One thing I hear women athletes over 40 talking about a lot is their metabolism.
I promise you that your metabolism is not broken; it may just be adapting based on the inputs you are putting in.
While metabolism is complex, there are some simple and practical things you can start to implement today that will help you improve your metabolism as an athletic woman over 40.
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If You Want to Increase Your Metabolism as an Athlete:
- Start with eating more energy, specifically protein intake
- Make muscle building a top priority by focusing on strength training
- Look for opportunities and strategies to build more non-exercise activity into your day
The Metabolism Trifecta for Women Over 40
The amount of energy going into your system versus what is going out, or your energy flux, is something we have discussed a lot on this podcast.
Maintaining a higher energy flux is a key factor in the successful trifecta of training hard, having enough energy, and providing your body with what it needs to succeed.
Understanding how to get more adaptations out of your training by increasing your energy flux is the best way to see the positive impacts of your training that you are looking for.
It doesn’t take anything complicated or extreme, just a simple set of behaviors and habits that you can actually implement.
Three Simple Habits for a Stronger Metabolism
If you are tired from your training, bonking your workouts, or don’t feel like training for weeks and weeks at a time, it is going to be hard to have the consistency that you need to have positive outcomes in your training.
Increasing your energy flux over time will help you spend more energy through movement, exercise better, and improve your digestion, all while simultaneously building muscle.
I wish that I knew these three positive habits that can have a huge benefit on your metabolism and so much more.
The positive impacts you will see from eating more protein energy, prioritizing muscle building, and incorporating more non-exercise activity into your day will get you back into good standing with your metabolism.
How has your metabolism changed over time? Share your thoughts on my easy-to-implement metabolism habits with me in the comments below.
In This Episode
- Weaving together the threads of the last few episodes and painting a full picture of energy (2:51)
- Understanding energy flux and why slashing your energy intake is not going to give you the results you may think (5:54)
- How to minimize compensations while trying to nourish your body, maintain your energy levels, and train hard (10:22)
- Three practical things that you can focus on as an athletic woman in her 40s and beyond (17:01)
- Why you need to build more non-exercise activity into your daily routine (22:18)
“I hear so often from athletic women over 40 who are very concerned about metabolism.” (3:20)
“We never want to lose muscle mass. Muscle mass is so incredibly important, and we know that muscle is an organ of longevity.” (9:21)
“What are the benefits of increasing your energy flux? What that really means is slowly over time increasing the amount that you are eating, and of course, being able to expend then slightly more energy through your training.” (16:02)
“These are really filed under the idea of lifestyle, nutrition and training, and things that we can do to improve our health and wellbeing and focusing on the behaviors themselves. That’s what we are really trying to move the needle on here.” (18:04)
“Think about how to actually put some metabolism friendly into play in your life so that you are not stressing about the metabolism, but rather you are thinking about the positive, health-promoting changes that you can make.” (25:48)
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FYS 352: Energy Flux and Fueling for Athletes with Jamie Scott
FYS 353: Fueling Best Practices for Active People with Jamie Scott
FYS 388: Why You’re Struggling with Motivation to Workout
3 Ways to Increase Your Metabolism as an Athlete Transcript
Recently, I got a question from a listener, which was, how can I improve my metabolism as an athletic woman over the age of 40? I thought this was a really great question to address on the podcast. And that’s exactly what we’re going to be looking at. On this episode, I’ll be sharing my top three strategies that women athletes over 40 really need to know. 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. 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.
Welcome back to the podcast. Thanks so much for being with me today. On this episode, we’re going to be diving into metabolism over 40 specifically what athletic women need to know and I’m going to be covering three really important concepts.
And, if you could only do three things, it would be these three things I would recommend doing. So I’m going to be talking about the sort of like what to do in the second part of this podcast, I’m also going to be very briefly touching on the concept of energy flux. And also kind of tying together some of these threads that we’ve been weaving about energy intake and metabolism.
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Energy for Female Athletes
Alright, so we’ve been weaving together several threads in the last several episodes, painting a picture about things like energy intake, low energy availability, Red-S, we’ve talked a little bit about energy flux in previous episodes. We’ve also touched on things like how do you understand total daily energy expenditure. And on the very, very surface level, what is metabolism? And the reason I’m bringing this up is that I hear so often from athletic women over 40, who are very concerned about metabolism.
