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Fueling and Training for Women: Physiology, Metabolism & the Data Gap w/ Dr. Alyssa Olenick

It is no secret that there are sex differences in fitness and nutrition. However, it might not be what you have been led to believe. Nutrition, training concepts, and fueling your workouts are key aspects of training whether you are a man or a woman. By empowering yourself with evidence-based science, you can take an informed approach to your fitness and strength training.

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Key Takeaways

If You Are Interested in the Data Behind Womens Physiology, You Should:

  1. Work to understand what goes on in the research world
  2. Be careful of how things are marketed to you
  3. Listen to Part 2 of my conversation with Dr. Alyssa

Hybrid Training with Dr. Alyssa Olenick

Dr. Alyssa Olenick, or Dr. Lyss, is currently a Postdoctoral research student studying metabolism and menopause. She has a Ph.D. in Exercise Physiology, where she researched metabolism and exercise science in females. Dr. Alyssa is on a mission to redefine evidence-based fitness. She is passionate about science-based nutrition and fitness and how the two integrate so that she can help people become their healthiest selves while chasing their boldest fitness goals.

Finding Answers in the Data

While it is true that we need better data when it comes to female health in general, Dr. Alyssa says it’s not all bad news. She encourages others not to be so critical of science and research until they really understand what it takes behind the scenes. The barriers faced are in part, the reason that we have this gap, but there is some solid data out there that can help you better understand your body and what it needs to succeed. By looking at the research with a lens of what we know, and where we need more information, you can translate that information into practical and usable tools that work for you.

Do You Need to Train According to Your Cycle?

Unfortunately, what tends to happen is a ‘pinkifying’ effect from coaches, influencers, brands, and companies who are trying to put a pretty pink bow on anything deemed ‘for women only’. It’s important to spot fancy marketing or where the data on sex differences, training and fueling isn’t represented accurately.

Instead of jumping right into cyclic training where all four weeks are different, adopt proper training and fueling principles first.

Have you ever been told to do something differently because you are a woman? Share your thoughts with me in the comments below.

In This Episode

  • Discover Dr. Alyssa’s origin story and why she fell in love with studying exercise physiology (5:04)
  • Learn about the Invisible Sports Woman Study and how it has changed our approach to female fitness and physiology (11:34)
  • Understanding the degree of misinterpretation of science in the quest to understand ourselves (20:19)
  • Where sex differences play a factor in terms of nutrition and the menstrual cycle (29:25)
  • Why fasted training may not be as beneficial as we are sold (40:04)

Quotes

“Good education and good training can make all the difference in people’s health and life, and so that’s kind of just been my philosophy the whole way through.” (10:15)

“You have always had permission to listen to your body. You have always had permission to just intensity based on perception. You have always had permission to take a rest day if you feel like hot, flaming raccoon trash can garbage. And you have always had permission to fuel yourself appropriately to support your training.” (26:28)

“There is a difference between sex differences and menstrual cycle differences. Those are two completely different things that we are talking about here.” (29:52)

“You don’t need radically different things. We see this with cycle training and pregnancy and menopause. It’s repackaged pinkifyed versions of training that are literally the same thing you probably have boy college football players doing, but in a nice pretty, pink, ‘this is safe for you and good for you’ package.” (36:20)

“Whether you think you are an athlete or not, you want your session to give you the things that you want out of it.” (45:04)

Featured on the Show

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Doc Lyss Fitness

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Fueling and Fitness for Women: Physiology, Metabolism & the Data Gap w/ Dr. Alyssa Olenick (Part 1) Transcript

Steph Gaudreau
10 years ago on social media, it would be rare to see a conversation about sex differences in fitness and nutrition, specifically conversations about women and how to apply these concepts. But now times have definitely changed. And in some ways, the pendulum has swung in the completely opposite direction. misinformation and oversimplification of different concepts and research is so common. How do you know what to sift through? How do you know what’s actually being said in the research, and how to apply those concepts on a more practical level?

Steph Gaudreau
Well, that’s what we’re gonna be getting into in this podcast today with a very special guest of mine. We are covering lots of ground on this episode, but you definitely want to hang in for the whole thing because we’re going there. Everything from nutrition, training concepts, and fueling, both in and around workouts are topics covered in this episode.

Steph Gaudreau
This is part one, stay tuned for part two, where we are doing a deep dive into cardiovascular training, specifically lower-intensity training, including zone two cardio, which is the topic of so much conversation, but we’re kicking it off really looking at these sex differences. What does the data tell us about training and fueling for athletic women? If you’re an athletic 40, something woman who loves lifting weights, challenging yourself, and doing hard shit, the fuel your strength podcast is for you. You’ll learn how to eat, train and recover smarter, so you build strength and muscle, have more energy, and perform better in and out of the gym. I’m strength nutrition strategist and weightlifting coach Steph Gaudreau.

Steph Gaudreau
The Fuel Your Strength podcast dives into evidence-based strategies for nutrition training and recovery, and why once you’re approaching your 40s and beyond, you need to do things a little differently than you did in your 20s. We’re here to challenge the limiting industry narratives about what women can and should do in training and beyond. If that sounds good, hit subscribe on your favorite podcast app. And let’s go

Steph Gaudreau
Welcome back to the podcast. Happy 2024, welcome to the new year. I’m so thankful that you’re here with me on the show. All right, we are kicking it off with a bang. We are leading off this brand new year with an in-depth conversation with Dr. Alyssa Olenick, better known as Doc Lyss Fitness on social media. She is an incredible force of nature, and so knowledgeable because she has a PhD in exercise physiology, specifically researching metabolism and Exercise Science in females. And not only that she’s also a postdoc studying metabolism and menopause. So when we say that Alyssa has tons of experience in understanding the research, and applying the nuance of the research, and really sifting through what we know about women, training, fueling, cardio, and so much more, we mean it.

