Sunday, April 7, 2013

Menopause and the female endurance athlete

There are a lot of topics women are scared to talk about and menopause is one of them. Lately, however, I've been wondering about how menopause effects female endurance athletes. So, I googled it and found some very interesting information on the Internet that I'd like to share with those who are interested in reading about it! Yeah, guys...this is when you can bury your head in the sand...HOWEVER, GUYS THAT ARE COACHES...LISTEN UP!!! You might just have some women you are training that can benefit from your knowledge of this subject!

In a triathlon forum, one woman talks about the drastic decrease in participation among women in triathlon as they get older. She also writes about how she went from being competitive in a 140.6 (top 10) to barely being able to finish a 70.3 race in just as little as a few years. Another woman writes about having her "personal worst" in a 70.3 of +45:00. Was it because of menopause? These women seemed to think it was mostly to blame.

Menopause typically starts when a woman is in her late 40's - early 50's but can start as early as their 30's so this is something that shouldn't be taken lightly by coaches.

There are several symptoms of menopause that could cause female athletes to perform poorly in endurance events. Not all women react the same to menopausal symptoms or treatments. Any treatments considered should be done under the consult of a doctor. 

Menopausal symptoms:
  • Lack of sleep: We all know if our sleep patterns get messed up our training gets messed up. And, women in menopause experience this a lot. Fatigue sets in and it becomes very difficult to even have the desire to workout, let alone the energy. Working women/moms will find this even harder since they are already struggling to find time to workout with their busy schedules. Throwing them off by even and hour can be devastating to some of their training. 
  • Weight gain: Broadly speaking, for every 1 lb you lose, you shave off 2 seconds/mile on the run. So, in theory, if you lose 5 lbs, you can shave off 2 minutes on a half marathon. Alternatively, if you gain weight, you'll tend to get slower. This can be a huge "downer" to the competitive athlete whether they are competing against themselves or others. 
  • "Brain fog": First of all, exactly what is brain fog? Well, it's lack of concentration, lack of focus, not being able to problem solve, etc. This can play out in many ways and many times women chalk it up to "old age" but it's just another of the menopause symptoms that can cause these athletes to become really frustrated and possibly perform less desirable than they intend.
  • Hot flashes/Night Sweats: Yeah, we all get sweaty when we workout but the hot flashes tend to give some women heat intolerance. Women have said it is sometimes so bad they have to incorporate a run/walk method where they never have in the past. Or, they can barely ride one hour on the bike when they previously had no problems. Another problem with sweating so much is the loss of Magnesium in the body. Many athletes are concerned about loss of electrolytes during training and starting a workout already depleted of magnesium is cause for concern. Foods high in magnesium include: green vegetables, legumes, seeds, nuts and refined grains.
  • Headaches: Some women have headaches more frequently, some experiencing migraines for the first time in their life. 
  • Irregular periods: What use to be normal is now NOT! Some women struggle dealing with an extremely heavy flow when it comes to training.
  • Backaches: This is one symptom that can really hinder performance. Women experiencing backaches should be sure to see a doctor so they can be treated correctly. 
  • Mood changes: Although this may or may not hinder an athletes performance, everyone around them needs to know this! Moods can change RAPIDLY in a woman experiencing menopause! 
  • Loss of muscle mass: Although this is probably not something women recognize physically, menopause brings with it a significant loss of muscle mass. This will, in turn, put the athlete at a greater risk for injury. To combat this, women in menopause should increase the amount of strength training in their weekly plan.
Menopausal treatments:
  • Hormone therapy: Obviously this is something you need to discuss with your doctor because they'll need to do some blood work on you. But, going down this path seems to have worked wonders for some women.
  • Birth control pill: If a woman isn't on the birth control pill, it could greatly help regulate some of the menopausal symptoms.
  • Other medications: Some antidepressants have helped control symptoms such as hot flashes.
  • Isoflavones: Isoflavones are found in some soy products (soy beans, chickpeas, lentils) and have been found to relieve symptoms such as hot flashes.
  • Vitamin E: Some women have reported Vitamin E helps to reduce hot flashes but studies warn having more than 400 IU/day may not be safe.
  • Black Cohosh: This is a herbal remedy to help relieve women of some of some symptoms such as hot flashes. Studies show it's best to use it for up to 6 months only. 
  • Melatonin: This has been known to help people sleep better at night. However, some people experience vivid nightmares while taking it. 
  • Other natural remedies: Items such as licorice, dong quai, chasteberry, and wild yam have been used by some but, again, studies have not proven it's safety or effectiveness.

*Note: I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. I'm sure this isn't an exhaustive list of symptoms or treatments but I wanted to do a little research on the subject for my readers. Any other advice is more than welcome - please post in the comment section below.

1 comment:

gina said...

thanks for posting this! it's so hard to find information about menopause and triathlon training.