Most women will experience some symptoms around the menopause. The duration and severity of these symptoms will vary. CrossFit women are no different, they are, however, asking their bodies to do things that the vast majority of women their age aren’t. How then are the specific needs of CrossFitters affected by the menopause and what can be done about it?
Maz Glover is an elite Master (24th in the World 50-54 after the Qualifiers) and part of the demographic that may be affected. She decided to do some research and this article is the result.
I decided to look into the menopause after I heard older women I know complain about the menopause and how it was affecting their performance, their energy levels, their sleep and motivation; how they couldn’t sleep at night with the flushes and how their training was suffering.
As I was coming up to 50 and I didn’t want anything to affect my performance, I started looking into the menopause.
I do need to inform you, I have not been educated within the medical profession, I can only give you what I have read, learnt and experienced.
So let’s start with some facts: the menopause will bring on hormonal changes; there are however, somethings you can do to help.
One thing I did do was ask my mum. Find out how old your mum was when she started her menopause, this will be a good indicator for you and it will give you some idea of when the menopause will start. Ask her if she had hot flushes, gained weight etc. (Bear in mind, I don’t think she would have been exercising as much we do, so things could be different).
CrossFit is very demanding and we should define ourselves as the first wave of women to fight against nature and against what the experts say (they have not met women like us). Where we should be declining, we’re not!! We are getting stronger, we are fitter and healthier than most women around the world are at our age. So embrace this.
It has been recorded that the average life expectancy in the 19th century for women was 42, this changed moving into 20th century to 45 and then 50. So let’s think about it. How many women put their bodies through exercise like we do? The experts cannot honestly say, they do not know how we will react while going through the menopause because there is not enough data or examples of women like us to study. So when you look for help and the experts tell you to slow down or take HRT, well I say, you have a choice, for me I am not going to do either of these.
What is known is that our hormones will change, so I have put together a list (below) which explains what each does. So let’s look at the hormones we are dealing with: Oestrogen, Progesterone and Testosterone hormones are produced by the ovaries, adrenal glands and some peripheral tissue.
Oestrogen is produced by the ovaries, adrenal glands and fat cells. Due to the menopause there is less Oestrogen being produced in the ovaries, therefore the body has to try to find Oestrogen in different places. One place is in fat cells. Fat cells can produce Oestrogen, so the body starts to work hard to convert cells to fat to increase it.
Oestrogen has a sister Progesterone which is a primary hormone that is also produced in the ovaries. It is the precursor for both Oestrogen and Testosterone. A lack of Progesterone means hormones are imbalanced. It is Progesterone that requires our help.
A drop in Oestrogen and Progesterone can increase appetite; you can become insulin resistant – which turns every calorie to fat.
The hormones Progesterone and Oestrogen play a significant role in fluid retention. When Oestrogen levels are elevated, women tend to retain more water than usual. During menopause, Oestrogen levels erratically fluctuate and bloating becomes more chronic. In addition, Progesterone is a natural diuretic, so when Progesterone levels are below where they should be, women may also experience bloating.
Anctogen increases at the onset of Menopause and is responsible for sending new weight to the mid-section, instead of the hips.
Some Testosterone in women is produced within the ovary by the growing Oocytes (under the control of LH and FSH). Menopause means that Oocytes numbers are exhausted and there is none left. As a result of Testosterone production dropping, fewer calories are used to build muscles which leads to a resultant drop in the metabolism.
So knowing what your body needs and wants is the first step in balancing things out; and becoming healthy, eating well and exercising all helps.
Eating, and avoiding, certain types of foods can make the menopause a lot more bearable. Some seeds can be beneficial and I eat Alfalfa seeds, Sunflower seeds, Pumpkin seeds and Chia seeds. I also eat Ginseng.
This web site explains a lot better than I can why you should eat seeds: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/eat-beat-menopause
Phyto or plant oestrogens found in certain foods are oestrogenic compounds that bind with oestrogen receptor sites in the body cells, increasing the total oestrogenic effect. By acting in a similar way to oestrogen, they may help in keeping hormones a little more in balance. A high intake of phytoestrogens is thought to explain why hot flushes and other menopausal symptoms rarely occur in populations consuming a predominantly plant-based diet.
Increase your intake of phyto-oestrogens by eating more of the following:
- soya milk and soya flour
- tempeh and miso
- pumpkins seeds
- sesame seeds
- sunflower seeds
- green beans
Women going through the menopause should also increase their intake of food sources of calcium, magnesium and vitamins D and K to maintain integrity of the skeleton.
I hope this helps,
UK Master Tess McKenzie talked to Maz during the writing of this article and offered the following insight from her own experience:
“I scrabbled around looking for supplements to take on the advice of other women and to be honest, nothing made that much difference (and were very costly).
Don’t forget to take into account the mental side of the menopause either. For me the lack of sleep causes all sorts of issues. I have not slept more than 4 hours in a stretch for about 8 years and it can leave you feeling quite down. I know us CrossFitters fight back against this but there are days still where it is a huge effort of will to get up and train. I rarely miss a session but it is often only because I have agreed to meet Angie for PT that I get there.
You are right, we are trail blazers. Mostly I get told not to ‘over do it’ . Even at my level of fitness most people have no concept of what I can do and while quite she is supportive, I have stopped trying to explain to my GP.”
Thanks to Maz and everyone who contributed to a subject which is often overlooked, misunderstood or deliberately avoided. Feel free to contact MtB or comment, below, if you have any thoughts or experiences you wish to share…