Steph Gaudreau
In this episode, we’re covering a ton of ground everything from sex and gender gaps in sports science research. Through some of the interesting issues we see around popular concepts like cycle training, is that a real thing? What does the research say about that? We’re also looking at different topics on nutrition, like fasting, and fueling around your workouts, and how to approach this with an evidence-based, informed, and nuanced approach. I know you’re going to love this episode. Be sure to tune in next time to part two, where we’re having a very deep discussion about cardiovascular exercise and what you need to focus on from an application perspective. No matter what level you’re at a quick reminder before we jump into the episode, if you appreciate and love all of the episodes from the Fuel Your Strength podcast, please hit subscribe on your favorite podcast platform. And if you’re tuning into the show on YouTube, hit subscribe there and ring the bell for more notifications. And also check out all of our podcast videos. Okay, without further ado, let’s go ahead and dive into this episode with Doc Lyss Fitness.

Steph Gaudreau
The Dr. Alyssa Olenick in the house, welcome to the podcast.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
Hello. I’m very excited that we’re finally doing this.

Steph Gaudreau
This has been like years in the making conversation. But you know you’ve been a little busy.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
I feel like I’m the worst to get on the podcast because you have to get me like right when I’m like yep, I have time and otherwise, it’s like talk to me in six months. So I’m glad we are finally finally doing this.

Steph Gaudreau
Yeah, absolutely. And I have so many things I would love to ask you about. I really appreciate your perspective on things. Obviously, you have the X For to use and the background in so many of the sciency things that we’ll talk about here today on the podcast. And I really appreciate your perspective on things. You’re so contextual you’re so nuanced and you truly are like living in that messy middle in terms of your messaging. Give the listeners haven’t heard, heard about you, or heard from you yet. You know, how did you get to the point that you are right now in your career? What? What are you studying? Why is it lighting you up? And kind of give us or the here superhero origin story?

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
Yeah, so I’ll try to keep this concise because I’m sure I’ll rant longer on other things and a little bit here but um, long story short, if you guys don’t know who I am, I’m Dr. Alyssa Olenick or just Doc Lyss Fitness known in the fitness theory, you could just call me Alyssa or Lyss. Either one works. People always like what’s your what do we call you and like, really, as long as you’re not calling me an A-hole, I don’t really care. So you can call me whatever you want, refer to me whatever you like. But I have a PhD in exercise physiology. I just graduated last spring. So I’m still kind of a baby PhD, but we’re out here in this in the trenches doing the work now. And I pretty much grew up an athlete, I always love fitness and movement.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
The story goes, I fell into running on my backroads. And I was like 1314 years old when I just was running because it in my hands logical, teenage head it was if I run more, I’ll get fitter, and I’ll be better at sports. And I just found lacrosse and I was so excited to find a sport late in life, I felt like I was late to sports, which is so funny because everyone had soccer and basketball and I cheered and danced. But I never really loved that in the same way that I ended up loving lacrosse and I got into running more and in some cross country and track in high school. And I just, I just remember having this overwhelming feeling of like, I want us in my entire life learning about this and sharing this with others because I found that movement was so magical.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
And it made me feel so human so alive. And it was so powerful that I was like, I wanted to share that with anyone that will listen and of course, you learn one of the things about resistance to exercise and barriers. And like all of the things that make it so it’s hard for people to move and be active or love exercise like I did along the way. But in my innocent naive brain, I was like I’m in this for life. So, you know, I went to college for Health and Exercise Science and essentially played lacrosse for a few years. The law as the story goes, I had a higher GPA, the highest GPA, and the lowest playing time. So I quit because I knew I wanted to go to grad school to really focus on school, I have essentially been the team tutor for the next two years after that, though. And so from there, I found research and you know, my junior year on I was like, Oh my God, you can get grad school for paid for and I become a doctor of exercise like a dream come true.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
I went into college being like, oh, I want to be like an elite Nike personal trainer not knowing that these research and science and opportunities, you know, were there for me. And I kind of accidentally found out I was really good at school. I wasn’t a bad student in high school. But I definitely wasn’t like trying to be at the top of my class or anything like that. I mean, I still was like an honor student I was you know, but I just didn’t care in the same way I did in college and grad school. And I just saw all these opportunities that I just didn’t really know existed at the time. And I just dove headfirst, right in, so I got my master’s degree in exercise physiology. And that’s where I kind of found female physiology research kind of just not even intentionally, it’s funny, I didn’t really know about the gaps in this field or anything like that. I just knew I really liked metabolism and metabolic health.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
And I was really interested in research related to that. And my mentors and my masters were women, and they were doing pregnancy research. And I ended up doing metabolism research and women and helping out with some of that and not really knowing about all this stuff. I was just like, oh yeah, this is very interesting to me. And I kind of carried that with me to my Ph.D. And that’s where I learned about, you know, a lot of the sex differences and all that stuff. So I started to dive into sex differences, menstrual cycle, birth control, effects of exercise, and metabolism in performance and women’s specifically. And you know, now I’m doing a postdoc looking at menopause and metabolism. And throughout the course of all of this, I feel like who I am as a person really doesn’t matter outside the context.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
I like doing all of this I’m competing in powerlifting meets running ultra marathons, like mountains, taking a million outdoors trips and road trips, big outdoors junkie, you know, really pursuing and experimenting with my own fitness goals and then starting up my business alongside that kind of merging together my love of both science and practical application in a way to give people what I wish I had when I was growing up as an athlete or individual trying to figure out that quote, unquote, like running lifting balance that I really like to do in my training, but then also what we need to support us as female athletes and trainees and kind of just, you know, trying to find a way to bring all the things that I really love out of the multiple parts of my career and fitness together into one thing and so now I’m a jack of all trades, master of a few.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
I think I don’t get to say master of none anymore. I think I get to say a master of a few of them. And that’s kind of the condensed story of how I’ve become who I am and what I’m doing. I’ve just had a really overwhelming love for learning, teaching, and movement my entire life. I think I’ve always wanted to be like a teacher of some sort. And so I love taking the knowledge that I have and sharing that with others but also giving them the gift that I really feel like I found at an early age and older way that actually can really, truly, I believe, transform their life through movement. And I’m very passionate about that.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
And I think, you know, good education and good training can make all the difference in people’s health in life. And so that’s kind of just been my philosophy the whole way through, and then just a lot of messenger like effing around and finding out why we get to this point of like, hey, like, that’s what that’s the scientific method, after all. So that’s kind of how I’ve got here, and I’m doing all the things that I’m doing.

