The menopause is a completely natural and normal change of life for women, but it can be challenging to come to terms with.
While it is true that for some women symptoms can come and go for several years, you have to remember that the menopause is a transition that you will get through eventually. And once your hormones have stabilised, you’ll feel calmer and steadier than ever before.
The shift in hormones that occurs as you transition through menopause years can affect your running in a few different ways, but rest assured not everyone will experience all the potential challenges. As a runner you are already in a far better position than women who are inactive to capably handle menopause symptoms and you’ll be pleased to hear there is no reason why you should not be able to continue running and exercising for many more years to come.
Good nutrition plays a massively important role in getting you to thrive through the menopause years. In this post we will talk about the ways that the menopause may affect your running, giving simple ways you can change your nutrition and lifestyle to keep you running stronger for longer.
Three ways the menopause can affect your running
Feeling hot, hot, hot
Ever changing hormone levels affect your body’s temperature control, generally making you feel hotter, often at the most inconvenient times of day. Hot flushes can leave you feeling uncomfortable and self-conscious, and when your body temperature is already on the rise from the effort you are putting in to running, each step you take feels tougher than ever. The hormone oestrogen affects the way your blood vessels expand and constrict, technical term is vasodilation, and changeable levels of oestrogen tend to bring more heat to your skin. A nice fresh breeze when you are out running cools you down well, but really, how often do the two things actually happen on the same day?
What can you do?
Spicy foods, alcohol and caffeine are well researched as making hot flushes worse, so definitely consider reducing or eliminating these. If this seems to a big deal to you, remember, this transition time does not last forever. Great foods to add into your diet include soy foods (such as tofu, edamame beans, chickpeas, miso). Don’t forget the simple things like hydration too. You want to be drinking at least one litre of water before lunch and one litre after. More water if it’s especially hot or you are running.
Dragging yourself out the door
You used to love throwing on your trainers and going out running but find it hard to get the energy together now? Energy levels can take a nose dive as your hormone levels fluctuate. Yes, those pesky hormones are responsible for a lot of the ways going through the menopause affects your running. Running and all other forms of exercise, if done moderately, will actually boost your energy levels. You probably already know that once you’re out the door and 10 minutes into your run you’ll feel much better and very glad you got out. It’s the getting started that’s hard.
What can you do?
Watch your sugar intake. You may feel like you need a sugar boost to give you some energy, especially if you’ve been struggling with poor sleep, but relying on sugar will only cause spikes and dips in your blood sugar which leaves you feeling worse and can put you at greater risk of weight gain and type 2 diabetes. Instead, focus on eating protein with every meal and choosing complex carbs like oats, seeded bread and wholegrain rice. As mentioned already, alcohol and caffeine can make hot flushes worse so are worth cutting down on. They are both also likely to impact on your quality of sleep which in turn will make you feel more tired the next day. Instead of a ‘relaxing’ glass of wine at the end of the day, try a calming yoga sequence to prepare you for a restful night’s sleep. Then you’ll be raring to go for a run!
Am I going to get slower?
A concern for many women, because we all have our PBs and time goals. Declining oestrogen and testosterone levels do make it more difficult to build and maintain muscle. Not only is muscle mass needed for running power and speed, maintaining muscle decreases your risk of osteoporosis. With some changes to your training and nutrition you can still run fast (whatever ‘fast’ means to you) for many years to come. Powerful muscles give your body the power it needs to run strong. For those women who started running later in life, you still have plenty of scope for improving running speed as with each year of running your body is adapting and you are becoming a better, more efficient runner. Women, like me, who have been running since their early 20’s need not despair as you have the advantage of experience, both mental and physical.
What can you do?
Strength training is key in building and maintaining muscle as you age. Ideally, include two or three sessions a week. Keep it simple to start with, such as a round of weighted squats and lunges, some press ups, triceps dips and seated shoulder press. Nutrition is really important too. Again, you want to be focusing on protein with every meal (such as eggs, chicken, fish, beans, lentils, lean meat) for muscle building. And as an added benefit, increasing your muscle mass helps moderate any unwanted mid-region weight gain.
Don’t let uncomfortable menopause symptoms force you off track from running and exercising. Make some simple tweaks to your nutrition and lifestyle and you’ll be running stronger for longer.
As a registered Nutritional Therapist, I guide women on how nutrition affects and supports your health during menopause years, giving personalised advice and food plans to help you manage your own unique set of symptoms. Got specific symptoms you want to talk through? Let’s have a free chat.
You can also sign up to my free 14-day liver cleanse plan to get you started on thriving through the menopause.
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Helen Morton, registered Nutritional Therapist. sports nutritionist, runner, Level 2 Fitness Instructor and food lover, sharing latest nutrition research and recipes.