Menopause & Strength: Muscle Mass in Older Climbers
Effects of Menopause: Declining Levels of Estrogen
As female athletes get older, developing strength may become harder.
As women and people reach the menopause, the levels of hormones produced by their ovaries decline (including estrogen and progesterone).
Estrogen is a hormone that plays an important role in the anabolic process of building up complex molecules from simpler ones. Specifically, estrogen helps to regulate protein synthesis and promotes the growth and repair of tissues such as bone and muscle.
During the menopause, we lose the anabolic effects of higher estrogen levels, meaning it can be harder to create new muscle.
The Effects of Ageing
As well as this, all older athletes experience anabolic resistance.
What is an Anabolic Process?
An anabolic process is when the body builds complex molecules from simpler ones. When it comes to creating muscle, amino acids are formed into chains that create proteins (muscle).
Anabolic processes are essential for growth, maintenance and repair of tissues.
What is Anabolic Resistance?
Anabolic resistance refers to a condition in which the body’s tissues, particularly skeletal muscle, become less responsive to stimuli that would normally cause the body to begin anabolic processes. For example, resistance exercise and the presence of amino acids (the building blocks of protein) and insulin.
In older climbers, the body’s reaction to these stimuli is reduced. Older climbers require more exercise, more amino acids and more insulin to generate the same anabolic response than their younger counterparts.
Older climbers need a greater stimuli to create the same amount of muscle as a younger climber.
What Happens When Anabolic Resistance Occurs?
When the body is exposed to these anabolic stimuli, it typically responds by building up and repairing tissues, particularly muscle tissue. However, in cases of anabolic resistance, the body’s response to these stimuli is reduced, which can make it more difficult to build muscle and maintain muscle mass.
Why is it Harder to Build Muscle?
For example, in resistance exercise, the muscle is exposed to mechanical stress, which triggers an anabolic response that results in muscle growth and repair. However, if a person has anabolic resistance, their muscles may not respond as strongly to this stimulus, which can make it harder to build muscle and strength.
Similarly, amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and when they are consumed in the diet, they can stimulate muscle protein synthesis. However, in cases of anabolic resistance, the muscle may not respond as effectively to the presence of amino acids, which can limit the amount of muscle protein synthesis that occurs.
Insulin is another anabolic stimulus that can promote the uptake of amino acids and glucose into muscle cells. However, in cases of anabolic resistance, the muscle may not respond as effectively to insulin, which can reduce the uptake of amino acids into muscle cells and limit the amount of muscle protein synthesis that occurs.
Conclusion: What can we do?
Overall, anabolic resistance and declining estrogen levels can be a significant barrier to muscle growth and maintenance.
- Eat enough protein – Aim for protein portions in the region of 30g per serving, 3-5 times spread out in the day if you can.
- Resistance exercise – Prioritise some strength work in your schedule. Aim to do resistance exercises at least two to three times per week, focusing on compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups.
Now we’ve explored the science behind the menopause and ageing, you can read more about nutrition for building strength and muscle.
Read more about menopause.
Read more about women’s training.
Read more training tips.
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