Menopause is a natural stage in a woman's life that marks the end of her menstrual cycle. It can be a time of many changes, including physical, emotional, and hormonal. One of the changes seen in menopausal women is the need for increased protein consumption. Protein is an essential nutrient that plays a role in many important bodily functions. It can be found in muscle, bone, skin, hair, and nearly every other body part or tissue. Protein is made from twenty-plus basic building blocks called amino acids, which are made in two ways: your body can make some of the amino acids but nine amino acids, the essential amino acids, must be obtained from food.
Two different physiological changes in menopausal women account for the increased protein intake requirement. First, dietary protein requirements increase with age because skeletal muscles reduce their ability of activating protein synthesis, possibly due to insulin resistance. Insulin's role, in part, is to increase the rate of transport of some amino acids into tissues, increase the rate of protein synthesis in muscle, and decrease the rate of protein breakdown in muscle. Second, menopausal women, due to declining sex hormones, lose the muscle building stimulus that estrogen provided.
According to Dr. Stacy Sims, author of Next Level, menopausal women should eat 2.2-2.4 grams of protein per kilogram per day. Active women should aim for the higher end of the scale. This means that a woman who weighs 150 pounds (68 kilograms) needs 150-163 grams of protein per day (for reference, a skinless, cooked chicken breast has 50 grams of protein, on average.) To achieve an adequate level of protein consumption, you likely will need to eat protein at every meal. It is important to choose protein sources that are low in saturated and unhealthy fats. For example, grilled chicken breast is a better choice than fried chicken thighs. There are many good sources of protein, including lean meat, poultry, and fish, eggs, dairy products, beans, lentils, and other legumes, and nuts and seeds. Timing of protein consumption is also important - eating protein with other macronutrients like fat and carbohydrates is best. It's also helpful to spread your protein intake throughout the day. Supplementation with quality protein powders/bars can be used if you're finding it hard to reach your protein goal with food alone with the caveat that you should choose protein powders with high leucine content and easy digestibility. Whey protein is rapidly used by the body; casein protein is used more slowly so whey protein is a better choice after exercise and casein is a better choice for a late-night snack. Choose products that are low in artificial colors and flavors, lack artificial sweeteners, and are limited in the amount of sugars and fats they contain.
Eating a healthy diet during menopause can help you feel your best and manage any symptoms you may be experiencing. If you have any questions about your diet, be sure to talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian.
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