Steph Gaudreau
I love that you can also swear on this podcast. So if you want to let it rip you okay?

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
I never, I never know. I’m like, hey, you know, sometimes as an emphasis that all right, fucking around and finding out.

Steph Gaudreau
I really appreciated that about you, as a former teacher, myself, as a lifelong athlete, and a science lover and science nerd, I appreciate not only your focus on the research in the conduction is that word, the conduction of the research, when you’re actually in the lab, doing research, and bringing what you’ve learned and bringing, you know, analyses of other studies to the public, I think that’s incredible. I also appreciate that you are yourself, an athlete, and you know, you know, across the internet, we all define athlete in a different way.

Steph Gaudreau
But there’s something about that practical experience, and that coaching experience of working with people that you cannot, I mean, you just can’t synthesize, as you mentioned earlier, your barriers to exercise barriers, mindset issues, things that come up with people that prevent them from staying active. So I really appreciate that about you. Tell us about the invisible sports woman study. And you know, how is that how has that changed? The fitness industry, or at least the way some of us approach what we know about women, physiology, and women and exercise?

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
Yeah, so if you guys aren’t familiar with me, and a group of like, oh, I call us like our young female scientists crew. So it’s me, Kelly McNulty, Emma Callie, and Sam Moore., all were PhD students. Now, PhD students and postdocs started this thing. So me and Emma started it and we brought in Kelly and then Sam and the second version, looking at essentially the sex gaps and exercise and sports science research. So there was a paper that did this going up to 2014. What we did is then we did look pulled out the data from the five top sports medicine journals from 2015 1617 1819, and 20, I believe, the next five or six years.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
If we look at these top five journals, how many of the participants were male? How many were female, and like what percentage of total participants were male versus female? And then what percentage of studies were being done on male-specific stuff, female-specific stuff, or just general stuff? And essentially, what we found is that like about now, I’m gonna misquote my own paper here, but it’s like, I think it was 6% or 11%, somewhere between like six to 10%. I just presented on this, but I have so many data numbers stuck in my head from that was, I think it was like 6% of total studies were done on just female-specific questions and issues. And it’s like 34 to 36% of total participants were females across the board. And so largely, we’re looking at a lot of male participants in the studies. Now, there weren’t a ton of male-only specific problems being studied in this field, either. However, males are largely the bulk of the participants in exercise science research.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
So I will say my disclaimer on this, I feel like people use this factoid or this paper a lot as a way to support poor training practices principles or make women feel like they’re left out of science. I can’t actually tell you how many times before I got off Tik Tok. People would like to use my paper against me. When I’ve shared information. They were like, Yeah, but only like 6% of the paper. And it’s not I’m like, Yeah, I’m the second author on that paper. And that’s not what this means. So let’s not weaponize this data. Because what I really think is important to reflect is that we need better data, we need higher quality data, better methods, there’s a million papers claiming that right now I’m coming out with that call to action. But we don’t have any data. I think people think that like I hate this perception that oh, there’s there’s no data on women, it’s everything in Sport and Exercise Science is done on men, women are entirely left out.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
And that isn’t true. There is a lot of research that is done on females or women across the sports science field. It’s just like, there’s just not a lot in specific concentrated areas in the problem. And what makes it really hard is when we think about sports science, especially in the States, a big issue is a lot of the funding doesn’t go to sports performance or science research, it’s going to help like disease, that kind of stuff. And there’s a big call at the NIH to you know, bring out more studies, higher quality studies, things like that. So we absolutely need more and better research, but we don’t have any research that’s important. Like I told you I comb through we did a second version of this where we were kind of trying to unpack Okay, where is this gap starting from?

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
Like, is it coming from the first or last author we looked if they were male or female, the editorial board study quality should surprise surprise when women are leading the work the study is higher quote already, there were relationships between that and now we’re working on a version three right now of like, okay, well, women are leaving academia more often. These are the ones leading the research, these are the ones doing the higher-quality research. Why are they leaving? Where’s this gap coming from? Not just because it’s, it’s, it’s easy to say, Okay, there’s not work being done in this home, let’s use it to, you know, drive our crappy myths and misinformation spreading versus like, hey, but why is this happening? And where can we fix this? And how do we address this kind of thing? Because it’s bigger than just, oh, women are being left out of studies?

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
Well, there’s a lot of barriers to doing that research that a lot of that might just be misinformation being spread to researchers are just I think, sometimes lazy research practices, but to, you know, the whole like, Okay, well, you have to make it perfect and better and include this also makes it like harder for researchers to then include this into the studies and having barriers of like, added on top of this to begin with. So all that to say, yes, we have big gaps in sports science that I absolutely think we need to fill, we need higher quality work, but we don’t have any work. And we should still be using the data that we do have to make the best application for things. But I’m super excited about this little team that we have together putting these papers together because we just also got a report accepted. Kelly McNulty, who leads the page period of the period puts a lot of great female information out there as well, kind of this call to action of menopausal women in sports science being really left out on our second wave of this publication, we really found like maybe a handful papers on this.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
So just kind of bringing more attention to the fact that yes, menstrual cycle and that kind of stuff. And like pre-menopausal females do need better research. But we have these gaps and other places too, as well, that can be addressed in sports science. And so I think it’s really important, I do think our field will hopefully improve the next few years, especially with you know, as much as we can hate the trends of the misinformation around cyclic training or female stuff. It does spark researchers potentially to want to answer more of those questions. And so while our paper and the one before us really found no difference in the rate of publications on female-specific stuff, since I think like 22,009 2010, which is disheartening, I do hopefully think it’s going to get better, especially with the NIH calls to action and more funding going towards female specific things.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
But I want to give people also give grace to scientists and researchers, this stuff is hard. And it takes a lot of time. And try not to be so critical of science and research unless you really understand what it takes to do science and research. Because I think a lot of people use our paper as a way to like, for like negative agenda use. And I’m like, but that’s not the point. The point is to bring attention to something called to action, how do we solve it? How do we make it better? And what does this mean? Not? Okay, well, you’ve been left out. So let me tell you how to do XY and Z based on my hypothesis or being mad and shaming researchers because your perception doesn’t match their data and not understand what that actually means. And that’s something that really has bothered me in response to that. But anyway, that’s a really long-winded way of kind of owning, invisible sportswoman, but also my like, you know, when people hear that, I think that they want me to be all rah, rah women are being left out. And I absolutely am all about that. But I’m like, but what does this actually mean for our field? And how do we actually interpret this? And then how do we make it better from here?

