MANAGING BODY COMPOSITION AND PERFORMANCE AS A MASTERS FEMALE ATHLETE
In each stage of life, we have different, and specific, nutritional needs. This applies for age as well as gender, and it’s especially true for the female masters athlete.
Sadly, as we enter our late 30s our testosterone levels begin to decline, which affects everything from gaining muscle to recovery. However, these effects can be mitigated to a certain extent by being conscious of good nutrition AND by taking daily steps to eliminate habits that can cause low testosterone.
I am writing this article specifically for crossfit and weightlifting athletes, but these rules can be applied to anyone wanting to protect their hard work and anyone wanting to continue to make gains/increase athletic performance.
The three things we will focus on today are sleep, alcohol, and protein consumption.
First and foremost is sleep. You will see this in almost every one of my nutrition articles because of how impactful sleep is on our systems. If I had to choose between you getting a good night’s sleep or eating your vegetables, I would choose sleep every time.
Why as a nutrition coach do I talk about sleep? Because no amount of green smoothies or calorie counting can undo poor sleep habits and the effects they have on the body.
As we age our sleep often becomes shorter in duration and we spend less time in deep sleep. This can be exacerbated by light pollution, anxiety, depression, and screened devices.
During deep sleep we produce human growth hormone. Some scientists theorize the reason we age and ultimately die is due to the fact throughout our life we spend less and less time in deep sleep, therefor we decline more than we repair.
Getting good sleep can be remarkably frustrating for a lot of the adult population. Jobs, kids, and life stressors only seem to complicate the problem. In a perfect world you are getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night.
When I work with my nutrition clients, we regularly address things they can do to improve their sleep.
Simple steps such as wearing blue light glasses at night when watching the TV or using your cell phone, having a calming nighttime routine at least an hour before bed, and choosing foods that align with good sleep can all have a positive effect on your time in bed.
I also challenge clients to listen to their self-talk when it comes to their quality and duration of sleep. It may sound silly, but negative feedback loops are something the body lives by. Saying over and over again “I can’t sleep” or “I don’t sleep” guarantees that you WON’T sleep.
Instead choose language that creates a work in progress “I am working on getting better sleep”, “sometimes I sleep really well”, “I have the ability to sleep”. Seriously- set your brain and your body up for SUCCESS! I am not trying to minimalize the struggle.
I appreciate how frustrating trying to get a good nights sleep can be.
But if you aren’t dealing with your brain (the piece of the puzzle 100% responsible for sleep!) then you aren’t fully addressing HOW to get good sleep.
For females entering their second half of life, sleep can become something that feels almost impossible to get. Massive hormone fluctuations may seem like a good nights sleep is a thing of the past. This is where having every piece of the puzzle that affects sleep 100% dialed in.
Blue light glasses are not an option anymore. Meditation to tame anxiety should be a no brainer. Avoiding caffeine after 3 or 4pm is most likely a must (although you may not notice the affects of it, as we age, we tend to metabolize caffeine slower and it can stay in our systems longer!). Alcohol also negatively affects sleep, so you may want to skip out on that evening drink.
Speaking of alcohol, this a perfect opportunity to segue into the next topic.
Alcohol is not everything its cracked up to be. It is often advertised as having lots of health benefits, but the reality is alcohol is a poison for your body, and it works hard to eliminate it FAST.
Alcohol decreases testosterone levels, affects body composition, slows your metabolism, and affects quality and quantity of sleep. The effects of alcohol can last three to four days AFTER you’ve consumed it.
I am NOT a teetotaler but if you are concerned with how you look and feel, then you need to address how much and how often you drink, especially as you age, and ESPECIALLY if you’re a woman going through menopause!
If you need alcohol to manage your brain, you might want to consider looking at your stress controls and finding some healthy alternatives.
Alcohol tends to be a crutch. While its more work initially establishing ways to deal with stress and anxiety, alcohol gets you stuck in an instant gratification loop where you’re always chasing your tail. Cut out the wine and watch your mid-line slim down while your sleep and performance in the gym improve.
Lastly, we will discuss protein consumption.
I recognize this can also be very challenging to get enough, especially if you like to consume a more plant-based diet. However, as we age our bodies tend to do a lot better with a higher protein, moderate carb, moderate to low fat diet.
For my athletes who exercise 4 to 5 days a week for a minimum of an hour I suggest hitting a protein intake of 1g per pound of body weight. Now this is a GENERAL rule as every person is different, but even if you only manage to get 75% of that, you are still giving your body what it needs to maintain the muscle you have and protect against muscle breakdown.
I also encourage athletes to be consuming red meat at least once a week. Red meat has the most nutrients by far when it comes to animal protein sources. I highly recommend investing in a good cut of meat that is grass fed and ethically raised and slaughtered. This has the most health benefits for you and for the environment.
If you are trying to be primarily plant based, I advise you to pay attention to your soy consumption. There are a lot of mixed result studies on the impact of a high soy diet, but the “benefits” tend to be perceived from whole food soy sources (ie tofu and edamame) and these studies are often done on populations who regularly consume soy as part of their native diets.
I’ve also found that a lot of individuals who focus on plant based and/or minimizing meat end up eating too much fat in their diets.
While I am not concerned with fat consumption correlating to heart issues, fat has more calories per gram then carbs or protein, so people end up unintentionally eating way too many calories.
Pay close attention to how much fat you eat daily to ensure you’re not gaining weight by trying to stick to a “healthy” diet which ends up being fat laden.
And I am not against plant based. I recognize there is a best way for each of us to eat, and I want all my clients to be consuming lots of fruits and veggies in their diets.
However, if you’re struggling with your weight and/or your performance in the gym, the first thing I want you to do is calculate how much protein you are getting in a day.
I find a lot of my clients (of all ages) tend to under-eat protein and overeat fat. Get this dialed in and it could be the difference in your body composition!
These three things are, in my opinion, the MOST important for managing body composition and performance as a masters female athlete.
If you’ve been struggling with your weight creeping up as you age, or not making as many gains in the gym, track your protein and fat intake, analyze your drinking habits, and look at how much sleep you are getting to see if you can make improvements!
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