A diet rich in protein keeps you satiated, your muscles strong and your bones healthy. That’s why it’s vital to increase your protein intake during perimenopause and menopause.
Our bodies become less efficient at utilising protein during perimenopause and as we approach menopause. For this reason, we need to eat protein at every meal in order to build and maintain valuable muscle mass. It’s important to consider the type, variety and quality of the protein we eat. A recent survey revealed that one in three women over 50 do not eat enough protein. We want to change this and highlight the importance of eating a sufficient amount of protein during and after perimenopause.
What is Protein, anyway?
Proteins are complex molecules that perform numerous tasks within our cells. They are composed of smaller units called amino acids, which combine to form complex proteins. Amino acids are essential for almost every bodily function in the brain and body. They help keep our tissues healthy, play a role in making hormones and even help with chemical reactions that keep our body functioning smoothly.
There are two main types of amino acids, namely essential and non-essential amino acids. There are nine essential amino acids. Our bodies cannot make them on their own so we have to get them from the foods we eat. When it comes to non-essential amino acids, don't let the name fool you - it doesn't mean they're not important! Non-essential amino acids are still necessary for our bodies, but our bodies can produce them on their own. So we don't have to rely solely on the foods we eat to get them.
Both essential and non-essential amino acids work together to keep our bodies healthy and functioning properly. It's important to have a balanced diet that includes a variety of protein sources to make sure we're getting all the amino acids we need.
Think Only Bodybuilders Need Protein? Think Again!
Protein is crucial for women, especially if you’re over 40. Of course proteins are important for bodybuilders too. But given that proteins play a vital role in almost every process within our bodies, their importance simply cannot be overstated. Women need proteins because of the unique hormonal changes that happen before, during and after menopause.
Amino acids and the proteins they form are essential for hormone production, body tissue development, satiety, muscle strength and bone density. This is an important issue for women over 40 because declining oestrogen levels during menopause leads to a decrease in muscle mass and bone density.
Amino acids and the proteins they form are essential for hormone production, body tissue development, satiety, muscle strength, and bone density. Bone density is an important issue for women over 40 because declining oestrogen levels during menopause leads to a decrease in muscle mass and bone density.
Let's take a closer look at why protein is so important for women going through menopause:
Reason #1 We Lose Muscle Mass
In our forties, our bodies start to lose muscle mass more rapidly. Insufficient muscle mass leads to increased weakness and fatigue and makes us more prone to injuries. Muscles surround and protect our joints, bones and even our organs. The more muscle mass we have, the better our internal organs, bones and joints are protected. Muscles are made up of protein, which are synthesised from our diet. As we age, our bodies become less efficient at extracting the protein we need from the food we eat. That’s why our bodies need a little assistance in the form of eating a lot of high-quality protein.
Reason #2 We (Often) Eat Less
Did you know that proteins are the only macronutrient that our bodies do not store? If only this were the case with fat and carbohydrates, we would have fewer things to worry about during menopause. As we age, we tend to eat less or eat the wrong types of food. Typically, this is because we need fewer calories and we don't want to gain weight. Additionally, as we get older, we tend to experience a loss of appetite. Eating less often means consuming fewer proteins. This is a problem because if we don't consume enough protein, our bodies will get it from somewhere else in our bodies - usually from existing muscle tissue. As we have already learnt, muscle mass is important so we should do everything we can to preserve it.
Reason #3 We are (Often) Less Active
When it comes to our muscles, the familiar phrase "Use it or lose it" applies. Those of us who have had an injury that kept us bedridden will know how quickly the body can break down muscle mass. The older we get, the more important it becomes to build muscle through strength training. In addition, we need to increase the amount of exercise we do and make sure we are eating enough of the right kinds of protein.
Reason #4 We Process Proteins Less Effectively
During perimenopause, our bodies become less efficient at utilising proteins, especially compared to when we were younger. And there’s another phenomenon that happens to everyone as they age called anabolic resistance. Anabolic resistance describes the decreased ability of our muscles to build and repair themselves in response to the protein and amino acids we consume. This can lead to a decline in muscle mass over time. This means that if a 50-year-old woman consumes the same amount of protein as a 20-year-old woman, her body will provide less protein for muscle building. So, she needs a much higher protein intake to maintain the same muscle mass.
Reason #5 Protein Helps you Lose Weight
Proteins aid in promoting satiety and building muscle, which benefits weight loss. Another advantage is that when protein and carbohydrates are eaten together, they stabilise our blood sugar levels. This is especially helpful in managing mood swings during perimenopause and lowering the risk of insulin resistance and diabetes. However, this doesn’t apply to elderly people with severe kidney disease.
How Much Protein do I Need to Eat During Menopause?
Ideally, you should eat protein at every meal. Each meal should contain proteins that have a broad spectrum of amino acids. The ideal amount of protein for you depends on your body weight and the amount of physical activity you do. The larger and more active you are, the more amino acids you require. According to the PROT-AGE study, the recommended daily protein intake is 1.0 to 1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight.
That means that someone who is very active and does a lot of endurance and resistance training, should eat a lot of protein (i.e. ≥ 1.2 g/kg body weight/day). The same applies to those suffering from acute or chronic illnesses (1.2-1.5 g/kg body weight/day). However, this doesn’t apply to elderly people with severe kidney disease.
Here’s an example of 1.0 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight:
If you weigh 60 kg: approximately 60 to 72 g of protein per day
If you weigh 80 kg: approximately 80 to 96 g of protein per day
Distributing this across the three main meals of the day, namely breakfast, lunch and dinner, means eating around 20 to 40 grams of protein at every meal.
A rough breakdown of your plate could be as follows:
- Around half of the plate consists of vegetables and grains with a low glycemic index.
- Slightly more than a quarter is devoted to proteins (about 25-35%).
- The remaining portion consists of healthy fats, making up 15-25%.
- Are you eating enough protein? Are you eating some protein at every meal? How often do you eat legumes or protein-rich grains throughout the day? If you eat little to no protein, it's time to change that!
You can also calculate your individual protein needs using this protein calculator.
Here are a few ways you can eat more protein at every meal:
- Enjoy an XbyX Daily Energy plant-based protein superfood shake for breakfast. You can also mix it into your smoothie, porridge, overnight oats or cereal.
- Eat some legumes like peas, beans, or lentils for lunch. Beans and rice are a great combination!
- Tuck into some Energy Protein Balls for a healthy afternoon snack. They contain nuts, seeds and protein powder.
- Have hummus and roasted vegetables on a slice of whole grain bread for dinner.
To Sum Up: Women Over 40 Need Extra Protein
1. You feel fuller for longer when you up your protein intake.
2. Protein helps maintain muscle mass and strengthens your bones, which is important for every (active) woman.
3. Protein plays an important role in the immune system, hormones, enzymes, sleep, digestion and ovulation.
Protein takes more effort for the body to digest than other foods, which means that it actually burns calories during digestion.