Is weight gain during menopause unavoidable? Most women gain weight during menopause, but does menopause actually cause fat gain?
What changes occur in the body that make it easier to pack on the pounds during this hormonal shift? How can you prevent weight gain during menopause and how can you lose the belly fat gained while going through it?
You’re going to learn all that and more in this podcast. Press play to listen to the science of menopause and weight gain.
0:00 – Try Phoenix today! Go to https://buylegion.com/phoenix and use coupon code MUSCLE to save 20% or get double reward points!
3:39 – What is the connection between menopause and weight gain?
5:08 – What factors do hormones play in weight gain?
13:26 – Does age cause weight gain?
27:37 – How can I lose fat that was gained while going through menopause?
Mentioned on the Show:
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Hello, lovely listener and welcome to another episode of Muscle for Life. I am your host, Mike Matthews. Thank you for joining me today to learn about a touchy subject. Menopause and weight gain, why it happens and how to fix it. And I am going to start by sharing some good news. Most people think that the weight gain that many women, if not most women experience during menopause is unavoidable.
It is caused by hormonal Hurley Burley that accompanies the onset of the change as it’s called, and. Many women think they’re just powerless to prevent it. Fortunately, however, as you’ll learn in this podcast, that is mostly wrong. There are things that happen in the female body as it is transitioning into menopause, going through menopause, and then completing menopause.
So existing in a post-menopausal state that make it. To gain weight that incline women toward weight gain. But with the right lifestyle interventions, the weight gain can be more or less completely avoided. That’s not to say that it’s easy to not gain weight during menopause, but it’s also not written in the stars.
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Okay, so let’s start this discussion with a, a brief summary of the connection between menopause and weight gain. So menopause is the natural end of the menstrual cycle that most women experience around the age of 50. And it occurs when a woman has not had a period for at least. 12 months. There is the perimenopause, also known as the menopausal transition period as well, and that begins five to 10 years before menopause.
And during this period, this five to 10 year period, leading up to menopause levels of several hormones in a woman’s bodyline, and that triggers adverse symptoms like hot flashes and anxiety and disturbed sleep, and around the same time. Many women also notice that they tend to gain fat or get fatter, particularly around the waist.
And this is known scientifically as visceral fat. Fat that covers the organs, and it’s also affectionately called a menopause belly. And that phenomenon, Leads many women to believe that the hormonal changes that occur during perimenopause and menopause cause weight gain, that their total body fat levels are going up.
And sometimes they are. Sometimes women are not only noticing more fat around their waist, but their body weight is also going up, and it’s not from muscle. , but there are other factors to consider like hormones. Let’s talk about that. So most people know that estrogen is one of the primary female sex hormones responsible for developing and regulating the female reproductive system.
But fewer people know, however, that estrogen also plays a vital role in helping women maintain a healthy body composition. For example, estrogen promotes muscle growth. It reduces fat storage in the lower body and abdomen, and it increases concent. Of a substance known as am P activated protein kinase am pk, which is a compound that boosts fat burning estrogen’s.
Body composition benefits don’t stop there, though estrogen also decreases hunger and it helps maintain optimal levels of the hormones. Le. Ghrelin, which influence appetite. Leptin induces satiety, fullness. Ghrelin induces hunger. Estrogen also affects the neurotransmitters, serotonin, and dopamine, which also affect appetite and affect cravings, and the.
Healthier. The more balanced your serotonin and dopamine levels are, the easier it is to avoid weight gain. And so in women, a high healthy level of estrogen production is a great thing. But what it can giveth, it can also take it away. Low estrogen levels cause. Problems. And as a woman transitions through menopause, her estrogen levels sink and that can cause her to lose muscle, which then of course can lower her energy expenditure.
It can cause her to burn less fat for fuel throughout the day. It can increase her propensity to overeat, uh, less than nutritious foods, which. All of that, of course encourages weight gain over time. Another interesting and unwanted side effect of declining or low estrogen levels is more fat storage around the midsection, the visceral fat that I mentioned earlier.
The fat that covers your organs, that pushes your belly out, that you can’t. Grab. It’s not the subcutaneous fat that is right under your skin that you can pinch and visceral fat is worse than subcutaneous fat because it raises your risk of suffering from different metabolic disorders, and some of which can encourage more fat gain, can increase fat gain even further.
