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Why You Should Be Building Muscle In Perimenopause

Building muscle in perimenopause might not be something you’ve given much thought to when it comes to solving symptoms. But believe me, building muscle is great for perimenopause! Building muscle supports your brain and your body in a myriad of ways. The chances of, and severity of perimenopause symptoms IS within our control. And building muscle is one of ways in which we can support ourselves in this phase of life, and beyond.

In this blog, I’ll explain why building muscle in perimenopause is so important and helpful for minimising symptoms. Such as brain fog and cognition issues, weight gain and belly fat, sleep, hot flushes, headaches, and more.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE BUILDING MUSCLE IN PERIMENOPAUSE

Muscle is literally the organ of longevity. And by ‘longevity’ I mean to live a longer life but also a healthier and happier one. This is what muscle mass can help you achieve! Muscle is protective of your bones, brain, heart, metabolism, body composition, immune system, thyroid health, and more! The more muscle mass you have (and maintain), the better your experience of perimenopause and menopause.

Skeletal (lean) muscle mass has many metabolic functions including blood glucose and insulin control, mitochondrial (energy producing cells) function, arterial stiffness, inflammation, oxidative stress, brain function, hormone health, immune health, and more.

Muscle mass decreases approximately 3–8% per decade after age 30

And this is true for both men and women. This is called sarcopenia, which is Latin for ‘lack of flesh’. Sarcopenia is defined as age related loss of skeletal muscle mass, quality, and strength, and the replacement of muscle fibres with fat. (This is one of the ways your body becomes better at storing fat after 40).

But the good news is that you can counteract muscle loss by doing things that build muscle as part of your daily and weekly routine.

Benefits of Having More Muscle In Perimenopause Include:

Blood Sugar Balance And Insulin Sensitivity 

One of the biggest risk factors for a rough time in perimenopause is insulin resistance. This is when the cells in your body and brain have become ‘resistant’ to the action of insulin. Once this happens, cells no longer take in glucose from the blood stream for energy. Hello brain fog, memory issues, fatigue, and headaches. Furthermore, glucose that remains in the blood stream, due to the insulin resistant cells, is stored in fat cells as body fat, predominantly around your middle. Therefore, insulin resistance is a big contributor to the so-called mid life ‘muffin top’ or apple shape.

The more muscle mass a person has, the more efficient their cells are at taking up glucose from the bloodstream, also known as insulin sensitivity.

Brain Health And Cognition

Lean muscle mass increases ‘neurogenesis’ (the making of new brain cells) and increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein found in the brain. BDNF can be likened to fertiliser for brain cells because it helps neurons to grow and survive. A 2022 study at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre and School of Human Nutrition showed an association between low muscle mass and cognitive decline, including mood issues.

Heart Health

A 2023 study by the Current Opinion in Cardiology Journal found that increased lean, and especially skeletal, muscle mass has been associated with better cardiometabolic health. The study authors went on to say that more studies should be done to evaluate the role of lean muscle mass in reducing chronic diseases.

Immune Health And Inflammation

Muscles, especially during and after physical activity, produce and release a group of proteins called Myokines. Myokines are hormone-like proteins that play a significant role in modulating immune cell activity. For example, a 2013 study found that a single bout of exercise provokes an increase in systemic levels of anti-inflammatory and infection-fighting immune cells.

Exercise-induced myokine production can exert anti-inflammatory effects that counteract not only acute inflammation due to an infection, but also chronic low-grade inflammation. Low grade chronic inflammation plays a significant role in muscle aches and pains, brain fog, fatigue, headaches, autoimmune conditions, and even diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cirrhosis, and cancer.

PROTEIN INTAKE AND MUSCLE MASS

You’ve likely heard me (and other health professionals) talk about the importance of eating enough protein. It’s one thing to KNOW what you need to do but actually understanding WHY is all the more empowering. Physical activity – particularly strength or resistance training – alongside good nutrition with sufficient protein intake can help build and maintain muscle mass over the years. 

Protein is crucial for muscle development through its role in muscle protein synthesis (MPS), a process by which muscle cells use amino acids (from protein foods) to build new muscle tissue. MPS is essential for muscle growth and repair and is the primary way that muscles are built and maintained. Muscle protein synthesis can be stimulated through exercise, specifically resistance exercise and strength training, and the consumption of dietary protein.

Other Reasons Why Protein Is So Important

Protein is the number one nutrient for supporting good blood sugar balance. It helps to slow the release of glucose into the bloodstream from carbohydrates, keeping cells SENSITIVE to insulin. Thus preventing or reversing insulin resistance.  

Protein keeps you feeling fuller longer and keeps cravings at bay. For with cravings, particularly in the afternoons, increasing protein (especially with breakfast) will have an incredible impact. Not only on reducing or eliminating cravings, but on balancing your energy and mood as well.

4 ways to build and maintain lean muscle in perimenopause

1) Lift Weights 3x A Week

It’s important to focus on workouts that build muscle. Remember, muscle protein synthesis is stimulated through resistance exercise and strength training. Initially, this can simply be resistance exercised using your own body weight. Such as lunging, squatting, planks, press ups, uphill running or sprinting, and even yoga and walking. Then, start lifting, pushing and pulling heavier weights, such as a bench press, pull up, deadlift, and barbell squat and lunge.

