Do you want to understand how to navigate protein in midlife and through menopause? In midlife protein plays a pivotal role in many aspects of peri and postmenopausal health for example:
- Supporting bone health
- Sustaining energy levels
- Protecting lean muscle mass
- Contributing to satiety and blood glucose regulation
- Supporting the health of our skin, hair and nails
It nurtures us in many ways throughout peri and post-menopause so let’s look at how to get the most from it and start by debunking some common myths.
Common myths about protein in menopause
Should we replace carbs in the diet with more protein?
No, our body thrives on both, without the need for an exclusive trade-off. We’ll dig into how to achieve this later on.
I’m not very active, so is protein still important?
Regardless of how athletic you’re feeling, we benefit from more protein as we enter into menopause and age to support many aspects of our health. Your requirements will differ a little depending on how much and the type of exercise you do.
Is meat the best source of protein in my diet?
Not necessarily – many foods contribute to our protein intakes, including plants and dairy foods. Embracing plant-based sources too gives us a diverse, sustainable, and well-rounded nutritional approach.
Why is protein important for peri and post menopause?
As we enter perimenopause oestrogen and progesterone levels become erratic; this signals a time of significant change for the body as its composition begins to shift; we gain fat mass and lose lean muscle mass. Research shows sufficient protein alongside weight-bearing exercise will help to guard against the extent of this muscle loss and protect our metabolism in the process.
Should I eat more protein to avoid gaining weight?
We need around 100 fewer calories a day post menopause due to the changes in fat mass and muscle mass having a knock on affect on our metabolic rate.
To counteract this downward trend, you will often see advice to restrict calories in order to prevent weight gain and remain ‘healthy’.
There are a few caveats to this over simplified advice that it’s important to be aware of:
- A woman’s lived experience will dictate the impact of the body composition changes she experiences during the perimenopause transition. Those that have previously dieted numerous times are likely to have a lower lean muscle mass entering into perimenopause, which may put them at a disadvantage for further weight gain during this transition.
- Putting the body on a restrictive diet which fits a theoretical equation on a calculator, does not necessarily fit the energy needed to sustain a busy and fulfilled life through menopause. Such diets are therefore unlikely to be sustainable.
- Weight gain associated with menopause does not automatically put our health at increased risk. Weight is not a behaviour.
- Often health is used as a threat to laud over women in an attempt to encourage will power or motivation to comply with unrealistic dietary targets. Changing behaviour in service of health promoting habits need not rely on potentially damaging theories based on will power and self-blame.
- Adjusting our dietary intake can bring about many benefits for our sense of well-being and protect our future health risk too, but it is important that this is tailored to the individual, taking into account all aspects of their physical and emotional health.
Will protein help me lose weight?
Some studies have highlighted that a higher-protein diet can support our weight-management by influencing our appetite hormones, promoting satiety, and preventing a decrease in fat-free mass during weight loss. A good starting point though is to get a sense of how much protein you already eat.
Does protein support my bones and muscles in menopause?
Adequate protein is crucial for repairing tissue, guarding against Sarcopenia (age-related muscle and strength loss) and reducing our risk of osteoporosis. This becomes even more important when we lose the protective effects of oestrogen on bone density and muscle function.
How much protein do I need in menopause?
You’ll often here protein guidelines of 0.75g/kg body weight/day recommended for 19–54-year-olds in the general population.
But evidence suggests we should aim to increased this 1-1.2g protein/kg of our body weight per day after we have gone through menopause, to support our muscle strength and functional capacity, especially when incorporated with resistance exercise in the long-term.
There is also an emphasis placed on how we eat that protein across the day with better use of protein seen when we space it out across the day. Approximately 20-25g protein per meal seems to be optimal. You can use this as a guide when looking at food labels and here’s a handy table on protein amounts in common foods.
How much protein do I need for perimenopause?
Our journey through perimenopause is individualised and characterised by the unpredictable fluctuations in reproductive hormones.
Ideal protein intakes are therefore a little less clear cut in the perimenopausal years.
However, some interesting research suggests that there are potential benefits to weight regulation and muscle strength by increasing daily protein intake to 1.0-1.2 g/kg/day during perimenopause also.
How do I know if I’m eating enough protein for menopause?
Top tip: In the UK diet, we often eat quite a lot of protein anyway, so before you look to increase it get a sense of how much you’re already eating. You can use this ready reckoner to help.
Let’s look at an example to help.
A 70kg woman needing 1-1.2g/ kg would have a daily protein need of between 70-84g.
Achieving this is a reachable goal by incorporating lean meats, fish, pulses, eggs, nuts, seeds, and wholegrains into the diet.
Including some of these foods at each meal will help you to get around 20-25g in per meal and if you have breakfast, lunch and dinner this will add up to 60-75g.
Visually the protein components of your meal will usually make up ¼ – ⅓ of your plate and remember the recommendations do not suggest substituting carbohydrates with protein but rather achieving a harmonious balance.
Additional protein will then come from a couple of snacks or drinks each providing around 5g protein e.g. a milky coffee, some oatcakes and cheese or a handful of nuts.
What about plant-based protein?
Whilst animal proteins are a richer source of protein, vegetarian proteins are up to the job when combined with each other. And let’s not forget that carbohydrate foods also provide some protein (think gluten in pasta) so with some planning it’s possible to get what you need.
Wholegrain carbs e.g. wholemeal pasta or rice contain 25% more protein than refined grains so they’re a real win.
For more information, including meal plans, recipes and snack ideas, get ready to download my Definitive Guide to Protein for Menopause. Be the first to hear when it’s released by joining my email community.
If you’re looking for tailored nutrition advice during menopause, please feel free to contact me.
Protein in menopause – a summary
- A balanced diet includes both carbohydrates and protein for overall health during peri and post-menopause.
- Higher protein intakes of around 1g per kg of your body weight are beneficial for muscle preservation irrespective of how much exercise you do.
- Hormonal changes during peri and post-menopause impact muscle mass, bone health and metabolism making protein intake important for optimal health during this transition.
- Spacing protein evenly throughout the day is key to it being used efficiently by the body.
- Join my email community to hear when the Definitive Guide to Protein in Menopause is ready to download.
With thanks to Nutrition Student Alisha-Leigh Paget for her help in gathering the research for this blog.
Weight gain during the menopause transition: Evidence for a mechanism dependent on protein leverage – Simpson – 2023 – BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology – Wiley Online Library
The role of dietary protein and vitamin D in maintaining musculoskeletal health in postmenopausal women: A consensus statement from the European Society for Clinical and Economic Aspects of Osteoporosis and Osteoarthritis (ESCEO)