So there’s no question that the many menopause related challenges that women. Going through menopause port are 100% real. They are rooted in physiology, not psychology. Like some trainers and coaches would have them believe. I’ve seen many people over the years more or less dismiss some of the things that women experiencing low estrogen are reporting as excuses or as holy made up.
They are not. The problems that perimenopausal and postmenopausal women are experiencing are actually very similar to the problems that men experience when their testosterone levels fall too low. Many of those men find that it is much harder to get and stay fit than it was when they were younger, when they had higher testosterone levels.
Well, the same is true in women, but it is estrogen, not testosterone. That is the hinge. So coming back to women, that’s kind of the bad news as far as hormones go. Changes occur that make it harder to get and stay fit. However, keep in mind that regardless of what happens to your hormones, your total body fat stores, Increase unless you provide your body with excess energy.
Remember, that energy balance works the same in a 20 year old woman as it does in a 50 year old woman. It is an immutable mechanism of body composition that never changes. And what that means then is it is well within your powers to. Weight gain during menopause. If you can follow a calorie controlled diet, which doesn’t mean that you have to count your calories or track your calories, of course, just means that you have to understand how energy balance works.
And energy balance refers to the relationship between calories in the calories you’re eating, calories out, the calories you are burning. And if you are not familiar with energy balance and how to. To lose fat and gain muscle or maintain your optimal body composition, pause this podcast. Head over to legion athletics.com, search for energy balance and read the article I wrote on it because it’s going to help you more than the rest of the information in this podcast.
Actually. It is that foundational, once you truly understand energy balance and how to use it effectively, and then once you use it effectively and see it work exactly the way that it always does. You realize that you never have to struggle with your body weight or your body fat percentage ever again.
So again, just head over legion athletics.com, read the article energy balance. I don’t remember the title exactly. If you put in energy balance, you will see it and then come back to this podcast. Okay, so coming back to my claim that by controlling your calories, by controlling your macros, which is your protein, carbohydrate, and fat, you will learn about that in the energy balance article as well.
And by exercising regularly, particularly doing. Regular strength training, which helps you gain muscle, gain strength, and build up your metabolism. You as a perimenopausal or postmenopausal woman can improve your body composition significantly. You might not be able to do it as quickly as when you were 20, but there isn’t going to be that big of a difference.
It is not going to take twice as long to lose 10 pounds of fat or 20 pounds of fat, or to gain five pounds of muscle or 10 pounds of muscle at 40. As it would’ve taken at 20. One example of this is a study that was conducted by scientists at the State University of Compas, and yes, I checked the pronunciation on that, where post-menopausal women increased their muscle mass by about 2.5%, decreased their body fat percentage by almost 7%, and that’s seven.
Absolute not relative. So that’s a lot of fat loss and greatly increased their leg strength by about 41% on average, as well as their bench press strength, 27% on average in just 16 weeks of training three times per week. Those are great results for women at any age. Nevermind post. Women, and again, that was training just three times per week.
They could have gained quite a bit more muscle and lost quite a bit more fat if they would’ve trained. Let’s say they would’ve done three strength training workouts per week. So we don’t change that and we just add. Let’s say a little bit of cardio. Could even just be walks. Doesn’t have to be cardio workouts per se, so let’s just add like 30 to 45 minutes of walking every day.
Or if they’re up for more, we could go for the 10,000 step target, which is more just marketing than anything else. But it does represent about an hour and a half or so of walking every day, and that’s enough to significantly reduce the risk of various types of diseases and to burn a fair amount of calories.
That’s probably. Oh four to 500 calories per day, depending on how much you weigh and how quickly you’re walking and so forth. So to wrap up the hormone related section of this podcast, the changes that occur leading up to menopause and during menopause do indeed make it harder to maintain a healthy and fit body composition.
But the hurdles are not insurmountable. If you know what to do in the kitchen and gym, and if you can do those things consist. You don’t have to be perfect, just good enough. Most of the time you can get into great shape and stay in great shape before menopause, during menopause, after menopause. Now, some people are skeptical of that because they see so many people.
