195 1024x1024

5 lessons I learned: Training and the Menopause

Part 2 of ‘The things I wish I knew when I turned 40… as a competitive female’

The next transition is one we need to embrace. Eyes wide open. Full of knowledge. Aware of the signs. Knowing that a few changes now will put us in a good place for many years to come.

Besides, who says you can’t keep improving later on in life? It just has to be done right and made a lifestyle choice. Short, sharp 12-week fitness plans and fad diets simply won’t cut it for 40+ women anymore. Though I do feel there is going to be a stream of opportunities for master athletes to continue exercising, training, and competing at whatever level they choose for as many years as they choose. This is going to a big shift in mindset.

Let’s look at how you should approach exercising and training.

Lesson 1: Keep track

First up, the 40+ women. Make sure you’re tracking your cycle (there’s an app for that). In fact, all women should be tracking their cycle. This way, when you start seeing a change in time between periods and change in length and flow, this can be a marker that you are transitioning into peri-menopause. Us athletes are very good at knowing our bodies and will pick up on some of the symptoms I mentioned in part 1. Once you can make the connection, you can prepare. Hopefully without trying to train harder and eat less to compensate for any dips in performance.

Rest assured, this transition will not last forever. You will come out the other side as fit and active as you were before. And if you hit the gym, you will definitely stride out fitter, leaner and faster.

Lesson 2: Recovery is for winners

Athletes in menopause are prone to over-training. As we see the weight slowly going on, for what seems like no reason whatever, we tend to hit the road harder, longer, with fewer calories to try to get back to that lean athlete we used to be. This, unfortunately, can lead to a low energy state, injury, and eventually spiral out of control.

The first mindset shift to make is to still train hard but recover harder. Training needs an ebb and flow for you to make progress. Moving to a 2 weeks on/1 week off recovery model will really help. Think of it as taking two steps forward, one step back, two steps forward, one step back. You get the picture. This way, you’ll always be moving forward. You’re also going to be doing harder sessions and fitting in gym sessions (more on this in a bit), so the way you plan your week will be key.

Try to leave at least 24-hours between hard sessions to give your body maximum time to make the adaptions.

Lesson 3: More is not beneficial

As we get older, and with the drop in hormones mentioned in part 1, doing more, because you think it will help to stop the weight gain, is not going to help. It takes too long to recover from the longer sessions as we get older, so you actually will end up doing less exercise.

Another side effect of the hormone drop – your body will not burn calories like it used to. Nor will it build lean mass like you used to. Don’t let your spirits drop though. Think back, how many hours of long endurance work have you done over the years? Probably a lot! That is all in the bank and you are not going to lose it. I’m not saying cut out the long endurance rides completely. They have their place and can be great for mental health and getting out on adventures with your friends.

Instead, maybe introduce a couple of shorter, sharper repeatable sessions into your weekly training plan to reap the benefits. You will get fitter, burn more calories and keep your weight in check; especially if you refuel with a good amount of protein at the end of each session. You need the exercise stress of the higher intensity to make up for the responses that oestrogen and progesterone used to stimulate.

The menopause is a time of life to be embraced and celebrated and go charging into the next transition of our lives like we are owning the signpost sprint on the club run.
Sue Allen

Lesson 4: Eat around your training

Eat more to be lean and strong, starting by nailing the timings of when you eat. Try it this way…

Fuel to train, then eat within 30 mins of finishing – with the main concentration being on protein. It’s as simple as that. No gimmicks. No intermittent fasting. Actually, no fasting at all! No low-carb diets. You want to have a balanced, well-rounded diet that covers ALL the food groups, with a good dose of protein in every meal.

This is still possible if you’re vegetarian, as there are some really good pea protein powders on the market now.

In a nutshell, what I’m trying to say is, you need to get everything you can from food to make sure that you keep and grow the muscle that you have and keep your bones healthy. Which leads me on nicely to Lesson 4, LHS!

Lesson 5: Lift heavy s**t

Women lose power production with the decrease in oestrogen, progesterone and, as we get older, testosterone. We need to train for power even if we are endurance or ultra distance athletes. As I’ve already mentioned, we inherently have the ability to go slow and burn fat, so this only needs to be visited occasionally in your training.

As we get closer to the menopause, we lose the anabolic stimulus from oestrogen and need to lift heavy weights to reproduce the same effect. When I say heavy, I don’t mean we all have to become grunting powerlifters. I’m talking weights that feel heavy to you to start working your muscles a different way (the old adage of ‘use it or lose it’).

Now don’t go rushing to the nearest gym and straining with the heaviest weights you can find. You will hurt yourself. It’s better to develop a routine for the rest of your life. There are some really good apps out there, and PT's that will prep you ready to lift heavy s**t. Through learning the movements and making sure your body is ready to lift weights, you are also strengthening your tendons and ligaments.

Be patient, be consistent, you will see results. Not only in body composition, muscle burns more calories, but you will also be seeing results on the bike. And believe me, you won’t be getting all hench!

Lesson 6: Strength work continues outside the gym

The power you are building in the gym needs to be transferred into your riding. Including sessions that involve high torque work (big gear, low cadence) alongside cadence drills will really transform your riding. Include a 2 weeks on/1 week recovery model so that you can maximise recovery and really get the most from the sessions.

In summary:

• Recovery is key – plan for recovery days/weeks

• Add intensity to your sessions

• Lift heavy s**t

• Eat to train with an emphasis on protein with every meal.

If you have already gone through the menopause and are months or years past it – don’t worry. There’s always time to make changes that’ll slow down the ageing process. There are so many health benefits to exercising. Anything is better than nothing and it is never too late to start. I would love to go to the gym and see it full of 40+ women owning the squat racks.

As I mentioned in part 1, menopause is not the end. We don’t just stop, sit up, and only go out on cafe rides. We are able to continue exercising – and competing – at whatever level we choose for as long as we choose. The more of us that do this, the more opportunities there’ll be for 40+ female categories at races.

It’s time we let the race organisers know we are here and here to race. So talk with your friends, your daughters, in fact talk to your whole families. The menopause is a time of life to be embraced and celebrated and go charging into the next transition of our lives like we are owning the signpost sprint on the club run.

Sue Allen / Coach