During perimenopause and menopause, strength training has been found to improve hot flushes, cognition, mood, blood sugar regulation and insulin sensitivity and protect bones.

2) Eat More Protein With All Meals

The minimum optimal dose of protein each day is 1.5g of protein per kg of your ideal body weight. For example, if you currently weigh (or your ideal body weight is) 70kg, you would want to consume a minimum of 105g (70kg x 1.5g) of protein daily, split our across 3 or 3.5 meals. A more optimal dose would be between 1.6 and 2g of protein per kilo of ideal body weight.

Research shows you need at least 30 g of protein in one meal to stimulate muscle building.

According to Dr Donald Layman, a professor in human nutrition, positive protein balance only lasts about three hours after eating. Therefore it’s important to eat enough protein at every meal. Dr Layman also says your first meal of the day is the most important meal in which to get an optimal dose of protein. The other two meals also matter, but breakfast is the KEY meal to focus on getting right first. Then start to ensure the other 2 meals are protein optimised. The average person’s protein intake falls short at breakfast. In my 10 years of practice, I’m yet to see a client who is getting more than 5-10 grams of protein from their breakfast.

The table below shows some common protein foods and their protein content. Use this table to get ideas for increasing your daily intake and making it a habit.

building muscle in perimenopause
Table by Francesca Liparoti showing protein in various protein foods.

What can you start doing from today to start getting the optimal amount of protein each day?

Protein-rich breakfast ideas:

  • “Dinner for breakfast” – what did you have for dinner last night? Chicken, turkey, fish, beef, lamb are all great options for breakfast! With leftover veggies heated up or salad veg. Sometimes I have leftover lamb mince curry & veg topped with a poached egg! 
  • Omelettes are a great option because you can add so much to them. Such as smoked salmon, chopped chicken sausages, chopped veg such as peppers, mushrooms, asparagus, tomatoes, spinach, kale, broccoli, and onions.  
  • Smoked salmon with poached or scrambled eggs, and spinach and tomatoes, on rye or sourdough toast.
  • A protein smoothie using a good quality, unflavoured protein powder such as Pulsin, Sunwarrior, Form Nutrition, or Bulk. A great breakfast smoothie includes things like ground flax, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, coconut oil, avocado, nut butter, leafy greens, and minimal fruit such as a handful of mixed (fresh or frozen) berries. 

3) Get Enough Good Sleep

Sleep plays a critical role in building muscle in perimenopause through its role in MPS (muscle protein synthesis) and muscle repair. When we sleep, our bodies release a hormone called growth hormone, which helps to facilitate muscle growth and repair. Sleep also helps to reduce inflammation, which can cause muscle damage. Sleep also helps with blood sugar regulation, another important factor in our ability to synthesise and hold onto muscle. Studies have found that sleep deprivation decreases the activity of protein synthesis pathways in the body and increases the activity of pathways that favour the loss of muscle mass. Therefore, adequate sleep is crucial for maintaining muscle mass and achieving optimal muscle growth and repair. The optimal dose of sleep each night is between 7 and 9 hours. Have a read of my blog here for “How To Sleep Well In Perimenopause”.

4) Manage Your Stress / Support Your Nervous System

Chronic stress has the ability to block building muscle in perimenopause and can lead to muscle loss through several mechanisms. When chronically elevated or dysregulated, the “stress hormone” cortisol will have a detrimental effect on muscle growth and accelerate muscle loss. Elevations/imbalances in cortisol interferes with protein synthesis, which is the process by which muscles grow and repair themselves. Cortisol can also increase the breakdown of muscle tissue, leading to muscle loss. Furthermore, cortisol can reduce insulin sensitivity, which can lead to decreased muscle recovery and increased muscle breakdown. Click here to learn more about chronic stress and examples of stressors.

Simple lifestyle habits to rebalance cortisol levels and switch you out of ‘fight or flight’ into ‘rest and repair’ include:

  • Walks in nature/green spaces
  • Qigong or Tai Chi
  • Yoga
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Yoga Nidra (Non Sleep Deep Rest / NSDR) meditation
  • Lying down with your legs resting up the wall
  • Meditation, mindfulness practices
  • Good evening wind-down routine and good sleep
  • Getting into daylight within 30-60 minutes of waking

Even just 5-10 minutes a day of some of these things (scattered throughout the day) can make a profound difference.

Find out more about how to work with me 121 here.

Hi, I'm Francesca

I’m a Registered Nutritional Therapist who helps womens in their 40s find vibrant health and vitality, and thrive through perimenopause and beyond.

With nearly 10 years of experience working with hundreds of people, I empower and support women to support their bodies and hormones for a smooth and happy ride in their 4os.

Through our work together, clients have improved their energy, their periods and cycles, their mood, sleep, brain fog and digestion, and learned how to better manage their weight.

I am here to help you get back to YOU so you can have a fantastic time in your 40s.

My signature nutrition and lifestyle coaching approach to supporting women with their health and wellbeing is refreshing, down-to-earth and realistic.

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