Gain weight as they get older. And the question of course is causation or correlation. Does age cause weight gain or is it just correlated with weight gain? Is it not aging per se that’s causing weight gain, but other things that occur during aging like. For example, maybe people become less active as they get older.
Maybe they become more sedentary so their energy expenditure goes down, but their energy intake does not go down to match it. They continue to eat the way they’ve always eaten, and in the past, because they were more active, that type of diet, that eating pattern did not produce weight gain, but. As they are less active, it does start to produce weight gain because it produces a calorie surplus.
And so if that were true, then the weight gain that many people experience as they get older is not caused by getting older, but by being sedentary. Another factor to consider is the. Muscle that we lose as we get older if we don’t train our muscles. Many people don’t realize that that starts, that process starts around age 30.
It doesn’t start at 40, 50, 60, at 30. We start to lose muscle if we don’t train our muscles, and that is of course one of the primary reasons that we become weaker and less mobile as we get older. But it also hurts. Metabolism. It causes us to burn fewer calories every day because muscle is metabolically active.
It doesn’t burn as many calories as some people would have. You believe? I’ve seen people say up to 60 calories per pound of muscle per day. No research shows it’s probably more like six calories per day. A pound of muscle burns about six calories per day, and although that doesn’t sound like much. If somebody has, let’s say 20 pounds of, uh, additional muscle compared to the average person, and many women who strength train regularly have at least 20 pounds more muscle than their counterparts who don’t strength train.
That’s an additional, let’s say 120 to 150 calories. Per day. If we extrapolate that out to a week, let’s say it’s about a thousand calories per week, 4,000 calories per month. Well, a pound of fat has about 3,500 calories, and so that additional 20 pounds of muscle requires about the same amount of energy.
Just to maintain, just to have as is in about a pound of body fat. And so if we look at that in the context of a diet, what that means then is the woman with 20 additional pounds of muscle can eat about an additional 4,000 calories per month without gaining any fat compared again to her. Counterpart who doesn’t have the additional 20 pounds of muscle, who just has a, a normal musculature.
Now in the case of muscle loss, we see the opposite effect. Now, 20 pounds of muscle loss, especially in a woman, would be rather extreme, but even at 10 pounds, if we just cut that in half and we cut. All the numbers I just shared with you in half, what we can see is a woman continuing to eat the way that she ate when she had 10 pounds of more muscle.
And this diet allowed her to just maintain her body composition with those 10 additional pounds of muscle. She didn’t gain fat. She didn’t lose fat. Now with 10 fewer pounds of muscle, she continues to eat the same weigh, and she’s gaining about a half a pound of. Per month. Now, to make matters worse, research shows that having more muscle rather than less helps you preserve good metabolic health, and that then reduces your risk of different types of metabolic disorders and diseases that can further negatively affect your body composition.
So we have the quantity factor, which I just broke down for you in terms of. Burned every day, calories eaten every day. And then there’s a qualitative factor here as well. Our body’s fat burning machinery, our body’s muscle burning machinery, our body’s metabolic machinery, so to speak. It all just works better when we have more muscle rather than less.
And so the key takeaway here is that women do tend to gain weight as they get older. Many studies have shown that, but those studies do not show whether aging is caus. The fat gain or whether the fat gain, the weight gain is correlated with aging, that other factors are causing the increase in body fatness, not aging per se.
I’ve mentioned a couple of those factors, physical activity levels, body composition, but there are other aspects of lifestyle that come into. As well, such as sleep quality and diet. For example, women in all stages of menopause tend to sleep less and they have more severe insomnia and poorer quality sleep than premenopausal women, at least in part due to hot flashes, sleep apnea, and night sweats that many women experience.
And that can harm body composition because it alters your hormone profile that inclines you toward eating. If you sleep less, you are generally going to be more hungry, and you can only resist hunger for so long, even if you are a very dedicated fitness fanatic. Hunger always wins in the long run. That’s why a lot of successful dieting revolves around managing hunger, managing cravings, minimizing hunger, minimizing cravings.
And the same goes for maintaining body composition as well. Of course, you need to minimize hunger and minimize cravings. Now, doing those things is easier when you are maintaining than when you are cutting because you are eating more food in general. But in the case of peri and postmenopausal, Women, it can be more difficult because studies show that women tend to change their eating behaviors during their menopausal transition.
