Are you a woman who wants to train smarter and achieve your goals? If so, you need to know how your physiology affects your performance and recovery. Stacy Sims, PhD, is a female physiology expert and the author of ROAR, a book that empowers women to optimize their health and fitness.
- Prioritize High-Intensity Training Fluctuating levels of hormones during perimenopause, which most women experience in their 40s, make it harder to maintain lean muscle mass. Since this often coincides with busy years full of career and family demands, it’s critical to do the right kind of training in what limited time you have.
“This is where people get overwhelmed with the idea of having to set aside 30 or 40 minutes,” says Sims. “But we know that, especially in the 40s, short bursts of high intensity is the best thing you can do.” In just a few minutes, this type of training improves cardiovascular fitness and metabolic control. “High-intensity work gives you the epigenetic changes, or the signaling, to maintain lean mass and get rid of body fat,” says Sims.
Once you lock in those high-intensity sessions, start adding resistance training. “It doesn’t have to be an hour,” says Sims. “It can be 20 minutes of really heavy, focused work—low volume and high intensity.” She explains that this type of training is sufficient stress to build lean muscle and lose body fat.
- Fuel Your Workouts Properly One of the most common mistakes women make is not eating enough before and after their workouts. Sims says that women tend to underfuel themselves, especially in the morning, because they are afraid of gaining weight or feeling bloated. However, this can backfire and lead to muscle breakdown, inflammation, and poor recovery.
Sims recommends eating a small snack of protein and carbohydrates 30 to 60 minutes before your workout, and another one within 30 minutes after your workout. This will help you replenish your glycogen stores, repair your muscles, and boost your metabolism. Some examples of good pre- and post-workout snacks are a banana with nut butter, a yogurt with berries, or a protein shake with fruit.
- Track Your Menstrual Cycle Your menstrual cycle affects your energy levels, mood, and performance. Sims says that women should track their cycle and adjust their training accordingly. She suggests using an app like FitrWoman or Clue to monitor your symptoms and plan your workouts.
Sims explains that the first half of your cycle, from day one of your period to ovulation, is called the follicular phase. This is when your estrogen and progesterone levels are low, and you have more energy and endurance. This is a good time to do high-intensity training, strength training, and skill-based training.
The second half of your cycle, from ovulation to the start of your next period, is called the luteal phase. This is when your estrogen and progesterone levels are high, and you may experience bloating, fatigue, and mood swings. This is a good time to do low-intensity training, recovery training, and flexibility training.
- Manage Your Stress Levels Stress is a major factor that affects your health and performance. Sims says that women are more prone to chronic stress than men, because they often juggle multiple roles and responsibilities. Chronic stress can lead to hormonal imbalances, inflammation, weight gain, and poor sleep quality.
Sims advises women to manage their stress levels by practicing self-care and setting boundaries. She says that women should prioritize their own needs and not feel guilty about saying no to things that drain their energy. She also recommends doing activities that relax and recharge you, such as meditation, yoga, reading, or spending time with friends.
- Embrace Your Strength Sims says that one of the most important things women can do is to embrace their strength and celebrate their achievements. She says that women often compare themselves to others and feel insecure about their bodies or abilities. However, this can undermine their confidence and motivation.
Sims encourages women to focus on their own goals and progress, and not let society’s expectations or stereotypes limit them. She says that women should be proud of their strength and power, and use them to overcome challenges and pursue their passions.
“Strength is not a gender thing,” says Sims. “Strength is a human thing”
adapted from an interview with Dr Stacy Sims