Adventure, Training, Menopause and Beyond

Karen Muller from Fit for Life, gave a talk at Further Faster, to a very enthusiastic group of active ladies about training and keeping fit for the outdoors, adventures and racing during and post menopause.

Karen has kindly written up some of the takeaways we learnt from a great night!


Karen Muller nz


"You don’t have to put up with; feeling slow, losing muscle mass, putting on fat, struggling with training & recovery. Exercise is just as important, if not more important now. What we do now is going to set us up for many years to come."



Women can still develop lean mass, maintain muscle integrity & look after our bone health by exercising. We just need to make some nutritional & training adjustments to keep us healthy & strong so we can carry on doing the exercises & adventures that we love doing.

I will cover the best training options to use from Perimenopause through into Postmenopause. This will include tips on recovery, hydration, fuelling & making it easier to hit your training goals. 

Firstly, I will start with some definitions;

Premenopause: Is when you have your normal menstrual cycle.

Perimenopause:  Are the years before your periods stop completely. Usually occurs over 4-6 years. Your periods will change; they may get shorter, longer, lighter or heavier. They may be closer together, or further apart.

Menopause: 1 point in time. “An Anniversary” 12 months without a period then you are into Post-Menopause.

Studies on post-menopausal active ladies are finally being carried out. The information we need to maximise our training adaptions & health is starting to trickle through after years of none. Let’s make the most of it, as Selene Yeager & Dr Stacy Sims say "Stay Feisty!" @feistymenopause.


fir for life nz


Training Through Menopause & Beyond 

During Perimenopause, our hormones, Progesterone & Estrogen start to fluctuate. This has a direct effect on how we train, recover, build lean mass & our sensitivity to carbohydrates. These effects continue on through to PostMenopause when our hormones flat line.

This graph shows how our hormones behave during a typical 28 day menstrual cycle PreMenopause:

normal hormonal changes in a regular menstral cycle


During PeriMenopause we can experience poor sleep, hot flushes & brain fog. We also start to notice that we don’t respond to training so well. The fluctuating hormones change our menstrual cycle. Periods can be closer together, further apart, shorter, longer, basically all over the place. This is what happens to our hormones during Peri & Post Menopause:

hormonal changes


What is going on!?!

Estrogen plays a starring role in metabolism, especially how we store fat, respond to exercise & recover. As a result we see changes occur in;

  1. Body Composition and Protein Synthesis
  2. Metabolism 
  3. And THINGS Just Seem Harder!
  4. The best type of training we should be doing.


you got this


Part 1. Body Composition

Estrogen increases the anabolic (muscle building) response to exercise. When we have low Estrogen we need a different stimulus. This means that it is harder for us to make & maintain muscle. Unfortunately we can expect:

  • Reduced Response to anabolic stimuli
  • Decreased ability to make muscles
  • Decrease in Bone Density
  • Increased Body Fat

Protein Synthesis Balance Changes

  • Rates of Protein (Muscle ) Breakdown Increase
  • Rates of Protein (Muscle) Synthesis Decreases
  • Less reactive to stimuli from Strength Training & Eating Protein
  • Low Estrogen = Low Bone Density

Low bone density increases the risk of Osteoporosis. If we don’t do anything we can lose up to 1/3rd of our bone mass in just 5 years! Yikes! 

So what can we do to set ourselves up for a strong & feisty future?

I’m afraid that endurance running, biking, tramping, swimming & even pump classes won’t create the anabolic stimulus we need. But here are some new life hacks to help you get the stimulus you need!