They start to prefer processed and fried foods that are very rich and fat, sugar, salt. Of course, many calories, easy to overt. Eat, and I mentioned physical activity earlier because studies also show that perimenopausal women also tend to do less physical activity than premenopausal women, which is natural because they’re not feeling very good and they’re not sleeping very well, and that naturally, almost inevitably, Reduces physical activity.
Even if you are continuing to do workouts, forcing yourself to do workouts regardless of how you feel, which isn’t necessarily a bad idea, depends on the circumstances. Your non-exercise activity. So the activity that you engage in spontaneously outside of your workouts is going to go down. If you are not sleeping well, if you.
Generally feeling well and that factor alone, that non-exercise activity can be hundreds of calories per day, even upward of a thousand plus calories per day in people who are very active outside of their workouts. Again, without really realizing it, these are people who tend to pace around and they fidget and they take the stairs instead of the elevator and.
Tend to maybe park further away when they go to the store and so on. Now, how do you address these things? Well, you have the sleep, and for that, you wanna make sure that you are doing the 20%. That gives you 80%, having a good pre-bed routine, going to bed at the same time every day, making sure that your bedroom is.
Cold and dark and so on. If you want to read more about that, just head over to legion athletics.com and search for sleep, and you can find a couple of articles that I wrote on how to get better sleep. There are some supplements that can help as well. And then as far as food preferences go, following a meal plan can help a lot just to make sure that you are not overdoing it.
Of course, you can allow yourself to have highly processed food if you want. But it should be a minority of your calories, not a majority, let’s say no more than 20% of your daily calories. And you wanna make sure that your total daily calories are where they need to be on average. And if you have never explicitly planned your eating or tracked your eating, it’s a really good idea to do that for a period, especially when you are going through this physiological transition and you can’t.
Trust your appetite anymore. Trust your gut instincts on how to eat. You don’t have to track or plan your calories forever. Of course, it’s not a way to live, but it is a great tool for calibrating your understanding of proper portion sizes of the foods that you eat. And calibrating your understanding of how much food you should be eating every day based on your body composition, your goals, and so forth, what that feels like.
And then to address the physical activity, you just wanna make sure that you are exercising. Regularly and that you are forcing yourself to move enough. If it’s not coming as naturally as it once did, as spontaneously as it once did, you can produce the required level of activity unnaturally. There’s nothing wrong with that, and that’s why multiple studies have shown that women who exercise before, during, and after perimenopause gained less weight than their.
Active counterparts. For example, in a study that was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers found that 55% of peri to postmenopausal women who followed a diet and exercise program were able to maintain or lose weight over about five years, whereas about. 75% of women who followed no structured diet and exercise regimen gained weight over the same period.
And while strength training is particularly effective at combating some of the downsides of menopause, such as muscle strength and bone loss, you don’t have to start there because research shows that just walking. Is a great place to start. That is an effective way for women to establish a base level of fitness and decrease their body fat levels.
And then once you have that habit fully established, let’s say you are going for a walk every day. Seven days a week and you are walking, let’s say 20 to 40 minutes per day, then you can start adding in some strength training. So from there, you could add in just one strength training per week, one full body workout per week.
And if you wanna learn about full body training, head over to legion athletics.com, search for full body, and you will find an article on that . You can find an article on many things [email protected] because I’ve been writing and publishing there. Oh, I don’t know, seven years now. We have thousands of articles.
But anyway, one full body strength training workout per week can produce market improvements in strength and body composition in someone who is brand new to it. Two workouts per week can produce even more significant changes. Three, even more still, four is where you probably are now in the, in the realm of diminishing returns, four and five workouts per week.
Strength training workouts per week is more appropriate for people who just really like it, or people who are more advanced and have to work really hard just to gain. A little bit more muscle and strength, but for somebody who’s new, I don’t see a great reason to do more than three strength training workouts per week.
Again, unless they just want to, unless they like the routine, they like the activity and they want to gain muscle and strength as fast as they absolutely can. But they do understand that those first three workouts that they do are three, the three biggest and most difficult. So let’s say they’re doing like a push.