Steph Gaudreau
Yeah, absolutely. I appreciate your your insight on that, as somebody who was so involved in putting that study together and looking at all this, and also somebody who’s out there doing the research. And I don’t think that the general public understands what it takes to design a study to carry out to do all the analysis.

Steph Gaudreau
Before we dive in, if you’ve listened to this episode, and you’re like, Okay, I am ready to get to work, I want to take my strength, muscle energy, and performance and take it up a notch, I want to take it to that next level, I want to feel like a badass, but at the same time, do it in a way that works with my physiology, as an athletic woman over 40 with coaching and community support. And go ahead and check out Strength Nutrition Unlocked. This is my group program, we’re going to lay out the framework for you and guide you as you implement and really customize it to all the things that you’re doing your preferences, your likes, and the the places you want to go with it, then go ahead and get onboard, you can start your process by submitting an application at StephGaudreau.com/apply. We’d love to hear from you and see you inside the program.

Steph Gaudreau
You know, it’s interesting, and maybe this will segue into our next topic I would love to hear your thoughts on it. You know, there is this zest, I feel like to understand now how women’s specific differences or sex differences play out in terms of performance nutrition in-terms of strength training, in terms of cardiovascular fitness. To what degree do you feel like that zest for the sort of like, hey, we matter, right? We want to be we want to understand ourselves. We want to see how we can do better with our own training with our own nutrition. To what degree do you think that is? Ask for understanding more has turned into a bit of a. I don’t know what we would call this on social media, for example, the misinterpretation of science to drive toward a specific? Well, like you said cyclical training, you know, we should train differently in every week of our cycle across the board, everybody is missing out unless you’re doing this. So to what degree do you feel like that, that quest to understand ourselves has played into the the MIS application or the misinterpretation of the data?

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
So I’ve thought about this a lot with the popularity of all of this and the backlash I get for speaking out popularity for this and how and just kind of, it’s just been interesting to see it from both sides from research to here. And I find it interesting too, because I kind of started my dissertation stuff before this was trendy. And I went into my dissertation stuff, thinking I would find these big robust differences in the menstrual cycle have this huge effect, and oh, my God, why isn’t anyone looking at this? And then I got into the data. And I was like, oh, okay, not so interesting. After all, I’m, again, I’m so glad I did this work. I think it’s super important.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
But I think it’s this mix of like, I think people are wrongly accusing sports scientists for ignoring them and leaving them out. Don’t get me wrong, sports science can do better. But I think a lot of issues that have made space for cyclic training or cycle thinking or the hormone gurus to kind of take this wave or lead that they have is just the fitness industry is marketing and targeting of, of women for years, and years and years. And so I made a thread about this, like a few months ago, where I was like, stop blaming Sports Science for what was the fitness industry’s messaging towards, towards females. And there’s just been this push of, you know, restriction, and over-exercising and emphasis on cardio and restricting your calories and exercising for fat loss, and doing XY and Z so that you can be xy and z for years and years.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
And what we’ve done is we’ve conditioned people to completely ignore, you know, their, their own perception of the intensity of their training or their own perception of how they feel their own recovery needs. And they’re just doing these types of training and these poorly fueled whether that’s, you know, and I think people think when I say poorly fueled, they’re like, Well, some people overeat, I’m like, But haphazard eating is also poor, fueling, it doesn’t matter. Even if it’s over under calories. If you’re like, haphazard eating, that can be a whole nother topic, but like, just bear with me that I’m not I know, some people in America or all across the world are overeating. But that doesn’t mean it’s not still not supporting your training, so to speak.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
So anyway, I think there’s just like, there’s this perfect storm of this neglect to what actually we need and how we need to train with Shaka. It’s probably just the marketing that was given to males for years and years. And so then they swung in with this, this rise of, okay, well, I want to understand my body, which I think is incredible. I don’t want people to think that I’m against this, I’m all about this, like, hey, we actually don’t know anything about our cycles or hormones and how these impact me and like, maybe there’s a reason I feel crummy here and better here and XY and Z. Or maybe there’s things that I can do to help support my health and Hormonal Health and all these things better. And so I think it was just a perfect storm of nobody talking about that because it was so taboo societally.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
But also I’m going to call you in here, a lot of you aren’t talking about it either. And then you’re getting mad that nobody’s talking about it. So, you know, people aren’t having community around these conversations, or these things are seeking support. And so they feel alone within this. And then this wave of coaches comes in with these perfect solutions to their problems that do indirectly solve that problem, right? If you’re if you have low energy availability, and you’re restricting food, and you’re over-exercising, and you take on a cyclic training routine, where you’re doing like lower volume across the month, and maybe then eating more or creating more energy availability, because that guess what, you’re gonna probably feel less like trash.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