Body Composition Life Hacks:

  • Swap Long Slow Distance (LSD) Endurance for High Intensity Intervals (HIIT) , Plyometrics & Heavy Strength Training (we are talking weights you can only lift 5 or 6 times).
  • Reduce LSD Endurance
  • Be Pedantic about your Protein intake Around Exercise
  • Eat High Quality Protein for Recovery within 30min, about 30-40g!
  • Include 2.5-3g Leucine (branch chained amino acids)

Can Result in:

  • Maintaining Lean Mass
  • Make Muscle, Stay Strong & fast
  • Keep Your Bones Strong
  • Reduce Unwanted Body Fat


The amino acid Leucine is needed for recovery, it stops muscle breakdown & starts repair & growth. Example recovery foods; flavoured milk + handful of almonds, low fat Greek yoghurt, protein shake, chicken breast, and salmon fillets.


protein shakes nz


Part 2. Metabolism Changes

Estrogen increases sensitivity to insulin so when our estrogen levels drop, during perimenopause and beyond, we become more insulin resistant. Decreased sensitivity to insulin & decreased reliance on carbohydrate can result in belly fat, so we need to modify the types of carbohydrate we consume in & around training.

Changes we can expect include:

  • Decreased Insulin Sensitivity
  • Decreased Reliance on Carbohydrate (CHO)
  • Increased Muscle Catabolism (breakdown)
  • Increased Total protein Needs
  • Low Estrogen=More Insulin Release=More Fat Storage
  • More Sensitive to glucose and more likely to store belly fat


Metabolism Life Hacks

  • Consume CHO in & around training. ”Eat Proper“ food not gels for energy (we are really sensitive to Fructose because we struggle to metabolise it).
  • Reduce total CHO intake per day. Swap pasta & bread for pulse pastas, quinoa, buckwheat. Stick to nutrient dense, complex CHO including plenty of veggies & fruit.
  • Increase overall daily Protein (aim for 35-50g Protein per meal)
  • Be really pedantic about the timing of protein around exercise (30min window)


  • Help Reduce GI Issues
  • Maintain Lean Mass
  • Make Muscle
  • Reduce Unwanted Body Fat


good carbs to help with training


Part 3. Why does EVERYTHING seem so much HARDER!


Sleep Disturbances

Progesterone has a sedative effect, so when levels drop there can be more sleep disruption.

Estrogen increases REM sleep, assists Serotonin (relaxing hormone), reduces the time to fall asleep & regulates body temperature. As it declines we are more susceptible to night time cortisol spikes even from mild stress such as light & noise.

“Brain Fog”, Memory & Mood

  • Low mood & motivation are due to a powerful link between low estrogen & low serotonin, one of our mood hormones.
  • Estrogen increases the feel good hormones that have a calming effect on the brain, boost memory & mood. Estrogen also inhibits Cortisol (a stress hormone). They work hand in hand… the more Estrogen you have the less cortisol, and likewise the more cortisol the less Estrogen, so a great time to address the stress in your life and learn to meditate.
  • Progesterone is linked to mental health & can prevent panic attacks.
  • All of this leaves us vulnerable to anxiety, panic & brain fog.

Phew, Its Hot!

Our tolerance to heat reduces due to slower blood pressure changes. Our Thirst sensation flattens & we start to sweat sooner. Then there are the “Hot Flashes

Recovery Takes So Long!

All of the above can make recovery very hard. This sucks as if we struggle to recover we don’t adapt to the training & get fitter.


Making Life Easier Hacks:

Sleep Hygiene

Regular bedtime. Don’t eat 2hr before going to bed (digestion interferes with REM sleep). Keep away from stimulants; caffeine, alcohol, screens. Cool bedroom. Sleep aids such as tart cherry juice & valerian root can help. A great podcast to listen to is anything by Dr Matthew Walker who is the sleep King!

Brain Fog

Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) before & after exercise counter central nervous system fatigue, this helps reduce brain fog. BCAA circulating in our blood stream also helps to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. (Aim for 2.5g Leucine per serve).


  • Pre exercise, keep cool & hydrated. During exercise use cool water neck ties/buffs. Cold low CHO(1-3% CHO) electrolyte drink help keep you hydrated. Plain water doesn’t cut it! Make your own with 1/16th tsp table salt, 1tsp maple syrup, 600ml water.
  • Drink to a schedule during long training sessions so you don’t forget.
  • Post exercise cooling e.g. cool shower, cold water immersion.
  • Eat watery fruits & veggies throughout the day.


home made Sports drinks electrolyte nz


Part 4. The Best Types of Training to do

This is a mixed bag of both rest, active recovery, stress relief and heavy lifting and HIIT! I didn't say it would be boring!