Pull workout and a legs workout, like those are the prime movers and then maybe they have like a shoulders day and an arms day. Not that you have to follow a body part split, but I’m just giving an example. As long as people understand that, that big push workout, pull workout, leg workout, that’s producing probably 80% of their results and then the final two workouts are just kind of chasing after the remaining 20%, then I have no problem with newer people doing five strength training.
Per week. So anyway, coming back to this hypothetical woman, she’s doing her walks. She now adds in one strength training workout per week. She starts making great progress with that. It’s been three months, maybe even six months, and she’s ready for a second workout per week. So now she does maybe two full body workouts per week, or maybe she decides to switch to an upper lower split.
So she does her upper body workout and then her lower body workout. Of course you can find articles on that too if you search for upper and lower over at Legion Athletics. And then maybe she stops there and just continues to do that. Well, not stops, but maybe she just continues with that routine. A daily walk, two strength training workouts per week, or she’s feeling frisky.
She bumps it up to three strength training workouts per week, and three strength training workouts per week, plus daily walking. Is enough to get super fit by anyone’s standards, even by Instagram standards super fit, not just fit. Super fit. And if you want an all in blueprint on how to do that, and you are relatively new to a lot of this stuff, check out my book Muscle for Life.
I wrote it specifically. For you. I wrote it for middle-aged, so let’s say 40 plus men and women who are pretty new to strength training, pretty new to flexible dieting, and they want a simple and straightforward plan on how to get the body they want eating the foods that they love, and doing just a few workouts per week that they actually enjoy and look forward.
So let’s now talk about losing fat that has been gained during the peri or post-menopausal period. So if you’re a woman who has gained fat over the last X number of years related to going through menopause, what should you do? Well, fortunately it is very. Research shows that a calorie deficit, meaning eating fewer calories than you burn every day, is going to work just the same, gonna work just as well in you as in a 20 year old woman.
And specifically, I recommend eating around 20 to 25% fewer. Calories than you burn every day, that will allow you to lose fat at a rapid clip without losing muscle and without having to wrestle with excessive hunger and lethargy and some of the other hobb goblins of low calorie. Dieting. And if you are not sure how to work out your calories, just head over to legion athletics.com, search for how many calories, and then check out an article I wrote called How Many Calories Should I Eat?
It breaks it all down for you. Now, you also want to work out your macros. You want to translate those calories into the. Amounts of protein, carbohydrate, and fat, because our bodies process those things differently. The calories from protein are processed differently. They cause different effects in the body than calories from carbs and calories from fat.
Now, fortunately, this is pretty simple. 40% of your daily calories can come from protein, and 30 to 40% can come from carbs, and the remaining 30 to 40% can come from fat. Most people do really well with that approach. And if you want a simple little calculator that will just do the math for you, just go over to legion athletics.com and check out the menu.
You’ll see learn, and then you. Tools, go to the tools page and go to the macronutrient calculator, and then you don’t have to do any math mouthing yourself, and that’s all you have to do to lose any fat that you have gained during menopause. Because of menopause, you just have to consistently eat fewer calories than you burn and eat plenty of protein and eat enough carbs and fat to satisfy your preferences and to provide enough nutrition for your health.
And then go for a walk every day and do one to three strength training workouts per week. And again, I would really recommend picking up my book, muscle for Life and just doing those workouts. Follow that program. There are actually several programs for men and women. Beginner, intermediate, and advanced programs.
But just get that book and do what the book says, and your body will take care of the. Well, I hope you liked this episode. I hope you found it helpful, and if you did subscribe to the show because it makes sure that you don’t miss new episodes. And it also helps me because it increases the rankings of the show a little bit, which of course then makes it a little bit more easily found by other people who may like it just as much as you.
And if you didn’t like something about this episode or about the show in general, or if you. Uh, ideas or suggestions or just feedback to share. Shoot me an email, mike muscle for life.com, muscle f o r life.com and let me know what I could do better or just, uh, what your thoughts are about maybe what you’d like to see me do in the future.
I read everything myself. I’m always looking for new ideas and constructive feedback. So thanks again for listening to this episode, and I hope to hear from you.