Relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S)
Is the result of insufficient caloric intake and/or excessive energy expenditure which is most commonly associated with competitive exercise participants but is also readily seen in weekend warriors and recreational athletes. When a woman consumes too few calories or exercises in excess of her calorie intake, she is in a state of low energy availability (LEA) and at risk of losing her period as a result.
"Midlife women are at particularly high risk of pushing themselves into a state of low energy availability".
In younger women, this can show up as scant or missing periods, but for midlife women transitioning through perimenopause, it can go unnoticed and be fobbed off as typical perimenopause symptoms. Either way, consuming too few calories for your needs or exercising in excess of calorie intake, leaves a woman in a state of low energy availability which can detrimentally impacts many systems in her body.
Midlife women are at particularly high risk of pushing themselves into a state of low energy availability, often due to perimenopause and menopause-related weight gain prompting intense periods of dieting and/or over exercising. Diet culture encourages deprivation and harsh calorie restriction to solve the problem of weight gain, intermittent fasting being one of the culprits. Studies have shown us that this kind of harsh calorie restriction often has the opposite effect for women in the peri and post-menopause years, encouraging weight gain especially around the abdomen.
"Remember, when talking about the midlife athlete, this includes weekend warriors and recreational exercisers".
It is important to note that long periods of time in low energy availability can also lead to - depressed thyroid function, poor immunity, increased injury risk, downturn of the endocrine system (hormone production) & gains in abdominal fat.
A MORE BALANCED APPROACH
Rather than severely restricting calories or increasing exercise activity, it is essential for the midlife female athlete to accurately calculate their calorie and macronutrient needs relative to the amount of activity being performed. Correct timing and selection of food becomes even more important at this time in life. Remember, when talking about the midlife athlete, this includes weekend warriors and recreational exercisers.
"All in all, fuelling your workouts effectively helps you to feel better, function better and perform better".
Research has revealed that the protein requirements of older athletes are higher than the needs of their younger counterparts. As such, replenishing protein stores post exercise becomes even more important. Many athletes also cut carbohydrates in a bid to lose weight, but if you are exercising for prolonged periods of time and training at high intensities, carbohydrate restriction can impact energy levels and performance.
All in all, fuelling your workouts effectively helps you to feel better, function better and perform better. Even when weight loss is the aim, fuelling effectively for the movement that you perform will in fact make weight loss easier rather than more difficult, by keeping your body out of the acute stress response.
Midlife is a time to reevaluate what is working and what’s not, so if you are cutting calories hard and exercising equally as hard but gaining weight, then things need to change in order for you to achieve a different result.
"When we exercise and eat with intention, this is a powerful message to those around us that we love ourselves with all our heart and it shows in the way we treat ourselves".
It is important to note that low energy availability also impacts a woman’s ability to build and retain lean muscle mass along with bone density. These are two things a woman cannot afford to lose as she ages. Strong muscle and strong bones are the foundation of independence in old age. This is a really important conversation that we need to be having with all midlife women.
There is so much pressure placed on women to look young no matter what, this is placing a monumental amount of stress onto women in their midlife years. We really need to make taking care of ourselves the biggest priority - eating what we need to thrive is an essential component of self care.
The self care industry would have us believe that self-care is all about massages, champagne and pedicures, but in truth, eating well and exercising in a supportive way is a far more powerful forms of self care. We need to be saying 'no' to external pressure about how we ‘should’ look and yes to responding to what our body really needs.
I believe all women are powerful and midlife women are being asked to step into a whole new level of their own power. When we exercise and eat with intention, this is a powerful message to those around us that we love ourselves with all our heart and it shows in the way we treat ourselves.
This post started out about the problems associated with excess exercising and calorie restriction, but the deeper message is a message of self love and self appreciation.
If you need more support, please reach out. No more struggling away in the shadows alone, this is your time to be mighty in a sea of noise that is hell-bent on keep you small.
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