  • Have a Recovery Routine.
  • Don’t skimp on sleep.
  • Use compression garments.
  • Cold Water immersion for 2-5min is very effective & doesn’t have to be your whole body! (Breathe work can make it easier!)
  • Nutrition & hydration within 30min.
  • Foam rolling, mobilisers.
  • Gentle activity that feeds the parasympathetic nervous system e.g. yin yoga.

Results Can Include:

  • Sounder Sleep
  • Quicker Recovery
  • Improved memory
  • Better Performance in the Heat
  • Mojo Returns!!


Heavy Strength Training & HIIT/Intervals

  • Work on technique first to prevent injury! 2+ months preparation, to address any mobility, muscle balance & pelvic floor issues when you start. Remember to breath.
  • Build Up gradually & learn how to lift correctly. Only when you have good technique & have completed your preparation time Lift Heavy. 5-6 reps, 4-5 sets. 2 or 3 days/week.
  • Work in all planes of movement so don’t forget lateral & rotational movements.
  • Mix it up & make it fun with medicine balls, kettle bells and what ever your gym has.
  • Explosive HIIT sessions can be carried out for running, biking, rowing, gym circuits etc. These are short high intensity work with short recovery periods. E.g. 20s work:10s rest x6-8

weightlifting for menopause


If you are in your Early 40’s start strength training NOW, however it’s never too late to begin & see good progress.


How to Change Your Training Week

Build into this gradually!

  • You Can Still do some long slow distance but not too much. 1-2 sessions a week
  • 2-3 Strength sessions/week. These can be combined with easy ride/run’s
  • 10 min jumping/skip rope 3 times a week will maintain & build bone. This could be part of your warm up.
  • 1-2 HIIT /Interval Training sessions/week
  • Warm up with mobility work so you can keep moving efficiently.

Training peri menopause NZ


It’s No Longer "Long Slow Distance" its "Lift Heavy Shit & be Explosive!"

You need the extra training stimulus from lifting heavy & doing HIIT. Good news: You already have the training history, the metabolic & physiological history for fatty acid oxidation & doing long stuff! But bad news: As you hit perimenopause and menopause you lose muscle integrity quickly, and you lose bone density quickly.

You now need to put stimulus in, to maintain that strength & that bone mass in order to still do the long distance. IT IS TIME TO INVEST IN YOURSELF FOR THE FUTURE.

Keep strong & you will set yourself up for many years of healthy, Feisty Adventures!



training for adventure racing after menopause nz


This blog first appeared on Fit For Life, by Karen Muller. Karen is a local coach and endurance adventure athlete who has a keen interest in keeping women adventuring long after they have finished their last period!
 Her qualifications include:

  • Diploma in Sport (Elite Performance) with Academic Distinction.

  • Post Grad Certificate in Health Sciences Endorsed in Human Nutrition

  • CPIT Sports Conditioning Level 1

  • Registered Exercise Professional

  • INWA Certified Nordic Walking Instructor

  • NZ Coaching Level 1

  • First Aid

  • Parkinsons Pro

  • Neurological Conditions and the Exercise Professional

Events Karen has Coached Clients for include:

  • *Half & Full Marathons: Motatapu, Queenstown, Christchurch, St Clair, Arrowsmith, Shotover, Auckland, Wellington, Abel Tasman, Captain Cooks landing, Oxford Odyssey, Mission Mt Somers, Crater Rim

  • Ultra: Northburn events, Motatapu, Tarawera, Old Ghost Road, Kepler, Naseby, Big Red Run, UTA100

  • Multisport: Coast to Coast, Mountain Man, Big Day at the Office, Hard Labour Weekend, Red Bull Defiance

  • Orienteering: JWOC, WRC

  • Adventure Races: Spirited Womens all Womens Adventure Race, Spring Challenge, Absolute Wilderness, GodZone PURE

  • Triathlon: Xterra Events, Challenge Wanaka, Brecca

  • Cycling: Tour of Flanders, Quebrantahuesos, Fred Whitton, Pioneer.

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