If you’re polarizing. You’re periodized, your training even a little bit more than just going all out every single day of the week. Guess what, you’re probably going to be feeling a little better. But those things are coming from, you know, proper training principles. Not this like a magical luteal phase workout. Like I see these people all the time, like, oh, I need a luteal phase workout. I was like, well, even it was a freaking luteal phase workout. Like, that’s not even a thing. And if you asked seven different hormone coaches, they’re gonna tell you seven different things. And because there’s no definition of that in the data, it’s 100% up for interpretation. And so much of this stuff then, is coming from hypothesis. My issue with a lot of this is it’s people who have a recreational interest in hormones or have some knowledge or background in training hormones, but they don’t have an exercise science or sports science or any sort of Strength Conditioning background.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
So they’re over-extrapolating the hypothesis of hormone stuff that we don’t have actual data on. And then assuming it’s going to be xy and z. So you should do this, this and this, and that’s like, and it’s just perfect storm of people who either have a lot of PMS symptoms, they feel terrible. Their training routines are probably pretty bad and they need better training routines and they’re looking for a solution. And then they just repackaged it up in the same marketing that we had in the early to mid like, like Maybe the last like 1015 years ago of like, we’ll do this, this and this because if not, you’ll get fat. If not, you’ll gain weight. If not, you’ll get the belly. So they’re still using the same marketing that they’re mad was being used for this, but they’re doing it in a way that makes it seem like empowerment.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
But what they’re doing is just getting people to train last and be sedentary for a large fraction of the month. And I think there’s like, I think it could have been really good. I think the New York Times article was great, I had this title that said cycle thinking will not save female fitness. And I love that title because it was like that isn’t actually the solution. We think it is for what we actually need here. And so I think it was just to answer your question, I think it just was this perfect storm of people feeling left out people ignoring their bodies, and people wanting to feel better. And then, you know, a lot of females are unhappy with their bodies, whether we are right, wrong, or indifferent. I know our message is all like, being strong and empowered. But that doesn’t change the reality that you can harp on that all day long.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
And people are still insecure about XY and Z and our bodies want the solutions to this. And, you know, there’s already these barriers to exercise. And it is, it does feel a little bit easier to have to say, Okay, well, you can just be gentle, and this and that. And that feels good. And I think you know, it’s because we’ve left out of this conversation for so many years of you’ve always had permission to listen to your body, you’ve always had permission to just intensity based off perception, you’ve always had permission to take a rest day, if you feel like a hot, flaming raccoon, trash can garbage. And you’ve always had permission to fuel yourself appropriately to support your training. So these are all you don’t need these fancy cyclic hormone made-up protocols that are different from every single person that gives you one to do these things.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
It’s just needing to adapt, and proper training. And so then people are like, well, you’re just telling us to train like a man or you’re just promoting us to train like a man and I was like, but all these people are doing is pink, refined protein and pink, refined creatine and pink defying lifting weights, all they’re doing is the same thing that you get mad that pads and shampoo and tampon companies are doing but to your fitness for the same exact thing, and making you feel like it’s fancier than it is. And so, anyway, I just think it’s so multifactorial, why this happened, and this perfect storm came from it. And I think that there needs to be a conversation of like, hey, let’s talk about what’s going on with our cycles. And let’s talk about what’s happening in our bodies, and let’s talk about how you might perceive that and how that may impact how you feel what that actually means for your training, and how that actually compares to, you know, different phases of your cycle.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
But then when we think about the sex differences thing, it’s like, people don’t want to hear the fact that like a lot of things that you need to be doing are exactly the same. But I think where the data and research are going to go is okay, well, you might need fewer rough times, or you might need higher weights at the same relative intensity because of different like neuromuscular recruitment and things like that. That’s where the sex differences are not, you’re a delicate little flower who can’t handle cortisol, you’re going to you’re going to implode into a pile of fat. Let’s just swaddle you in a blanket and not move for 30 days, like that’s patronizing. And it’s not, it’s not helping us and females are meeting the Physical Activity Guidelines significantly less, especially through the 30s and 40s. can then their male counterparts.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
So how do we actually get women or females across the lifespan, to train in a way that supports them and gives them the skills to work with that? And I think, again, you know, we don’t have a lot of sports scientists doing this because they’re doing the work or they need to be doing more of that work in the lab. I agree. 100%. But we just don’t have the coaches in the in the in the popular viral aspects of the industry, spreading these tools or information to these populations who are then vulnerable to this marketing. So that’s my high horse on that. Yeah, I think it’s a lot of things. I think it’s a lot of things coming together at once.