And oftentimes it goes like this, my metabolism is broken, or my metabolism isn’t working anymore. And we’ve talked about in previous episodes, why that’s not an accurate statement. And your metabolism is always working, it just may be adapting downward in a downward direction based on the inputs that you’re putting in.
So the reason why I’m bringing this to you is that I want you to understand why energy intake is so important, why I’m always prattling on about making sure you’re eating enough, especially if you’re training really hard. And you have goals for gaining or preserving the muscle mass that you have currently. So the reason I think this is an important counterpoint to what you’re going to hear in the world is there are so many people focused on quote unquote, balancing hormones, or they’re going to be tons of people who are going to try to get you to buy metabolism boosters, or you know, fat burners or things like that, or selling you some kind of solution that’s not really a solution to what you think is the problem and metabolism is complex.
What is Metabolism?
It’s essentially all of the biochemical reactions that are going on in your body at any given time.
We could also think about it as how your cells turn the food that you eat into energy, and this could get to the level of postgraduate college difficulty, and that’s not my intention with these podcasts. My intention is to give you a slightly more nuanced conversation that what you’re going to see out in the world, especially on social media, and you can understand things from a science-based perspective without making this a college-level education, and a lot have women come to me? And they’re like, Okay, I just need to understand what to do to improve my hormones and improve my metabolism. And I understand why that question is asked in that way. But what I’m going to turn it back to in this episode is not how to manipulate any specific hormone per se.
Because if you do need hormonal support that is best left to the care of your medical team, but I also want to turn it back to what’s practical, because frankly, that’s what’s within our control, anyway, is what to do what to focus on, because we want to take it back to behaviors and habits that you can actually implement. So first, let’s review the concept of energy flux. I first talked about this with my colleague, Jamie Scott, on episodes 352, and 353. So if you really want the deep dive on this, I would highly recommend that you go back and check this out. But we’ve been really painting this picture.
What is Energy Flux?
Ever since those episodes on why just constantly slashing food intake lower and lower and lower over time is going to be fighting a losing battle. So let’s just briefly review energy flux. energy flux is essentially looking at how much energy is coming into your system versus how much energy is going out. And what is the magnitude of that? So for example, a low energy flux might look like consuming 1000 calories a day, and then using 1500 calories a day, which would theoretically in number land here result in a 500-calorie deficit.
However, that low-calorie intake, which I am not recommending, and I’m only using for illustrative purposes, would result in a state of low energy availability, which we’ve talked about several times on this podcast. And low energy availability is the main driver behind the syndrome, red s, we know that both of these things have negative effects on metabolism, hormones, performance, health, and well-being. Contrast that with higher energy flux, in which a person might eat 2000 calories a day, and expend or use 2500 calories. Both of those scenarios result in a 500-calorie deficit.
However, the person who is in taking more energy and more food energy is also likely not going to be in a state of low energy availability, and able to expend more energy through movement, especially if that person is building more muscle. So we can create a calorie deficit but have different effects.
Why You Feel Unmotivated When You Don’t Eat Enough
So we want to think about why energy flux is so important. And we know that as we cut energy intake lower and lower, we’re going to see a metabolic adaptation. Specifically, in these two categories, we definitely see a decrease in non-exercise activity, especially with people who are feeling unmotivated, or just don’t want to train or you feel like they just can’t move, you just want to stay still, all the time, we’ve actually talked about that in a previous episode about overwhelm, and lack of motivation. So definitely go check out that podcast, also lower energy flex would have an impact theoretically, on your resting energy expenditure.
That means your basal metabolic rate. So as your body becomes smaller, we know that body mass and size is a huge contributors to how much energy your body is using when you’re completely at rest. So as your body size theoretically goes down, we’re also seeing that your resting energy expenditure would also decrease, you’re just using fewer calories. At rest, your body also becomes more efficient at absorbing energy from the food you eat, when you have a lower energy flux. So that means your body gets much better at extracting energy and absorbing that energy through the process of digestion. And when we think about this, and I want to emphasize this, we do not want to lose muscle mass.
