Recovery from training for a menopausal woman

I got a question in from Jan who asked whether an inability to recover post training and achy muscles which are slower to heal post-injury, is a result of menopause. If so, what can be done about it? Well, it could be. Oestrogen is involved not only in reproductive function but a host of other physiological systems, both directly and indirectly. These aren’t just the cardiovascular and central nervous system, but also the musculoskeletal and immune system too. It then follows that, as women go through menopause, a reduction in the hormone will affect the normal functioning of these systems.

Oestrogen plays a significant role in stimulating muscle repair and regenerative processes, including the activation and production of cells that affect our tissue at the cellular level. While it’s not definitive as to how oestrogen impacts on muscle repair and recovery, it has been proposed that there are three main pathways: 

Acts as an antioxidant, its chemical structure (an 18-carbon phenolic backbone) and structural similarity to other potent antioxidants such as vitamin E, is thought to contribute to it’s higher antioxidant capacity and may therefore be able to clean up after oxidative damage that occurs during training. When our levels of oestrogen drop and are naturally lower, more oxidative metabolites may exist in our system as we naturally don’t have those antioxidants around to offset them, especially if we haven’t accounted for this in our diet or lifestyle habits. 

It is structurally similar to cholesterol, therefore it might act in a similar fashion and interlay between membrane phospholipids, helping stabilise these and keep the membranes intact. It also helps reduce the permeability of cells the way cholesterol does, stopping the transport of unwanted molecules across the cell membrane. The net effect would be less likelihood of crystallisation and reduced inflammation from foreign particles. Crystallisation in the membrane can contribute to conditions such as arthritis and osteopororis and has clear impacts on the health and dynamic nature of the tissue. A stiffer, more inflamed tissue will take longer to recover and be more prone to injury.

Oestrogen receptors have been found on the plasma membrane, which suggests that oestrogen governs many downstream genes and molecular structures at the cellular level. These include the reduction of inflammation and the repair and regeneration of cells.  

So, when oestrogen is lower as a natural consequence of ageing, how do women combat these clear effects on the tissue and its function? To my mind, these are all tied to inflammation. These positive anti-inflammatory properties of oestrogen are lost and circumventing this and using other strategies to dampen down inflammation through diet and lifestyle should help with the recovery and repair of tissue. Obviously, my usual recommendations apply, and I’ve listed a few of them alongside information I’ve found in the research literature that helps support recovery and tissue repair.

Vegetables – an array of colour, along with berries contain the phytochemicals that help your body upregulate its own anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capacity makes good sense. Potentially putting a greens or reds powder in here too to supplement this (or, if you can’t have a lot of vegetables due to the fibre content, then definitely adding this in. People love the Nutrient Rescue product, there is also a new Lifestream Refillery product out.

Make sure you sleepObviously – this is our best recovery tool with the regeneration and restoration of most physiological pathways occurring when we sleep. 

Increased rest days – for those who are well established athletes, moving from a 7 day training cycle to a 10 day cycle can allow additional recovery that ensures recovery from each session is optimal. If you aren’t getting adequate rest to allow for recovery you won’t be going into important training sessions well rested and ready to perform. Remember, consistency in training and ability to hit required power/speed metrics is key. If you can’t do this over 7 days, something needs to change. You won’t be losing out on a 10 day training cycle, a tactic used by many elite coaches to train their Masters athletes.

Creatine – it’s been well established how beneficial this is for power, strength and cognition. While it is present in animal protein, supplemental creatine is so good for recovery from training. If we look at research, a snippet of results include using a 5g dose per day for four days leading up to a 30k run race resulting in reductions in inflammatory markers such as creatine kinase (CK), prostaglandins E2 and TNF-alpha. Post menopausal or not, creatine is well known for its ability to help with recovery and help with muscle strength gains. Similar reductions in inflammatory markers and better recovery was reported with a study looking at eccentric exercise, with dosing of 0.3g/kg body weight for 5 days before, and two weeks following the exercise session designed to induce muscle damage. In addition, a long term study found that dosing 0.1g/kg body weight per day over 12 months preserved bone density and improved the dynamic nature of the bone when combined with resistance training. Creatine monohydrate – such as this one – is cost effective and is the type of creatine used in most research studies.

Specific amino acids – these have been studies to investigate their role in improving recovery from training. Collagen synthesis decreases as we age, and we don’t get as much dietary collagen as we age. Taking a collagen supplement ensures you get the amino acids which are integral to tissue structure. In addition, a study that followed post-menopausal women taking 5g collagen hydrolysate a day for 12 months had preserved their bone density and increased the component of their bone that is required for dynamic movement. The type of collagen used wasn’t expensive, and in New Zealand we have the Nutraorganics brand that is the Fortibone collagen used in this study. Yes, not directly supporting the repair of tissue, but certainly contributing to the big picture of optimal tissue health for the Masters athlete.

Finally – glutamine (often used in gut healing protocols and is one of the most prolific amino acids in the body) combined with leucine (at 0.087g and 0.3g/kg body weight respectively, taken acutely before an eccentric exercise programme allowed for faster recovery post eccentric exercise training. 

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