Steph Gaudreau
That would be my perception of it, as well as its kind of layering effect. It’s kind of this brewing or perfect storm of factors that comes together. I even saw it not too long ago, on social media, somebody saying, you know, you should eat twice as much protein in your luteal phase as in your follicular phase. And I was like, Ah, I mean, is there a grain of truth? And I would be interested to hear, you know, you share for the listeners, like, what are some of the things that we see maybe fueling wise, as you mentioned, 30 availability and things like that? Yeah. But you know, sort of where where do some of the sex differences come in, in terms of maybe nutrition? And what do we know so far, about the menstrual cycle? And secondarily, you know, how do we then take that information and use it to inform our practice?

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
Yeah. So when we think about males versus females, as a whole sex differences are probably more apparent than actually menstrual cycle differences. And so I think when people they there’s two, there’s two things that we’re questioning and asking here, and I think a lot of people think when you say there’s no menstrual cycle differences, they’re saying, You’re just a man, ignore you. And I’m like, there’s a difference between sex differences and menstrual cycle differences. Those are completely two different things that we are talking about here. When we’re thinking about males versus females.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
At the end of the day, for the most part, we all need very, very similar things. What it’s good When it comes down to is males are more glycolytic, they’re more carbohydrate burning and reliant as a whole, they have more type two muscle fibers, women are a little bit better at using and burning fat for fuel, they’re a little bit less glycolytic. So they’re not as like carb dependent, they have potentially more tied to muscle type one muscle fibers, things like that, um, men are bigger, faster, stronger, more powerful, just due to the higher testosterone levels and how that can trips to contributes to muscle recruitment and development differences. There’s a really great review paper that just came out from the American College of Sports Medicine that actually goes through all the differences between males and females, I’m pretty sure it’s public access.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
I really encourage people to read that it’s pretty dense. But if you really want to understand the sex differences here, at the end of the day, women are like, everyone’s like, Okay, well, women aren’t men. So we shouldn’t train like men. I’m like, Yeah, but we’re human beings, right? We’re going to respond. And we have data that shows if you train women, if you give them resistance training, you give them cardiovascular training, they adapt to that training, they’re not adapting to that. It’s a stressor and a stimulus and responding to it, right? So it’s not like we need these different things. So that’s where I think people get really lost in the sauce. And so the one big thing, though, that is more prominent is, especially in females that we are more sensitive to energy deficit. So that’s not just across the day or week as like a caloric deficit or an overall energy deficit, but also across our days.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
And we have a whole group of millennial females who think it’s super trendy and cheeky to live off, and iced coffee, you know, with a bear all day long. And then they’re like, my hormones are wrecked, and my fitness isn’t working. And we’re like, well, let’s, let’s actually like instead of prying on that as this cortisol dysregulation of causing all your fat imbalance, and you need to, you know, change your exercise routine entirely. Maybe we just like to eat some breakfast. I mean, like, maybe we actually feed ourselves before 2 pm kind of stuff, like those are things we need to be talking about and thinking about. And so we are more sensitive to these energy deficits, which means that if we are in too much of an energy deficit, whether that’s across the day, across our exercise training sessions across our month or week or training, whatever it is, over time, that can down-regulate our hormones, that can suppress hormones that can suppress ovulation, you can eventually lose your menstrual cycle, you can then have declines in muscle or bone because of that loss of cycle or that loss of, you know, the decline in hormones.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
Right. And I think this is something that’s left on this conversation is that that is more stressful on your body than any workout in your luteal phase or menstrual phase are going to be when we look at it, the inflamed inflammatory response, the like the stress response, and performance declines of people who have ovulation are last, menstrual cycles are more significant, more meaningful and more apparent than what we see. Like if there are any differences at all across the menstrual cycle that is so much more apparent. Similarly, when we look at some of the performance data or metabolism data, when we look at cycle phases when we talk about just like what’re the differences between our cycle phases, a lot of those go away when someone’s fat. So yes, you might see some of these differences. But when you feed people, a lot of that goes away, performance is restored, or metabolism differences are completely like just they go away entirely. And so that and also, when you work at high intensities or short outputs, there’s those differences kind of also go away.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
And that, especially with aerobic metabolism, there might be some things that are different there. And we can get that in that in a second. But when we’re thinking about these big differences, the biggest thing is that you know, you probably just need to meet frequently and enough and adequately including enough protein, so to speak to your protein thing is like there’s a grain of small truth in all of these things. And I feel like the problem with having my brain be wired the way it is, is that I can just like I want people to have that skill of extracting and seeing that nuance of something. So it’s like, I think I made a real recently it was like, is it cycle something that worked? Or did they just have low energy availability, right? Because once you start eating more and feeling better, you’re going to have all these things improve, right? Your body functions better fed. But to the protein thing, there is a little bit of data to suggest there might be greater protein oxidation, or breakdown or the progesterone levels in the luteal phase might be slightly more catabolic. So you might need more protein. But this accounts for like five to 10% increase a day. So yes, you technically can eat more protein during this phase.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
But if you’re eating a moderate to high protein diet across the month, it probably doesn’t really matter. So like yes, bump up a little bit. If you’re somebody who’s low on protein on average, my usual advice or recommendation is to have amino acids in your bloodstream before you work out. As always, I think that’s good advice always. But in this phase, it might be more advantageous to like, hey, let’s get a pro pre-workout shaken prior like I’m very pro like pre-workout shakes or pre-workout amino acid feedings. Everyone’s like post-workout. I’m like, no, like, let’s get it in beforehand. But that’s like that the difference is very minuscule and small. So there is a grain of truth there, right? So we do potentially need more protein, and we might crave more food across the cycle in general, those are valid, you might have slight increases in metabolism. But again, that’s like two to 12%, which accounts for a very small number of calories a day, it hasn’t even been that data has been confirmed in the active population.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
So it’s like, yes, you probably might need a little bit more, but it’s like, it’s like 82, like maybe the sum of the upper end of the studies are like 270 calories, but we’re talking like a snack, not a full extra meal type thing. And so that’s where you see these small grains of truth, but then they lose the context of what they actually mean. So it’s like, yeah, you do need more protein. But if you’re eating high protein, to begin with, then you probably don’t need to change anything at all right? If you’re underfed, and you feel like crap, maybe try having some more carbs or a good meal before your training session, and see how that helps or how that feels and how that recovery goes in response to that. And so there’s these small grains of truth across this across the board. But when we’re thinking about, like, what we actually need training-wise, this, again, is not me being anti-female by any means.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
But you don’t need radically different things. We see this with cycle training and pregnancy and menopause. And this repackaged pinkified version of training is literally the same thing that you probably have college boy football players doing. But in a nice, pretty pink, this is safe for you and good for you. Package kind of thing, what the message should be is, and what I think a lot of people are trying to do is, hey, you’ve been neglecting strength training for a really long period of time, we should be doing this, Hey, this is important too, for XY and Z, hey, actually, instead of burning your body into the ground with endless cardio and restriction, let’s build muscle tissue because that will actually give you the body structure and shape that you’re looking for. But then that has reversed turned into like cardio is bad cardio is the devil cardio is making you fat cardio is pointless. And so we see this hyper swing, where now we’re having people saying, well, cardio isn’t good for women to do and we’re like, No, that is not, that’s not the point. And so it just what we need is to combat that.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
Marketing towards females, but also making them realize that a lot of the stuff that we do have in sports science that has been done on both males and females or females in general, does work for them. They don’t need these really different training programs. And there’s a small degree of truth and most information that is out there, that seems confusing, and you don’t know what to believe. But usually, there’s a more detailed, better explanation that trust me, I know is not as viral as some of these claims as as what they can be, but like, how does it what does that actually mean for you? And what should you do with it rather than doubling your protein across the month, which is silly, right? Because someone who was eating one gram, a pound per body weight a day of protein, would not need to double it. Now, if they’re eating 50 grams a day?

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
Well, in general, you should probably just double that period across the board. So we have to think about, you know what that actually means for you. But yeah, that’s the biggest thing is like, we’re really sensitive to energy deficits, we need to be fed, we do better fed what that looks like for us probably different forever. Everyone’s not at risk for ovulation loss of cycles and being too lean. And I know that, but also you can’t just starve yourself into whatever you’re trying to do with your fitness and training and expect that to work. And yes, we are a little bit more fat oxidative and mineral more glycolytic. But really, when it comes down to it for what that means for you and your training, not much. Just make sure you’re doing power, explosive strength work, and some sort of high-intensity work, like things that you should probably be doing already. But you just aren’t important for you to develop if you don’t have them naturally.

