3 Steps to Gain Lean Muscle in Menopause

Is it too late to gain lean muscle in menopause? No. Is it harder to gain lean muscle in menopause? Than it was when you were at your peak muscle in your 20s, yes. Shouldn’t I focus on fat loss first? No. 

To gain lean muscle … so you look better, feel better, and do life better there are some things you need. You’ll need to understand the balance between the right exercise, the right recovery, the right total calories and total protein and the type and timing of exercise and protein during menopause. 

Women get nutrition wrong. Most often if they’ll do the exercise, they get hooked. But the exercise alone is going to take you only so far. As you’ll hear more this year, if we consider strength training, protein, or supplements, the greatest of these is strength training. 

You’ve got to lift. AND if you want it all as so many of us do, you need to integrate the work, recovery, and nutrition. There are thresholds for many of these. They don’t call it exercise prescription for nothing. The protein and the exercise both have a dose-response component. 

In this Episode: 

  •  What Exercise it Takes to Gain Lean Muscle
  • What protein it Takes to Gain Lean Muscle 
  • Overall Calorie Truths that Favor Lean Muscle 

Questions I’ll answer: 

  • What strength training protocols actually work? 
  • How important is protein in the more muscle-less fat equation?
  • What is the importance and difference between Essential Amino Acids, BCAA, and leucine? 
  • Could you be eating too little to gain lean muscle even if you’re lifting? 

What science says about ability to gain lean muscle in menopause: 

Studying a group of postmenopausal women who had not been strength training at least 24 weeks prior, researchers showed that twice weekly strength training for 8 weeks [even with a higher repetition range than traditionally associated with strength] increased (Grzyb et al, 2022):

  • Lean muscle mass
  • muscle strength 
  • muscle endurance

The twice weekly protocol is advantageous for menopausal women because the need for honoring cortisol and adrenal health during a time when women are more vulnerable to the negative effects of stress.

Without adequate recovery time, breakdown of muscle is significant enough during exercise (combined with lack of sleep, stress, low energy diet) that lean muscle gains would likely be lower with greater frequency of exercise.

To prove there were no dietary changes, subjects submitted 3-day diet intakes before and after the study to confirm no dietary changes occurred. 

Muscle Protein Synthesis and Muscle Protein Breakdown

Muscle protein synthesis slows down after a meal so it’s wise to consider regular meals and a possible snack of a post-workout smoothie to boost protein intake. Try getting four high protein meals to help you achieve adequate protein. Hit 30 grams at least at each meal. If you can consume more, the increased need in older adults has been proven. It takes a 70yr old man consuming 40 grams of protein post workout to achieve the same muscle protein synthesis as a 20yr old man. 

Try these options to increase your protein intake. 

Example 1:

  • a pre-workout simple shake 
  • post workout smoothie or protein-rich breakfast
  • Lunch 
  • Dinner 

Example 2:

  • Breakfast smoothie 
  • Lunch
  • Mid-afternoon smoothie
  • Dinner 

Should You Supplement?

The amino acid leucine is particularly important. However, I don’t suggest jumping to BCAA supplements. If your diet isn’t adequate you can’t out-supplement a diet poor in protein. I recommend if you’re not consuming a diet rich in all 9 essential amino acids, you start with EAA supplementation first. (My recommendation is in flippingfifty.com/resources) Getting about 5 gm of leucine per day – if you’ve got two meals with six ounces each of turkey, beef, salmon, cod or tuna, you’ll hit that. 

Previously, I’ve shared American College of Sports Medicine’s recommendations that before or after workout supplementation are both beneficial. Doing both if you eat a high-quality adequate calorie, adequate protein diet may not be “more” helpful. 

However, if you’re a hard-gainer or older, the ACSM review of literature did recommend both may be helpful. 

Are You In Too Big a Calorie Deficit to Gain Muscle and Lose Fat? 

During periods of excessive dieting and low calorie intake, the body favors protein breakdown. Yes, you heard right. Fasting and lifting may backfire. It’s not helpful for midlife and older women who want to gain lean muscle, strength, and optimize body composition. 

Signs it’s happening for you? 

  • You’re tired all the time.
  • You don’t recover from workouts very quickly. 
  • There’s no desire to exercise. 
  • Your mood and sleep are both meh. 

Calorie

In a calorie surplus with adequate protein dosed throughout the day, you will much more easily gain lean muscle. During this time, you may not be shredded. However, that term is really best reserved to those bodybuilders dieting down (unhealthfully) to reach a stage weight (and then all too often binge on a Big Mac afterwards). 

You can shift periodically to a lower calorie diet, alternating the surplus with keeping it even. Note that you can gain strength with a calorie deficit. That is if you’re not a midlife woman already under stress adding more stress by lacking fuel. But you won’t gain lean muscle – which in the end actually improves your metabolism, energy, and round the clock fat burning. 

If you’re ready to take the first step or a step to regular strength training, confidence, and energy, click to the STRONGER program to learn more. Link in the show notes. 

Questions ? Leave them below.

Reference:

Grzyb, Karolina1; Candow, Darren G.1; Schoenfeld, Brad J.2; Bernat, Patrick1; Butchart, Sara1; Neary, J. Patrick1 Effect of Equal Volume, High-Repetition Resistance Training to Volitional Fatigue, With Different Workout Frequencies, on Muscle Mass and Neuromuscular Performance in Postmenopausal Women, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: January 2022 – Volume 36 – Issue 1 – p 31-36. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000003422

Other Episodes You Might Like: 

3 Habits to Change to Stick to An Exercise Plan:

https://www.flippingfifty.com/stick-to-an-exercise-plan/

Older, Faster, Stronger:

https://www.flippingfifty.com/older-faster-stronger/

Your Fitness Your Relationship After 50 | Stronger in Both:

https://www.flippingfifty.com/your-fitness-your-relationship-after-50-stronger-in-both/ 

6 thoughts on “3 Steps to Gain Lean Muscle in Menopause”

  1. Over the last year I really focused on tracking macros and increasing lean protein intake. I started at 30% protein and
    tried to work up to 40%.
    I’ve gotten to the point in the last couple of months that animal protein sounds really unappetizing; like I have to choke it down.
    I’ve always been an enthusiastic carnivore (lean sources). I’m 61; lab work last month showed my testosterone and thyroid levels
    are way low, so I’m addressing that side of it with my doc.
    Do you have any thoughts on the chemistry around this aversion? I’ve been doing more legumes and beans, broccoli is one of my
    favorite foods but I am very curious about the aversion response. Whaddya reckon?
    thanks.

  2. Yvonne Primasing Vinton

    Love this podcast. Makes perfect sense although I was doing it all wrong…. Always working out in a fasted state. I am going to implement a protein shake prior work out and look forward to the change.
    I am currently paying monthly for my cafe membership. Would like to change to an annual membership. How do I do so? And will the two payments I have already paid go towards the annual membership?

    1. I don’t recommend a lot of “cardio” period. Not the way you’ve known it in the past. Nothing good happens in the “middle” zones. So, our After 50 Fitness Formula for Women™ is base: walking – low level and lots of movement. Then 2x a week strength. Then HIIT, IF you are ready for it.. great energy all day before you begin. And HIIT yes.. you should eat. a walk, let your body tell you – if you’re hungry yes, You’re not burning more fat by not eating. For HIIT.. the body has a preference for carbs at higher intensities. So a half a banana with a smear of nut butter.. while protein before strength.

  3. Loved this episode! What do you recommend for cardio sessions? Can you do a cardio session fasted or should you have protein before the workout as you would a strength session? Thanks!

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