Protein in Perimenopause: Here’s How To Combat Cravings
Like many of my clients, perimenopause hit me early and hard. It brought along an unexpected sidekick – intense cravings. It felt like I was in a constant battle, trying to fend off this relentless desire for something sweet. But then, I learned about the Protein/Energy hypothesis, and it everything started to make sense.
The Protein/Energy Hypothesis
The protein/energy hypothesis is based on the idea that our bodies have a biological drive to maintain a balance between energy intake and energy expenditure. When we do not consume enough protein, our body’s natural response is to increase our appetite for high-energy foods such as sugar and carbohydrates to make up for the deficit. This is because protein plays a crucial role in regulating our appetite and satiety levels.
Protein triggers the release of various hormones, including leptin and ghrelin, which play a critical role in controlling hunger and satiety. When we don’t eat enough protein, these hormones can become imbalanced, leading to an increased desire for high-sugar and high-carbohydrate foods.
Perimenopause is like being on a roller coaster with no seat belt. There are highs, lows, unexpected twists, and terrifying drops—literally, in terms of our hormone levels. When we don’t get enough protein, our blood sugar levels drop, triggering an intense craving for something sweet to quickly raise them back up. It’s our body’s way of screaming out for help. But here’s the kicker – it’s not just about the protein.
Potassium, calcium, and iron are essential pieces of this complex puzzle. Potassium helps regulate our blood pressure and heart function, while calcium and iron are key players in muscle function and carrying oxygen to our cells. When these vital nutrients are missing from our diet, our bodies start sending out SOS signals in the form of cravings for sugar, our quickest source of energy.
The Perimenopause Stage
Before we delve into the realm of cravings, let’s first set the stage and understand perimenopause. This transitional stage marks the period leading up to menopause and is characterized by fluctuating hormone levels, including estrogen and progesterone. These hormonal shifts can be really, really hard on the body and can result in plenty of physical and emotional changes. Along with physical changes such as irregular periods and hot flashes, many women experience intense food cravings that may seem uncontrollable. These cravings often involve high-sugar or high-carbohydrate foods, leading to weight gain and other health issues.
Perimenopause and Protein Deficiency
During perimenopause, women often experience hormonal fluctuations that can lead to an increased need for protein. Estrogen plays a crucial role in regulating the breakdown of muscle tissue, which is necessary for protein synthesis. As estrogen levels decline during perimenopause, this process may become less efficient, leading to a deficiency in protein.
Moreover, as women age, their bodies become less efficient at absorbing and utilizing protein from the diet. This means that even if a woman’s daily protein intake remains the same, her body may not be able to use it effectively. As a result, she may experience an increase in cravings for high-energy foods as her body tries to compensate for the protein deficiency.
The Importance of Protein Intake During Perimenopause
Maintaining adequate protein intake during perimenopause is essential for several reasons. First, as mentioned before, protein plays a crucial role in regulating appetite and satiety levels, which can help prevent overeating and weight gain. Second, protein is necessary for building and maintaining muscle mass, which declines with age and hormonal changes. By getting 100 grams of more of high quality animal protein each day, women can help preserve their muscle mass and prevent the loss of lean body mass.
Additionally, protein is essential for hormone balance during perimenopause. As estrogen levels decrease, other hormones such as insulin and cortisol may become imbalanced. Protein helps regulate the release of these hormones, promoting overall hormonal health.
Protein Recommendations for Women During Perimenopause
The recommended daily protein intake for women during perimenopause is 1.2-1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, with a minimum of 20-30 grams of protein at each meal. This may vary depending on individual factors such as activity level and muscle mass. I see women thrive when they get about 100-150 grams of protein each day, depending on their activity level and desired body weight. I am 5’11” tall and my normal bodyweight is about 165 pounds. I try to get 140-150 grams of protein each day in order to feel and perform my best. If you consume nowhere close to 100 grams of protein (track this by using an app like Cronometer- here is a helpful video to get started!), start by increasing your daily protein by 10-20 grams per day until you reach that coveted 100-gram mark.
It’s also important to choose high-quality proteins, such as lean meats, eggs, fish, and plant-based sources like beans and legumes. These protein sources not only provide essential amino acids but also offer other nutrients necessary for overall health.
Impact on Energy Levels
Not only do protein deficiencies lead to intense cravings, but they also have a significant impact on energy levels. Protein is essential for the production and maintenance of muscle mass, which plays a crucial role in overall energy expenditure. When protein intake is inadequate, the body may struggle to maintain optimal energy levels, leading to fatigue and a general lack of vitality. I see this all of the time. When a woman is malnourished, she is exhausted. When we get her enough protein and enough calories, her energy and vitality magically start to re-appear!
Managing cravings during perimenopause requires a multi-faceted approach. Mindful eating techniques can help you become more attuned to your body’s hunger and fullness cues, reducing the likelihood of succumbing to intense cravings. Additionally, incorporating a variety of flavors and textures into your meals can provide a sense of satisfaction and prevent feelings of deprivation. Eat until you are about 80% full, and focus on getting those 20-30 grams of protein with each meal. Eat at least 4 times a day in order to feel fabulous in perimenopause.
In conclusion, understanding the protein/energy hypothesis sheds light on the intense cravings experienced by women in perimenopause. By prioritizing adequate protein intake and balancing your overall nutrition, you can manage cravings, support energy levels, and navigate this transitional phase with greater ease. Remember, consulting with a healthcare professional is always recommended for personalized guidance on meeting your nutritional needs. Let’s run the right tests on you and get you that individualized attention you need!
Embrace the power of protein and nourish our bodies to thrive during perimenopause. You have the strength within you to overcome any challenge that comes your way. Together, we can embark on this transformative journey and emerge stronger than ever before.
Join me in my free masterclass, “3 Steps to an Easy Perimenopause,” where we’ll dive deeper into managing cravings and optimizing your overall well-being during this fun-filled phase of life.