And when people say, Oh, I just want to lose weight. I know that that’s a common thing to say, but we never want to lose muscle mass. Muscle mass is so incredibly important. And we know that muscle is an organ of longevity. So if we’re losing muscle mass, this is going to have an impact on our resting metabolic rate, and thus our overall energy expenditure. And while it might not be 1000s of calories a day, these things do add up over time. So if body mass does decline, we’re seeing again, a decline in our resting metabolic rate or resting energy expenditure, or seeing a decline in the amount of energy that we actually expend through exercise, especially if we’re losing muscle mass.
And we’re unable to continue pushing the intensities that we were before, especially with lifting weights, and then we’re also seeing a decreased desire to move which is certainly going to impact our na An exercise Activity Thermogenesis and of course, we learned in the previous episode, why that’s an important part of our energy expenditure every day and one that we can absolutely have a huge impact on. So can you minimize these compensations while trying to nourish your body? Maintain your energy levels train hard.
Fuel for Training Adaptations
Of course, the answer is yes. And research tends to indicate that maintaining a higher energy flux could be a key factor in a successful sort of Trifecta here of being able to train hard have enough energy and provide your body with what it needs at the same time. So why is higher energy flux useful? The first reason is that you expend more energy by maintaining a higher muscle mass. And again, is this going to be 1000s, or even several hundred of calories a day? No, but we’re looking at compounding interest over time. So when we have more muscle mass, this helps maintain a higher resting metabolic rate. Again, the most significant aspect of your total daily energy expenditure. And that is up to about 70% of the energy that we use daily is just our basic bodily functions.
Well, it also results in a higher thermic effect of food, especially when you’re concentrating on increasing your protein intake. Protein has a much higher energy usage when we need to digest and assimilate it. estimates range here, depending on the sources that you’re looking at. But generally speaking, the thermic effect of protein is 20 to 30% of the energy content is used for digestion. When we compare that to fat, which is somewhere between zero and 3%, and carbohydrates, which are about five to 10%, we can see that increasing your protein energy can have a small, but potentially meaningful impact over the long haul, when it comes to our actual energy expenditure through building more muscle mass.
Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis
Secondly, when you’re engaged in physical activity or non-exercise physical activity, you will have more energy expenditure. So as you move through the world with more muscle on your body, you’re going to use more energy to do that movement. Right? Very, very important. And you’re also going to give yourself enough food to cover your energy and nutrient needs and hopefully not end up with nutrient insufficiencies or deficiencies which we see is actually startlingly common. When people are in a state of low energy availability, we also see that people have better appetite control, both food and physical activity can help regulate appetite, hormones, and food preferences. And lack of sleep also can affect appetite regulation.
But we’re also going to see that when you are in a low energy flux, hunger signaling is much higher. So put another way, when you’re in a higher energy flux, you have lower hunger signaling, which means that you’re not going to be thinking about food and craving food and thinking about eating, and all the other things the behaviors that we tend to see with people when they are in a state of low energy intake or low energy flux, that desire to overeat energy-dense food tends to go down as well. And again, as I said, this can include thinking about food constantly, watching, cooking shows all the time saving recipes, not that those things are always associated with being in a low-energy state. But we tend to see those behaviors kind of uptick.
Thinking About Food is Often a Sign of Hunger
When you’re hungry, you start thinking about food more, it’s one of the signs that you need to eat is you start to have more thoughts about eating. This is especially interesting when you increase your protein intake. That tends to become because it’s higher satiety, a sort of self-regulating mechanism for not overeating on energy-dense foods, especially combos of high carb, lower fat, and low fiber foods, which really pack an energy punch. Total energy intake is also modified when we more closely match our energy intake to energy expenditure. And then last but not least, you can tend to eat more and improve your satiety.
And this is especially true when I see women get caught in the loop of tightly restricting their diet or their eating followed by periods of what I’m going to call quote-unquote here binge eating, noting that binge eating disorder is certainly a distinct situation, and not all periods of overeating or actual binge eating, but we just mean periods of going without eating much followed by an intense urge to eat a lot and in some cases ending up very uncomfortably full because of sad episodes, focusing on me Dealing with mostly whole foods is the key here.
And I don’t mean eating a clean diet or eating a perfect diet, but just really focusing on high-quality proteins, higher fiber, carbohydrates, and some, you know, healthy fats. And you can actually eat a very fulfilling meal this way. And because you’ve included all of your macronutrients and tend to find that you have a lot more satiety, you’re probably not going to be as ravenous as you approach mealtime. And you’ll probably finish the meal with a higher degree of sustained satiety afterward.
