Whether you’re a seasoned racer, a recreational athlete or are just beginning your triathlon adventure, menopause will happen to all females. But we mustn’t see this as an end point to our favourite sports – rather a different phase.
What is the postmenopause?
The average age of menopause is 51 – a point in time when a woman hasn’t had a period for one year. After then, she’s considered to be postmenopausal – no longer producing eggs from her ovaries and with low levels of oestrogen and progesterone.
- How to train as you age: what triathletes need to know as they get older
- How can you avoid muscle loss as you age?
Last month, we discussed the perimenopause, its symptoms, and how to work through these and switch up training and nutrition. After menopause, many symptoms, such as hot flashes and night sweats, go away and become less of a barrier to exercise, though specific focus on training, recovery and nutrition must be maintained.
The risks of cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and low bone-mineral density (osteoporosis) increase postmenopause, so it’s important to continue to pay more attention to lower these by adapting training and nutrition accordingly.
Managing muscle and bone mass, weight and stress levels should all be considerations when adapting training strategies as we age. Taking part in a sport that you enjoy, for instance, will ensure that you meet the requirements for aerobic exercise for heart health, weight management and boosting your mood, reducing stress levels.
What are the health risks associated with the postmenopause?
Weight gain is invariably one of the most unwanted side-effects of the menopause with warranted complaints of belly fat. It’s important to recognise that some belly fat is normal, but in excess is a risk factor for heart disease and associated conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type-2 diabetes.
It can be harder to shift weight because your body requires fewer calories due to a decline in lean body mass, so it’s necessary to adjust our intake of food accordingly. If your training is reduced, this also needs to be taken into consideration. This doesn’t have to be anything drastic, mind. Just simple things such as reducing the amount of snacks – it’s harder to get away with those extra biscuits. Strength training will help to maintain and build muscle to raise metabolism and counteract this somewhat.
Because bone density decreases after menopause, the risk of osteoporosis is higher. As discussed last month, focus on building in some strength and power training into your programme to help protect the bones and prevent muscle loss. Osteoporosis often goes undiagnosed until it’s too late and a fracture occurs after a fall. Strength training, coupled with balance work (single leg exercises are a great example), will boost prevention and improve your sporting performance, too.
Support this training with a balanced diet containing plenty of protein, vitamin D3 and calcium. High protein foods include meat, fish, eggs and dairy, and legumes and some meat replacements. If you’re highly active, you’ll require more protein to support the muscles and a protein-based recovery shake is a useful tool to have in the box.
The benefits of triathlon training are that it incorporates heart-protective cardiovascular exercise, and already includes some of the recommendations such as power (cycling) and impact work (running) to strengthen the bones (although if you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, high-impact training is to be avoided).
One of the other, less-talked about health problems is incontinence and vaginal atrophy. Not only can the incontinence be inconvenient and embarrassing, you may also experience more UTIs and pain around the vaginal region – something to consider when it comes to comfort on a bike, for instance. Prevent leakage when performing sports by training the core and pelvic floor, which work synergistically. Seek help from women’s physios, and invest in equipment that’ll make riding more comfortable, e.g. saddles.
Key exercise advice for postmenopausal athletes
You may have noticed that the older you get, the longer it takes to warm up, and you may be more prone to joint aches and pains. So thoroughly warm up your body to prevent injury and prepare for your main training session. This should include mobility work and slowly increasing your heart rate. Post-exercise, a cool-down to bring your heart rate down and stretching to calm the central nervous system is good practice.
Then it’s about recovery. Due to ageing, the body takes longer to repair and recover from exercise. So plan in active recovery, rest, sleep and fuel to optimise your training, and prevent too much stress on the body and injuries. Active recovery could mean just switching between sports, or yoga, mobility and walking. Flexibility work’s often neglected. These are important components to maintain healthy joints and movement as we age.
At least one complete rest day should be incorporated, but this is highly dependent on both goals and current fitness levels. Remember that exercise is a stressor on the body. Sometimes when life is stressful, too much exercise can be counterproductive, despite the feel-good endorphins that it brings. Swapping out a high-intensity session for meditation may be just the tonic that you need.
The beauty of triathlon is that there are three modalities of sport: cycling, swimming and running. By planning and periodising these in a smart way, you can train in all three with a lower risk of injuries caused by overexerting the joints and muscles. The obvious example is running. Generally speaking, runners’ injury rates are higher than the other two disciplines. Sadly, the physiological changes that occur with ageing may further contribute to this, so it becomes increasingly important to take more rest between runs than in your formative years.
This presents an opportunity to utilise the other two sports to cross train. You’re able to rest joints from the impact of running but still participate and work on aerobic capacity, power and the other sports techniques.
Finally, speak to your doctor to discuss menopause and hormone replacement therapy. As discussed, after menopause the health risks do increase, and it’s now known that the HRT benefits of being heart, bone and brain protective outweigh the risks.
Our older female readers will also be pleased to know that at Her Spirit, there are resources ranging from strength classes and HIIT, to yoga and meditation. There’s also a supportive community of women of all ages, who are going through the same journey as you.
Jesse Lambert-Harden is a nutrition and lifestyle coach and personal trainer, specialising in female health and performance. She is one of the expert coaching team at Her Spirit.