Menopause and Muscle Building: a commentary on the workout requirements for women in perimenopause and menopause

The Challenge of Muscle Building Post-Menopause

A recent study highlights that moderate strength training may not effectively build muscle in postmenopausal women. Additionally, the typical protein intake guidelines for the general population do not adequately address the muscle-building needs of active menopausal women. This demographic requires specific muscle-making guidelines tailored to their unique needs.

Accelerated Muscle Loss and Its Consequences

Adults generally lose 3 to 8% of their muscle mass every decade after age 30, with this rate accelerating to 5 to 10% after age 50. For women, muscle loss is particularly steep during the menopause transition, with research indicating a potential 10% loss of muscle mass during perimenopause alone. Postmenopausal women are significantly more likely to develop sarcopenia (involuntary muscle loss) compared to their premenopausal counterparts.

Muscle loss has far-reaching consequences, including decreased speed and power in physical activities, increased insulin resistance, bone loss, higher fracture risk, and elevated chances of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

Current Recommendations and Their Limitations

The World Health Organization advises all adults to engage in strength training for major muscle groups at moderate or greater intensity at least twice a week. The CDC echoes this, recommending muscle-strengthening activities like weight lifting or push-ups at least two days a week. However, these guidelines may not suffice for postmenopausal women, as indicated by a new study in BMC Women’s Health.

Study Insights on Strength Training

The study involved 31 women, both premenopausal and postmenopausal, who participated in a 10-week resistance training program. Postmenopausal women were randomly assigned to either a low-intensity (50% of 1 repetition max) or moderate intensity (75% of 1 RM) strength training program, while premenopausal women all performed the moderate intensity program. Both groups trained twice a week, performing exercises such as squats, bench presses, rows, lat pulldowns, side bends, and planks.

Although all participants increased their strength, only the premenopausal women experienced changes in body composition, gaining muscle mass and losing fat mass. The researchers concluded that postmenopausal women likely require larger training volumes (>6–8 sets/muscle per week) to achieve significant hypertrophy and body composition changes.

Recommendations for Postmenopausal Strength Training

Postmenopausal and perimenopausal women should aim for the higher end of the strength training intensity spectrum. The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) suggests older adults (>50) should engage in higher intensity lifting, including 2 to 3 sets of 1 to 2 multi-joint exercises per major muscle group at 70 to 85% of 1 RM, 2 to 3 times a week. Incorporating power exercises performed at higher velocities with moderate intensities (40–60% of 1 RM) is also recommended.

For the greatest strength-building stimulus, postmenopausal women should perform heavy lifts like squats, bench presses, and deadlifts (4 to 5 sets of 6 or fewer reps at ~85% of 1 RM) and complement these with moderate intensity exercises (3 sets of 8 reps at 75% 1 RM). Ideally, strength training should be included in the routine three days a week. Beginners are advised to work with a trainer to ensure proper technique and progression.

The Importance of Protein Intake

Adequate protein intake is crucial for muscle building, especially for postmenopausal women who may develop anabolic resistance, making their muscles less sensitive to protein. While the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day, this amount is insufficient for muscle building. Active women, particularly those who are exercising or trying to lose weight, should aim for protein intakes of 1.4 to 2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight per day, distributed evenly across meals.

Consider this.

The current exercise and nutrition guidelines are designed for a largely sedentary population, aiming to protect their health at a minimal level. Active, athletic women in menopause striving for optimal performance need more than the bare minimum. Tailored guidelines for strength training and protein intake are essential for this demographic to maintain and build muscle effectively.

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