And of course, being able to eat in social situations is as helpful as well, because we’re not constantly thinking about bringing our own food or hyper-managing the food situation. So that gives you a bit of an overview of energy flux, and specifically, what are the benefits of increasing your energy flux. And what that really means is slowly over time, increasing the amount that you’re eating, and of course, being able to expend, then slightly more energy through your training. Not that we’re always trying to just burn more calories. That’s not what we’re saying here. And that’s not the point of this episode. But it’s really to understand how to get more adaptations out of your training, by being able to match higher intensities over time, through progressive overload.
And if you’re tired all the time, and you’re bunking in your workouts, and you just don’t feel like training for weeks and weeks on end, it’s going to be really hard for you to have the consistency that you need to have said positive adaptations in your training. And we’ve also talked at length about low energy availability and Red S and why we want to avoid those states. So now we’re coming to the point of the podcast where we’re going to look at the practical application, what are the three things that I would focus on if I could go back and do things differently? And what are three things I focus on a lot with my students and my clients?
Focus on What You Can Control
Remember, we said at the top of the show that metabolism is complex as our hormones, I am not a hormone-balancing coach, nor do I pretend to be. And I really do believe that in terms of the world of hormones, and even things like menopause hormone therapy, this is the best conversation best left to your medical team, right? Talking to actual experts in medicine, and an endocrinologist who can help you understand the nuances of hormones themselves.
And why it’s not so simple as just quote unquote, hormone balancing, which is what a lot of people on social media like to talk about. So that disclaimer being made, I would rather focus on what are three things that I see working really well for my student’s appliance, and three things I wish I had started focusing on a long time ago. So these are really filed under the idea of the lifestyle of nutrition and training and things that we can do to improve our health and well-being and focusing on the behaviors themselves. Right.
That’s what we’re really trying to move the needle on here. I will also say that a lot of these things are best done with guidance and support, whether it’s from a sports nutritionist, like myself, some kind of a coach with experience, a registered dietician, etc, etc. So the first thing is to start with eating more energy, specifically, looking at protein intake. Most of the women that I work with are not eating enough protein to support their health and their performance goals or training, to recover properly from their training, and so on. Increasing your protein intake is so very important if you want to hold on to muscle mass, or you’re trying to actively build muscle mass, especially as we’re going through the process of perimenopause and into the post-menopause period. And this is going to also help things like appetite regulation, satiety, and so on. We also know and we talked about today, that protein has the highest thermic effect on food. And it’s really, really important in building and protecting that lean mass.
1) Eat Enough, Including Protein
As I just said, this also impacts resting metabolic rate, we know that this is the largest component of your daily energy expenditure. And while we might not be talking about boosting, quote-unquote, your metabolic rate by many, many hundreds of calories, it’s just important to understand that any protein that we add is going to naturally help drive our energy expenditure up. And this is also going to be useful for other things that I’m going to mention here in a moment. So we need to build muscle. And in order to do that, and in order to have a higher rate of muscle protein synthesis compared to muscle protein breakdown, we need to eat enough protein to give us the proper amino acids for that process and look for an upcoming episode in the future more about this topic, but suffice to say muscle building should be a top priority, a top priority especially as we’re getting into our 40s and beyond because of said changes that are going to occur, including natural aging, and the propensity towards sarcopenia, which is loss of muscle.
2) Add Resistance Training
Number two, we want to add strength training to build lean mass. And of course, this is going to be supported by additional protein energy intake, you can do all the training that you want. But if you’re in a low energy availability state, and you’re not providing your body enough protein intake, it’s going to be really hard to build more muscle. So what I’m talking about is muscle but also things like building bone, building stronger tendons and ligaments, and connective tissue that’s associated with moving your body under load. Each strength workout in and of itself doesn’t quote unquote, burns a lot of energy. If we compare it to more aerobic base S-based exercise, PS also should be part of what you’re doing. However, you’re playing a longer game of building more metabolically active tissues in the category of muscle here to help your energy expenditure slightly increase in all of these different categories.