Steph Gaudreau
Amen. Mic Drop!

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
I keep rambling so much and so many layers to all of these things that I want people to like. I don’t I feel like hearing people hearing people go through nuanced thought helps people be like, Oh, I never thought about it that way.

Steph Gaudreau
100%. Absolutely. When you were talking about the new Fed, and you’re sort of sitting millennial women, and I was like, this is the same thing in the population that I work with as well. Right? Yeah. Where it’s like, the over-reliance on fasting, you know, we’re in and again, these are women who are trying to improve their fitness they’re trying to get in the gym, they know, they know, yes, I do want to lift I mean, I don’t have to try too hard to say, you know, hey, this is why it’s good for us. People want to live according to their Health, and want to improve their cardiovascular fitness. Yet, this, this is such an area of resistance, where they’re really like, Yes, I am an athlete.

Steph Gaudreau
I’m training with intention. I’m training with a purpose I want to improve. And then when we talk about not fasting, and they’re like, oh, I don’t know maybe No, I’m not an athlete who’s an athlete. So knowing that your research is in fat oxidation. I’m curious if you can give folks just a super probably an oxymoron like a super quick I can I can be a super quick explanation of why fasted training may not be as beneficial as were sold, especially for I would say maybe more. I was gonna say vulnerable populations, but for just populations that people that are already maybe you know, their nutrition is a little bit chaotic. They’re a little bit high-stress. What do you have to say about that?

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
One, from what I do know about the fasting data right now I think the data of ending your eating earlier in the night and stopping after dinner is more exciting and more promising than the actual morning stuff. So if you’re super gung ho on trying fasting, there is some data to suggest that there’s more glucose dysregulation, like metabolism might be a little bit more, not as efficient in the evening and afternoons. Maybe not afternoons, but like late evening, so maybe if you’re going to do that, consider just not eating after dinner. That’s not to say that eating after dark will make you the fat type of thing.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
But if you want to fast, consider toying with that rather than not eating in the morning. So that’s usually what I tell people. First off, I was like, if you really want to do that, too. The issue for most of us is not that we need fasting windows, it’s that we don’t need to be eating for 15 hours a day, we do want to give our digestion a break. You don’t need to be like an American we eat like from the second we wake up continuously all day long, like you just like, just take breaks between your meals and let yourself rest and digest. But if you’re more active, you’re probably going to need to eat more often. So that’s where that nuance comes into play.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
If you’re more active, like when I was training for my 50 milers, I’m pretty sure every, every single hour of the day, we’re right now trading volumes lower and I’m like just eating three meals a day and like maybe a protein snack. And I’m fine because I know that my body’s like not in this constantly like did my stomach isn’t being emptied, like pretty much constantly for use for fuel. And you can kind of feel that difference in yourself. But you know, we just need to take breaks you fast every single day, you fast overnight. If you’re interested in fasting, that’s fine. If you’re stressed about cortisol and you’re all worried about cortisol making you fat and killing you’re killing you and murdering you guess what brings down cortisol carbohydrates, guess what makes exercise in the morning or in general less stressful for you.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
Being fed, your body has that response, you’re gonna have a catecholamine response to exercise no matter what you do. That’s how your body it’s not just cortisol, there are other adrenal things like norepinephrine and things like that that’s stealing your body to release glucose and triglycerides into the bloodstream to use for fuel metabolism. So if you’re not fed, your body has to work harder to supply and support that training to it’s you’re going to have a higher quality training session, you’re going to expend more, I don’t want to say energy in the sense of like quantifying exercise to calories, but you’re going to have more power output, which that is a better training session, you’re going to get more of a Response and Adaptation, your recovery is going to be easier if you are fed and your body has nutrients going into that workout.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
So don’t think about it as like just oh, what do I burn in this short window? Because guess what, what? How much more are you going to actually get quality-wise by being fed and that state, you’re going to have higher quality training, you’re going to have probably more adaptations, and you’re probably going to recover better all things that all ultimately lead to improve metabolism along the way, through whatever point that I’m on. There’s some data that shows that yes, you might oxidize more fat in that session. But oxidizing fat isn’t burning, like belly fat, that’s not the same thing. But your body is smart, and our body will kind of switch so there’s some data that supports that. Once you’re fed your body, then we’ll switch to like carbohydrate oxidation more throughout the day.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
But trust me as somebody who’s done studies of people doing exercise fasted, we did hit studies for all my dissertation stuff, and people were fasting because it’s just a way to control for any differences. And I’m telling you right now, guys, we’re talking grams, we’re talking grams of fat, you’re still using a ton of carbs. During that training, we’re talking like a few grams of fat is being used. I pull up the grass a bit. So yes, you are using fat during that training, but my high horse of all of the world here besides like, Hey, you’re probably going to just your body is going to even out across the day and your overall fat balance matters more. Do you know what burns more fat during exercise across the day, in response to what you eat, in general, don’t go into having a higher cardiovascular fitness status.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
People with higher cardiovascular fitness statuses are better at using fat for fuel, metabolically handling, and responding to the meals that they eat using fat during exercise so that they actually can work at a higher power output or longer or not fatigue at the same higher intensities as other people. All of these things which are great for performance and health, probably don’t mean that much outside in a caloric balance across the day. If you’re eating all things equal, it’s probably not making that much of a difference. You still have to adjust your diet appropriately if like fat loss is your goal. And that’s not necessarily community here. But you can’t talk about fat oxidation without acknowledging that low-fat balance leads to decreased fat mass.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
So anyway, that’s like my thing is I think that gets missed a lot of this is like We’re all worried about doing the small things for a few extra calories of fat burning, but the best thing that you can do is one fuel your training. Whether you think you’re an athlete or If you’re gonna want, you want your session to give you the things that you want out of it, right? If you’re getting up and doing like a yoga session, or like maybe just a really light resistance training thing that’s like an upper body pump, you can probably get away with just eating afterward. But if you’re doing anything of substance, you probably want something in your system. And I would worry more about improving the work that you do and your training sessions or your cardio sessions or your lifting sessions, then, Oh, was it fasted or not kind of thing. And so that, I just think it misses the forest for the trees. I know, it’s trending I know came from the bodybuilding world. But like, those are the things that I think people should really consider.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
We’re doing this, and I’m just gonna cut to it, because I know that people are going to be like, but what if I can’t eat in the morning, it’s impossible one, you can train your gut, trust me, my PhD, destroyed my gut inside out, I had so many GI issues, I worked with Dr. Adrian Chavez for a year. And I’m so much better now. And I have to eat in the mornings because I, especially if my cardio and my running in my training, I had to figure out how to do all that, I had to retrain my God, because I was living off coffee and a wish doing these testing sessions and I PhD I was getting up at like 334 in the morning, drinking coffee, going to lab running the sessions, and it destroyed me. But I learned how to eat in the mornings. And even before training sessions, you don’t need to eat a full meal and rest and a lot of people are like I’m getting up at 5 am.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
And I’m working out like we’re talking like if I have to get out the door and get a training session and we’re talking eating an apple sauce packet or two, I’ll do a couple graham crackers, a cup of chocolate milk, half a protein shake, like with some milk that has like any sort of alternative milk, regular milk has sugar or carbs in it, it doesn’t need to be heavy, at least I mean, if you can get some protein in great, but if not getting at least some carbs in that are easy digesting is important or eat them during your training, like take in into carbohydrates. During that training, if you have to go faster in the morning, that can be like a sports drink solution in your drink. Or you can bring snacks with you during that training so that you’re you have some fuel for yourself through that and across that. So it doesn’t need to be like sit down and have a four-course breakfast digest and then go do your training all before six I am like it can just be little tiny bits just enough like think 30 to 50 grams of carbs is probably a good place to aim for. And that’s like two applesauce packets like it’s not, it’s not a four-course meal. So that was my that wasn’t as quick as I thought it was. I wanted I just was like I know someone’s gonna want to know this. And I know somebody’s gonna ask about this. And I know someone’s gonna feel frustrated about this. So let’s just get the whole.

