Protein + muscle mass are your best friends in your 40s - here’s why you need to make use of them!
Updated: Jul 16, 2021
You’ve likely heard me (and other health professionals) bang on about the importance of getting enough protein into your meals, and today I wanted to break down for you exactly why protein is SO incredibly important, ESPECIALLY for women in their 40s.
But if you’re in your 30s PLEASE DON’T STOP reading! Everything I discuss in this post is important for you to start NOW, because the earlier the better - but equally it’s never too late.
Women MASSIVELY underestimate how important it is for them to both maintain and continue to build muscle mass.
Muscle mass is your organ of longevity!!
What does that actually mean? When I say longevity I mean a longer, healthier, fitter, happier life. It’s not about getting Popeye style biceps and Schwarzenegger thighs (both of which are great if you want them), but having optimal muscle mass is KEY for healthy ageing, protecting your bones, healthy hormone balance, weight (body fat) management, AND a MUCH BETTER experience of both perimenopause (women in their 40s) and menopause.
Protein is a KEY food group for helping you to both maintain and build muscle mass.
Simply put, PROTEIN + MUSCLE MASS ARE YOUR BEST FRIENDS IN YOUR 40S, and beyond (they always were, but just even more so now).
From around age 35 your hormones start to change - oestrogen starts to fluctuate more and more, and progesterone starts to decline, causing our bodies to become better at storing fat and worse at maintaining muscle mass. We also naturally start to lose muscle mass from our mid 30s as well. This all comes with a host of unfortunate side-effects including weaker bones, more body fat (particularly around the middle), insulin resistance, and increased inflammation.
BUT! We don't have to just accept this because there's so much we can do with our nutrition and lifestyle to slow it all down!
Strength training and optimal protein intake slows this all down and all women should be tapping into these wonderful tools in their 40s (and beyond) if they’re not doing so already!
Exercise plays a CRUCIAL role in your hormone health, and never more than in your late 30s and during perimenopause, and menopause. The main goal of your exercise in your 40s is NOT weight loss, although it could of course help with that. Instead, the main goal of your exercise is/should be to improve insulin sensitivity (how effectively your cells suck up glucose from your bloodstream), reduce inflammation, and build muscle!
We naturally lose muscle mass from around age 30...
This is called sarcopenia, which is basically the loss of muscle mass we start to experience specifically related to ageing. It is Latin for ‘lack of flesh’, and is defined as the degenerative loss of skeletal muscle mass, quality, and strength, and the replacement of muscle fibres with fat.
So, from that definition I’m sure you can imagine how unhelpful losing muscle mass is for our strength, fitness, and weight (body fat) management. And like I said, it’s NOT just about strength and body weight (although these are both crucial for health); it’s SO much more than that because muscle is an organ, and the organ of longevity at that!
Muscle mass loss impairs your strength and weakens your bones, which can lead to frailty and falls, plus it directly contributes to the development of osteoporosis, depression, and even cognitive decline.
Sarcopenia is a natural part of ageing and begins after age 30 when you begin to lose as much as 3% - 5% of your muscle per decade, HOWEVER, we can counteract the loss and maintain as much as we can, plus continue to build new muscle mass, so long as we do the right things as part of our diet and lifestyle habits to support it!
Habits that can help you PREVENT muscle loss include lowering stress, reducing or avoiding alcohol, and eating enough calories (energy, from the right foods) and eating an optimal amount of PROTEIN every day.
The best way to BUILD and maintain muscle is to move your body but particularly with resistance and strength training. This can simply be resistance using your own body weight such as lunging, squatting, planks, press ups, uphill running or sprinting, and even yoga and walking. EVEN better is to include lifting, pushing and pulling heavier weights, such as bench press, deadlifts, and barbell squats and lunges. Strength training has been found to have a really favourable effect on your body’s hormones and improve hot flushes, cognition (brain health), mood, insulin sensitivity & blood sugar regulation and to strengthen and protect your bones.
PROTEIN HELPS YOU BUILD LEAN MUSCLE! Dietary protein is really important for stimulating muscle mass.
Plus, it fills you up and keeps cravings at bay - which is always helpful for keeping sugar intake in check! Protein is the most satiating macronutrient, which means you will stay fuller for longer with a high-protein meal or snack.
How to know how much you need..
An optimal intake of protein per day is around 1.5g per kg of your body weight. The absolute MINIMUM to aim for is 1g per kg of body weight, but the optimal recommendation really is the way to go rather than minimal. Some people need anywhere between 1.5-2g per kg of body weight, depending on their level of activity, goals, health status etc.
So, if you weigh around 70kg then the optimal intake per day would be 70kg x 1.5g = 105g (split out evenly across all your meals).
I like my clients (and myself) to be eating a minimum of 100g of protein per day. Once you pass age 35 this really could not be MORE IMPORTANT!
Do you eat enough protein?
Here’s a list of some common protein foods and their protein content to help you see if you currently eat enough..
100g cooked chicken breast - 28g
100g cooked grass-fed beef steak - 25g
1 medium egg - 5g
100g cooked prawns - 24g
100g cooked fish - 20-22g
100g tempeh - 18g
100g tofu - 8g
50g cottage cheese - 5g
50g natural yoghurt - 2.5g
50g feta cheese - 8g
100g of chickpeas, lentils etc. - 9g
Tablespoon of pumpkin seeds - 2g
10 mixed nuts - 2.5g
30g of almond butter - 6g
If you need to start hitting a higher protein goal each day, what can you start doing from today to get yourself closer to the optimal amount?
Start with your breakfast, as a protein-rich breakfast really is vital for balancing your blood sugar and energy regulating hormones straight off the bat, then, once you’re nailing a great breakfast every morning effortlessly, you can start to improve upon your other meals. Plus, breakfast is the meal that most women struggle to get enough protein into.
Here are some protein-rich breakfast ideas for you try:
“Dinner for breakfast” - what did you have for dinner last night? Chicken, turkey, fish, beef, lamb are all great options for breakfast! With leftover veggies heated up or salad veg. Sometimes I have leftover lamb mince curry & veg topped with a poached egg!
Omelettes are a great option because you can add so much into them such as smoked salmon, chopped chicken sausages, chopped veg such as peppers, mushrooms, asparagus, tomatoes, spinach, kale, broccoli, and onions.
Smoked salmon with poached or scrambled eggs, and spinach and tomatoes, on rye or sourdough toast.
A protein smoothie using a good quality, unflavoured protein powder such as Pulsin, Sunwarrior, Form Nutrition, or Bulk. A great breakfast smoothie would also include things like ground flax, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, coconut oil, avocado, nut butter, leafy greens, and minimal fruit such as a handful of mixed (fresh or frozen) berries.
What other ideas have you got?!
Give yourself time to gradually get to where you need to be with this, it doesn't have to happen overnight, simply knowing this information is a great place to start, and then once you are naturally and effortlessly eating enough protein each day, you will never need to look back!
I hope this has been helpful and insightful for you. Let me know or if you have any questions then please send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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