We’ve covered this in a previous episode, resting metabolic rate, energy, Activity Thermogenesis or purposeful exercise, non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis, and also the thermic effect of food. Right. And so we know that strength training, specifically, quote-unquote, lifting heavy is very important, we need to provide enough mechanical load or mechanical tension or stimulus to actually get our muscles to adapt. That’s how it works. So it doesn’t mean you have to lift your spine is going to pop out of your body, every single session. But if you’re only ever lifting light weights, you’re probably not going to get the adaptations that you want. And so we want to be able to see improvements due to more consistency, having fewer, you know, missed sessions. And, again, we’re not talking about being perfect here.
But just over time, you’re able to maintain consistency, that you’re able to maintain higher intensities in your weight training and in your cardio conditioning, frankly, and that you’re able to make progress over time and improve your fitness levels.
3) Increase Your NEAT
And last but not least, and you’re probably going to roll your eyes, but that’s okay, is to look for opportunities and strategies to build more non-exercise activities or NEAT into your day. So simply put, move around more often, NEAT is going to increase the number of calories that you use in a given day. Very, very simple. So some people like to say tracking your step count can be one way of monitoring this. Certainly, that can work for people. Apple now even has a new feature on the newest version of iOS. So you can kind of set a goal and I guess, use it sort of like a Fitbit. But there are lots of other ways that you can do this, you can set a timer to try to get up every, say 30 minutes in your day and introduce some movement snacks.
My preferred method is to track your time spent walking each day because it can be possible to cheat your step counter. I mean, literally, I’ve heard from some of you out there that, you know, maybe your spouse is like laying in bed at night, and it’s like, gotta close my or my rings on Fitbit. And so they’re like waving their arm with the Fitbit on in order to close the rings, or you’re walking like walking in place in your bedroom at night like are those disordered behaviors. I mean, if you feel like you just can’t go to sleep because you have this like open ring situation going on. I don’t know maybe not the most healthy perspective.
So I like to think about time spent walking because you can look for opportunities to add in short walks, even five or 10-minute blocks throughout the day to build up to a reasonable daily total. And it’s much easier to actually put those time blocks in your calendar than to say, have enough time for 3000 steps right now. I mean, you could kind of understand roughly how long it takes you to walk a certain number of steps, I just find working off of time can be a lot more strategic in the day and a lot easier to kind of fit in. And then it does add up from there.
So lots of different ways that you can do that. But these anchor strategies are going to combine to you know, slightly drive your energy usage up. And of course, if we’re talking about meat, meat can have a huge impact on your daily energy usage. And as I mentioned, movement snacks are wonderful, but I really love walking for the mental health benefit of clearing your mind or getting out and getting some fresh air it is kind of meditative right because you have that rhythmic movement of your body and it’s just can be such a great counterpoint to the training that you do in the gym. So I definitely did not have a walking practice until last year, in April of 2021.
And I started off with 15 minutes at a time. And now I’ve built up to, I’d say, on any given day off between 30 minutes and an hour, I also am not a huge fan of setting a ridiculously high step goal for yourself right out of the gate. I think that you need to build up over time and allow other things in your life to flex around these movement goals that you do have.
Summarizing Practical Metabolism Tips for Women Athletes Over 40
I hope that this podcast has been useful for you to think about how to actually put some metabolism-friendly practices into play in your life so that you’re not stressing about the metabolism. But rather, you’re thinking about what are these positive health-promoting changes that I can make. What are these positive habits I can introduce into my life that are going to have a benefit above and beyond just thinking about it in terms of the minutiae of your metabolism?
We’ve also talked about in this episode, that increasing your energy flux over time is also going to help you spend slightly more energy through movement, exercise, and digesting your food and helping you build muscle and these will have positive impacts. I hope that you’ve walked away with a clearer understanding of why athletic women over 40 especially need slightly more nuanced conversations about energy and metabolism. And frankly, the practical takeaway messages, then you tend to see out there on social media.
So thank you so much for tuning in to this series. Definitely share this episode out on social media, please subscribe on your favorite podcast app as well. You can get the show notes for this episode at StephGaudreau.com. And if you’re ready for support, coaching, and guidance on these topics, you really want to build strength, you really want to add muscle, have more energy and perform better both in and out of the gym. If you want to use a framework that really helps lay out what to do so that your training your nutrition and your recovery, go together and book a call with us at Steph gaudreau.com/apply We’ll hear more about your goals and decide together if this is the right fit for you. Again, you can do that at StephGaudreau.com/apply. Thank you so much for tuning into this episode. And until next time, you guessed it, stay strong.