Steph Gaudreau
Absolutely, yeah, I think there’s this perception that you have to sit down and eat one of those hungry man, Denny’s breakfast or something, and, you know, you’re just going to be super weighed down. But it’s, um, it’s something that I feel like if people can just start where they start where they need to be, you know, start small, figure out what works for them. Obviously, if you’re running or things like that, maybe you might have a little bit more sloshing, so you kind of have to figure that out. But to your point, I’ve never met, somebody who will prove me wrong and right into me, but I’ve never met anybody who introduced a little bit of pre-workout fueling and was like, gosh, I felt so much worse, my I performed way worse. You know, it’s just, it was a disaster.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
Some people will say that they feel worse, but I’m going to tell you, I’m gonna give you guys a tip timeout, where you’re either eating it more than 30 minutes before or less than 10 minutes. Because if you’re feeling crummy, odds are what’s happening is that you’re eating in that like 10 to 30-minute window, where you then have an insulin response. And then when you start exercising your muscles send little glucose cells up to the wall to take in that so you’re kind of having like, two times as much of that glucose being pulled out. So then you kind of bonk and you get hypoglycemic.

Dr. Alyssa Olenick
So time is where you’re doing it like, Okay, if you get a five and you’re training by 530, like have that as soon as you wake up, or literally have it when you’re walking into the gym or on the way like when I was on my Ph.D. and I used to train at six in the morning, I would just drink glass chocolate milk while I was driving over to the gym. Because lifting you don’t feel that GI upset as much as you do with other things. And then running, I’ll just wait until like, I’ll either eat and then wait 30 minutes, or I’ll just, like take a couple of applesauce packets or a couple of graham crackers or whatever like right before I’m ready to kind of to head out the door. So that’s the only time that I think people end up accidentally feeling like crap with their training is they like to eat that at that weird time where they like bonk unintentionally, but it’s not the fueling. It’s just you use your your body just was really trying to take up the carbs.

Steph Gaudreau
Absolutely. There you go ending this first podcast of the new year on a mic drop. We went through so many topics in this episode and frankly only scratched the surface. As Lyss was talking about in this episode, it’s really about finding the middle looking for those time-tested principles, looking toward the research for what we know and where we have to gather more information. And then ultimately translating that into practical application in tools for you.

Steph Gaudreau
Athletic women many over 40 who are trying to improve their Fitness build strength and muscle and perform better both in and out of the gym. I’m so incredibly grateful to Dr. Alyssa Olenick for coming on the podcast, be sure you check out everything she has to offer and follow her on social media. She has a wealth of information and frequently does really deep dives into what the research is currently saying. I can’t even tell you the amount of work that I know she puts into these posts so that you can better understand what is the research currently telling us about women’s performance and so much more, go ahead and give her a follow.

Steph Gaudreau
Make sure you check out the show notes for all the links to everything we talked about in this episode. And make sure you hit subscribe on your favorite podcast app. Your vote of confidence, when you subscribe, sends a very clear message to the platforms that you listen on that say, Hey, this podcast is a woman-hosted podcast about fitness and nutrition in a space that is very crowded, and frankly dominated by lots of male voices, and we need more female podcasters but also just as this podcast is worth listening to. So that really does do something very powerful when you hit the subscribe button and I’m so grateful to you for that.

Steph Gaudreau
And a quick reminder to stay tuned for the next episode, which will be part two of my conversation with Dr. Alyssa Olenick. We’re going to be getting into the nitty gritty with cardiovascular fitness, everything from cardiovascular training zones to heart rate RPE and so much more. If you’ve been confused about how to welcome cardiovascular training into your life, then definitely check in with this next episode of the podcast that comes out. And until then, stay strong.

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Steph Gaudreau

Hi, I'm Steph Gaudreau (CISSN, NASM-CPT)!

Nutrition and fitness coach for women, Lord of the Rings nerd, and depending on who you ask, crazy cat lady. My mission is to help you fuel for more: bigger muscles, strength, energy, and possibilities. We’ll do it with my signature blend of science, strategy…and a little bit of sass.

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