormone thing as I've been looking up the effects of the menopause on performance (sorry to be blunt but I guess I might as well be open about it!  And it may be an issue for other 'older' women who you train).  I can't find a lot except comments on loss of muscle power - I seem to be taking ages to recover from efforts and my muscles are really burning more so when I'm out on a ride rather than on the indoor trainer."

    She has been on a low carb. diet which was working well for her, especially as previous events were much more endurance based.  However, she is now starting to train at higher intensities (HIIT etc), with a reverse periodised training model and targeting events where she will need to ride at threshold and above for longer periods of time.

    It may be just a case that she's trying to jump into racing too soon without the preparation and adaptations needed but I wonder how much menopause will effect her training now and in the coming years. 

    Any thoughts much appreciated.

    Many thanks,


  • Coach_Chris

    Okay so I've done some digging and I'm going to attempt to answer my own question.  Please feel free to add in your own comments, experiences and thoughts.

    Exercise is a great way to minimise the effects of menopause and we can use cycling to:
    • Maintain aerobic capacity and blood volume which can otherwise drop.
    • Focus on hydration during exercise to avoid hot flashes, when the body gets too warm and blood rushes to the surface.
    • Carbohydrates become harder for your body to process but exercising 4-5 times per week will help to reduce total body fat.
    • You may find that your body is less able to process carbohydrates so food such as pasta and bagels can send blood-sugar levels souring.  Eating more fruit and whole grains and less processed sugar can keep your stomach and blood sugar levels steadier.  Also look out for race day food that doesn't contain fructose.
    • Weight bearing sports in the past put stress on your bones, which the body adapts to by strengthening.  Therefore you're likely to have a higher bone density.  Regular strength training and a healthy balanced diet using the Eatwell guide will help:

    The eatwell plate

    • Build muscle mass and power using things like HIIT and core workouts to counter the effects of the drop in growth hormones like oestrogen.  Having a protein rich recovery shake within 20mins of stopping exercise will help too.
    • Everyone becomes less flexible over time which increases the risk of straining and pulling muscles.  Regular stretching when your muscles are warm i.e. after exercise or a bath, can help to maintain and increase range of movement.
    • Exercise makes you feel good about yourself and helps to de-stress, which can help to counteract fluctuating levels of oestrogen.

    Suggest a healthy diet should contain some low GI carbs i.e. the 'Eatwell plate' to provide a more readily available source of energy for the higher intensity interval training required to build power and strength.

    Any thoughts appreciated.


  • batty

    this post reminded me of this I saw this last week


    (not a doctor/physio/nutritionalist) and i am going off the top of my head for this one! so please check things out for yourself (i'm in the middle of about 5 things and procrastinating whilst here ;) )

    There is something with women to do with either vitamin D or Calcium and the risk for osteoporosis

    my understanding is that calcium is used in the muscle contraction as part of the chemical reaction causing a contraction.  The body being the body will try and harvest things its missing from other areas of the body, and calcium being related to the bones etc!  if i remember rightly, vitamin d helps with the calcium uptake/storage.

    its probably worth looking into!

  • hilaryq

    Hi Chris

    I speak from experience rather than from theoretical knowledge, and all of what you say in your reply to yourself rings very true for me.  I ran (mostly off-road) regularly, from mid teens until aged 61 (2 years ago now) when I had to admit that my right knee and left ankle were combining to make it all just too painful, not to say just ineffectual. But I went through what you describe with carbohydrates, and hydration did seem to be more important than before. In fact I'd probably go for more fruit & veg than the Eatwell Plate shows, and less in the way of carbs.  Flexibility and strength (core and limbs) are crucial right into old age (the main reason why ambulance crews have to go and help old people who've "had a fall" is because they don't have the strength and/or flexibility to get back up again!), and I've found a GOOD Pilates class helps (avoid those that turn it into an aerobic workout, the key thing is to do the exercises correctly, not fast). I also discovered open water swimming is great for the spirit. You touched on the thing which for me is most important - the mental aspect.  If running (or cycling or whatever) has been your coping strategy for many years, life becomes very difficult when you're deprived of it. If your sport has also been a good source of social activity too, the impact of the potential loss is multiplied. So do please help all your older athletes to maintain that connection with the sport they love. And thank you for caring!


  • KateMac

    Hi! I know I'm late to the conversation here so maybe you're already sorted but I have been exploring similar issues with some of my runners. I found this book immensely helpful. Ignore the title/cover picture, it's actually really sound science and very very useful!

    'Roar' by Dr Stacey Sims (won't let me post the link)

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