Why Protein is Vital for Maintaining a Healthy Weight During Menopause

by | February 21, 2019

It’s no secret that our bodies change a lot during menopause. Sometimes, it may even feel like our bodies are rebelling against us. That’s especially true for those struggling with weight gain during menopause, which is just about everyone. Most women, on average, will gain between two and five pounds. But some women – even those who never encountered weight issues before – will gain much more, and it suddenly becomes impossible to get rid of the extra weight.

So what’s the deal with weight gain during menopause?

The reality of menopause and weight gain

First, let’s be clear: weight gain is a perfectly normal and natural part of aging. Hormonal changes like the decrease in estrogen around menopause and combined with the natural loss of muscle mass that we all experience as we age makes it increasingly difficult to lose weight when we get older. It’s possible to gain about one pound per year as a result of other age-related effects like a decrease in physical activity and loss of lean body mass. Most women experience this weight gain around their hips and thighs.

These new changes call for a new way to approach our health as we age. Your diet and exercise routines that worked in your 20s will no longer cut it in your 40s. Let’s take a look at the vital role that nutrition – and protein intake, specifically – can play a role in maintaining a healthy weight during menopause.

Protein and healthy weight during menopause

“Loss of lean body mass starts in the 30s and 40s,” says Douglas Paddon-Jones, Ph.D., a professor in the department of nutrition and metabolism at The University of Texas Medical Branch. “Women need to understand the impact diet has on muscle loss the same way they understand how diet affects osteoporosis risk.”

To promote muscle-protein synthesis – which your body uses for growth, repair, and maintenance of skeletal muscle, countering the loss of muscle mass – it’s crucial to add protein to every meal. One study from Paddon-Jones revealed that 25-30 grams of protein per meal is needed to make that muscle-protein synthesis happen.

For a lot of women, this means a big change in the way they approach their protein intake, but there are a few opportunities where anyone can easily add more protein into their diet.

  • Breakfast. The average American only gets about 10 grams of protein for breakfast, but it’s easy to add more. For example, whole grain toast, peanut butter, and low-fat yogurt all add extra protein to your meal. If you’re more of a grab ‘n go gal, a protein shake is a way to go. For extra credit, you could add almond butter or peanut butter. Other high-protein breakfast options include egg whites, scrambled tofu with vegetables, and Greek yogurt with almonds. Here are a few other ideas.
  • Post-workout. Your body craves protein after a workout to help build muscle mass, so be sure to keep a stash of protein-rich recovery snacks. Shakes and smoothies are perfect for getting all the recovery nutrients you need. One simple recipe is a scoop of your favorite protein powder, a cup of milk, six ounces of Greek yogurt, two tablespoons of peanut butter, one banana, a dash of honey, and a handful of ice. Throw it all in a blender, and presto! You have one delicious, protein-packed smoothie. Check out these other fast and easy protein shake ideas.
  • Snacks. Healthy snacking is key for warding off weight gain during menopause. A protein-rich snack will help keep you fuller longer and gives you yet another opportunity to boost your protein intake. Almonds can be the perfect snack – an ounce contains six grams of protein. Greek yogurt, string cheese, and cottage cheese are great options too, and as a bonus, you’ll get some extra calcium. Veggies and peanut or almond butter, edamame, roasted chickpeas, and hard-boiled eggs are all delicious and healthy snacking options when you feel hunger pangs in between meals.

More ways to maintain a healthy weight during menopause

Ok, so you’ve upped your protein intake at every meal – you’re not off the hook just yet. There are a few other things you can do to boost muscle mass and maintain a healthy weight during menopause.

It’s no secret that exercise can alleviate menopause mood swings and help with hot flashes. One study revealed that women who engaged in 60 minutes of exercise every day were better able to maintain a healthy weight. Yes, you read that right: as we age, the daily recommendation for exercise jumps significantly, especially if you’re looking to lose weight. This helps prevent stem cells from turning into fat cells. Jogging and resistance training are especially good forms of exercise for menopausal women, and they have the added bonus of promoting bone health.

If 60 minutes of exercise sounds like a lot, there are smaller steps you can take to getting active. One is simply tracking your activity, whether it’s with a Fitbit or a fitness app on your phone. This can help you get a baseline for your daily activity and encourage you to move more.

Sitting less is important too. If you sit all day at work, consider using a standing desk if you have access to one, or simply setting a timer to remind you to get up and move every hour or so. Taking more walks, using the stairs instead of the escalator, and tracking your activities are all small changes you can make in your daily life to maintain a healthy weight during menopause.

Protein plus exercise for a healthy menopause

Making incremental lifestyle changes in your daily routine is key for maintaining a healthy weight during menopause. Protein plays a big role – adding more of it into every meal will keep you fuller longer and boost muscle mass. Exercise has so many benefits for warding off menopause symptoms, and it’s ok to start small and make the changes that are right for you. With a protein-rich diet and an active lifestyle, maintaining a healthy weight during menopause can be achievable for anyone.