…. or in the words of Dr Stacy Sims ‘Women are not small men. Stop eating and training like one.’

This statement on the back cover of her book “ROAR” intrigued me as I felt the differences between women and men went far beyond boobs, balls and menstruation, so I read the book. It inspired me enough to write this blog.

Stacy is a nutritional scientist and exercise physiologist who specialises in the differences between men and women in terms of performance, nutrition and recovery, and how we are affected by environmental factors, particularly heat. She worked at Stanford University in this capacity for 5 years and is now partner in Grant & Sims Nutrition.  A bio that suggests she’s a bright cookie and knows her stuff.

ROAR is superb book. Stacy has a very readable writing style which combines humour with her findings and the science behind them. Don’t worry  though – you don’t need a science degree to understand her! She’s shed light on some of the things I’d observed, things that were worrying me and given me lots of new ideas about building strength and fuelling appropriately as a woman coping with the challenges the menopause brings. My menopausal symptoms started with a vengeance the day after I hit 50 and until I read this book I’d never wanted to acknowledge that it may be impacting my performance and nutritional requirements.

Earlier this year I had really serious thoughts about giving up training (for cycling time trials ) as my performance fell off a cliff which started me thinking my body was too old for the things I was asking it to do. I was trying to take my weight below last summer’s race weight, was monitoring what I ate in My Fitness Pal, eating plenty of protein (recommendations for older athletes from Dr Asker Jeukendrup), wasn’t doing no carbs but being careful.   My coach (Chris McNamara from TrainSharp) took a close look at what I was eating, suggested the problem was insufficient carbs and by altering my diet the old me, hungry for a challenge, was back, smiling.

Now I’ve rear ROAR I’ve a far better understanding of why it happened and am now embracing Stacy’s advice ‘as long as you’re eating healthily with the right balance of nutrients, your body is going to find it’s set point’.  I’ve now stopped trying to reach that weight I thought I’d like to be, am stronger, more relaxed, no longer hungry and grumpy, and have found my set point is 1.5lbs above what I thought my race weight should be.

I’ve read lots about fat burning for cyclists. In fact the UK cycling press often extols the benefits.  During the winter months I did at least one fasted fat-burning ride a week but it didn’t do much to my weight. All around me there were guys talking about the benefits of fat-burning rides and a low carb or carb-free diet (apart from Saturday’s post ride cake!) but as often being the only female rider in the group I kept my fat-burning failure to myself.  But, I’ve now learned I’m not a failure – there’s a very good reason why! It was down to my female physiology. Stacy has found that women’s post-exercise, fat-burning metabolism lasts up to 3 hours after they finish exercising whereas with guys it can last for up to 21 hours.  How unfair is that? It’s logical when you stop to think about it because the female of any species is designed to rear young so she needs to hang onto her fat reserves.  It also explains why guys can lose weight so quickly when they start, or increase, their exercise regime. And, here was me thinking that when guys dropped masses of weight from exercising it was because they’d stopped their secret chocolate/cake/crisp eating habit! 

The book is a guide having a healthy, strong, lean body whether you are menstruating, pregnant or menopausal, and if you’re exercising hard how to optimise your performance. It’s full of interesting and useful stuff.   A few of the gems that were new to me are:

  • For women it’s somewhat harder to recover. Stacy’s advice is train hard, recover harder.
  • During the high-hormone phase of the menstrual cycle (PMS time) it’s harder to hit high intensities and recover from hard exercise. Blood plasma can drop by up to 8% which impacts hydration and cooling strategies.
  • Menopausal women use protein less efficiently, so the type of protein and timing of consumption is very important for building and maintain muscles.
  • Women start sweating later during exercise and sweat less than men so it’s important to find methods to manage and cope when training or racing when it’s hot.
  • Don’t fight your genetics. Work out whether you’re predominantly an ectomorph, mesomorph or endomorph and fuel and exercise accordingly. (the book tells you how)
  • Strengthen your steering wheel, your butt, as it’s an essential part of your core and is a stabilise for your legs

… and there are many, many more. 

If this blog tempts you to read ROAR I hope you find it a useful as I have.

 

Sarah Matthews

May 2018

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