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Let's start Flipping 50 with the energy and the vitality you want for this second half! I solve your biggest challenges and answer questions about how to move, what to eat, and when, along with the small lifestyle changes that can make the most difference in the least amount of time. Join me and my expert guests for safe, sane, simple solutions for your second (and better) half!

Mar 22, 2024

If you’re losing tone, can’t seem to get the results you deserve for the time and energy you spend, you can blame it on part on muscle protein synthesis in menopause. What you did that worked isn’t going to. 

In the dance between muscle protein synthesis and muscle protein breakdown, you’re MPS is stepping out on you. 

It’s going to take more effort to win this tango. 

During menopause transition muscle protein breakdown occurs at a faster rate due to lower levels of Estrogen, not to mention testosterone. 

Estrogen is a natural stimulus for muscle. The problem is multifaceted. Reduced testosterone (which can start declines much earlier than that in some women). If you’re not sleeping well at night or staying in deep sleep, the times when you do produce testosterone and growth hormone, another important factor in gaining lean muscle, you won’t have those important factors. 

Also when you don’t sleep at night, too little/poorly, your cortisol and insulin levels are such that you’re in muscle breakdown and fat storage. 

This is when a woman is in the gym, actually doing the things, and feeling as if she’s not getting rewards, or seeing results. 

There are two things that stimulate muscle protein synthesis in menopause: 

-Adequate protein intake on a per meal basis

-Adequate mechanical stress to the muscles (resistance training)

That decreased muscle protein synthesis results in an increased need for protein (quality protein) 

Sources that are best are high in leucine. Especially if you’re not consuming much protein or find it hard, you want to lean into leucine. Plant proteins unfortunately don’t have much leucine to help this process. Best sources are animal proteins like beef, bison or wild meats. 

Here’s where I find some blogs, podcasts, even research findings let us down. Suggestions to supplement with leucine would be well-intended potentially for a frail, older adult unable to consume enough dietary protein, unwilling to or and at later stages of life. 

But for a midlife woman with the potential for decades ahead of her, the full range of amino acids in the body will be important in her ability to thrive and maintain all areas of health. It’s the difference between hanging on, and better than nothing, and wanting energy and vitality. 

In consideration of questions like, should I supplement with leucine? My thoughts are, not in isolation if you’re not getting adequate dietary protein. You may want ALSO to supplement specifically with it post workout, or at meals when you aren’t getting adequate protein but I like to see complete essential amino acids first before isolating with greater amounts of individual.

Even though, it is and has always been leucine that is associated with lean muscle gains. I began publishing The Protein Report for women in menopause in 2013. It stemmed from a Protein Symposium I had the honor of co-hosting at Iowa State University in honor of Steve Nissen, who had discovered HMB years earlier. If you’re familiar with products Boost and Ensure, you have some awareness of HMB. The ingredient is used more widely now, not only for the drinks intended to help bedridden frail consume high protein drinks to reduce muscle and strength losses. 

HMB is another supplement question that more frequently comes up today. Should you supplement with HMB. Potentially if you’re struggling with the ability to consume high quality protein sources and you’re at high risk (low body weight, frail, fine boned, weak), it may be something to consider. 

I also hesitate to suggest it to anyone without first looking at food logs and having you assess what you’re consuming from whole foods. 

Good News About MPS in Menopause

A study in the International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology (2022) shows that when women in menopause increase dietary protein, good things happen that can offset potential muscle breakdown AND fat gain. There is a “protein hypothesis” (first published in 2005 in Obesity journal) that goes like this: when you’re not getting adequate protein, the body will signal hunger. Unfortunately, if protein isn’t the choice, often excess calories are consumed (with less satiety AND less micronutrient density) and still the protein need is incomplete. Muscle preservation doesn’t occur, while excess food is stored as fat. 

You’re not as likely to overeat protein. In fact, these studies showed that when the percent of protein intake was increased, the total calories or energy consumed was either the same or reduced, but in most cases high protein was inversely related to total caloric intake. That is, you eat more protein, you consume less energy. If you’re seeking a caloric deficit, without feeling deprived, and you want to spare muscle loss and even gain lean muscle while losing fat, protein is the way to go. Again, satiety is your best friend. 

And if you overeat a little more protein than you need, a recent study in Cell Reports Medicine showed that a big bolus of protein can result in a greater and more prolonged anabolic response. It was previously thought that there may be an upper limit of 40 grams by some. 

The question still lingers though, what about women? Women in midlife and later, particularly with greater anabolic resistance than men and less muscle mass relative to their own body weight than men. 

Post workout protein intake of 20-30 grams was previously sufficient in young adults (and mainly males, note this). For older adults to have the equal muscle protein synthesis, protein requirement post workout was double. That is 40 grams compared to 20 grams. 

While it’s still a good idea to consume meals across the day if you’re going to take in fiber, vegetables that are micronutrient dense, if you are occasionally stuck and find yourself faced with not having gotten enough protein, having a bigger amount at a single meal (OMAD) or two larger meals may still support muscle protein synthesis. For most, long term ingestion of one meal a day is not sustainable if you value a social life and quote unquote breaking bread or pairing protein with loved-ones. But if you’re fasting, you may need to worry less about 

If you’re seeking a caloric deficit, without feeling deprived, and you want to spare muscle loss and even gain lean muscle while losing fat, protein is the way to go.

Gain Muscle in Spite of Anabolic Resistance

According to the new recommendations by the International Society of Sports Nutrition, position stand for female athletes to counter Anabolic resistance – they should have at least 10 grams of protein before or immediately after exercise. In spite of the recently mentioned ability to potentially absorb a large bolus of protein, women in later stages of life with greater anabolic resistance may still find spreading doses of at least 30-40 grams or more over multiple meals 3-4 hours apart more beneficial.

Summary of Muscle Protein Synthesis in Menopause:

At the very least, for high intensity intentional exercise beyond going for a walk, break the fast. Consume calories. Ideally higher in protein for resistance training exercise, and including protein for high intensity interval training.


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Other Episodes You Might Like: 

3 Steps to Gain Lean Muscle in Menopause

It’s Not Just About How Much Protein | Menopause Fitness