Female Muscle – Misconceptions of Training and Nutrition

In the many years working as a fitness professional and health educator, I’ve encountered a wide array of myths and misconceptions about exercise and nutrition. Some of those seem to be more prevalent among women. Because these misconceptions can be the reason why you’re not achieving your fitness goals, I’m addressing some of the most common ones in this article.

More Cardio = More Fat Loss

Sadly, too many women still rely exclusively on long, boring, mindless cardio sessions to achieve their weight loss goals. Cardio is great for your heart and should most definitely be part of your regular exercise routine BUT:

  • More is not always better. Too much cardio without resistance training can actually cause you to lose calorie-burning muscle mass, which will decrease your overall metabolic rate and bring your weight loss efforts to a screeching halt.
  • 30 minutes of resistance training causes metabolic rate to increase by 150 calories over the 12 hours post-exercise. But that’s not all…the real benefit comes from the added muscles that resistance training builds. For every pound of muscle you add, you can burn 30-50 calories more per day.
    • Recommendation: Include resistance training to your workout routine and vary your cardio workouts by mixing days of longer low-intensity bouts (45-60 min) with shorter high-intensity interval bouts (20-30 min).

Fear of “getting to big” 

  • Women don’t want to be muscular; they want to be “toned” – hmmm? Sorry, but to be “toned” means to have muscle definition, which you really can’t achieve without being muscular.- Women fear too much muscle and think that weight lifting regularly, will make them look like men.
    • Reality check: Muscle does not grow overnight and if you’ve ever talked to anyone extremely muscular they’ll tell you just how hard it is. It takes a lot of dedication, time, training, and nutritional work to achieve a physique like that. There is no risk for the average fitness enthusiast to wake up one day and look like a professional bodybuilder. It’s really pretty simple: You work out until you like how you look and then you change your routine to maintain that muscle. Trust me, you’re safe from Hulkoniasm!

The importance of resistance training:Woman Exercise With Kettle Bell - Crossfit Workout

Besides making you look good, muscle has countless benefits you don’t readily see such as increased metabolism and strength, reduced risk of osteoporosis, as well as increased cognitive function. It also plays a crucial factor in slowing down sarcopenia, which is the age-related loss of muscle mass, strength and function. Sarcopenia happens to all of us but we can significantly slow it down by including regular resistance training (at least 2 x week) into our routine.

Less Calories = More Weight Loss

Breakfast With Coffee, Orange Juice, Croissant, Egg, Vegetables

  • Cutting calories will make you lose weight BUT cutting too many calories will backfire
  • You’re body needs a certain amount of calories to function correctly. You may have heard of BMR but aren’t quite sure why it’s so important. BMR is the basal metabolic rate and is the absolute minimum amount of calories your body needs to perform all of the basic bodily functions such as breathing.
  • If you drop below your BMR, your body’s only concern is to survive. It is not concerned with building muscle and speeding up your metabolism.
  • Solution: Find out what your caloric need is and never drop below that number. This number depends on many factors and if you want an exact number you should contact a fitness professional. But as a rule of thumb, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that women do not drop their caloric intake below 1200 calories. If you compare that to the calories in the average juice diet, you know you’re in trouble.

I Don’t Need More Protein

  • The average woman eats insufficient amounts of dietary protein.
  • Protein is one of the major building blocks in muscle growth and also important in the proper functioning of your body (major structural component of our muscles, nervous system, brain, blood, skin and hair and is used by the body as a transport mechanism for vitamins, minerals, oxygen and fats).
  • Simple equation: If you don’t eat enough protein, don’t expect maximum results from your fitness and weight loss efforts.

Recommendation from the American Dietetic Association and ACSM:

  • General population 0.4 grams per pound of body weight
  • Endurance Athlete 0.5-0.6 grams per pound of body weight
  • Strength Training Athlete 0.6-0.9 grams per pound of body weight

This list of misconceptions is a very short list as I’ve only listed a few of the ones I hear the most. There are many more and if you have any questions about other myths, feel free to contact me.

Stay happy and healthy

 – Dr. Maria

References:

Waters, D.L., R.N. Baumgartner & P.J. Garry. 2000. “Sarcopenia: Current Perspectives.” The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging 4(3):133-139.

Nagamatsu LS, Handy TC, Hsu C, Voss M, Liu-Ambrose T. Resistance Training Promotes Cognitive and Functional Brain Plasticity in Seniors With Probable Mild Cognitive Impairment. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(8):666-668. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2012.379.

American College of Sports Medicine @ www.acsm.org

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Physical Activity and Menopause

Diverse Hands Holding The Word Exercise 

Menopause is bad.

Exercise is good. 

More exercise is the solution!

Is that it?

It’s not quite that simple, although most things you will read will tell you that any form of physical activity is helpful. There is a lot of truth to it. Physical activity at any age is beneficial and for women during mid-life exercising carries additional substantial health benefits. The menopausal transition is associated with many health risk factors such as increased risk for cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, decreased bone mineral density, metabolic syndrome, and musculoskeletal symptoms. Exercise prescriptions for those health risks are the same as for non-menopausal women.

However, according to my research, not all forms of physical activity are of equal benefit in helping with menopause symptoms. In fact, some forms of exercise can exacerbate certain types of symptoms such as hot flashes and insomnia.

I believe that it is important to pick the type of exercise depending on your symptoms rather than just exercise to exercise.

So how do you know which exercise is best for you? You start by reading this blog 🙂 To help you find your way through the labyrinth of research that is out there, I’ve consolidated the findings of the last 20 years of research on this topic so you don’t have to.

First I want to highlight the overall benefits of exercising regardless of symptoms:

Increases:

  • Benefits brain function and functional capacity
  • Increases beta endorphins
  • Quality of Life
  • Strength and balance
  • Increased Bone Mineral Density
  • Increase in quality and length of sleep
  • Maintenance of healthy BMI
  • Self-perceived physical condition
  • Sport competence
  • Body image & physical self-worth

Decreases

  • Vasomotor Symptoms
  • Somatic & psychological symptoms
  • Depression (1 exercise session/week = 22% reduction)
  • Osteoporosis
  • Body Mass Index
  • Musculoskeletal symptoms
  • Cardiovascular Disease (50% reduction)
  • Overall mortality (20% reduction)

Exercise has many benefits but can also be stressful on the body

Too much exercise and/or intensity can:

    • Decrease sleep quality and length, which in turn is correlated with adverse physiological and psychological outcomes
    • Increase circulating cortisol levels, which can lead to increased abdominal fat (read last week’s post for more info on this)
    • Have negative effects on thermoregulation as it causes substantial increases in metabolic heat production and core temperature (during exercise, metabolic heat production can increase by ten to twenty-fold and recent studies suggest that hot flashes are triggered by small elevations in core body temperature)
  • Moderate intensity appears to have the most benefits
    • Highest menopause-specific quality of life
    • Lowest number of symptoms
    • Increased sleep, energy, confidence, mood

The following exercise guidelines are specific to helping you with menopause symptoms as well as increased quality of life throughout the menopausal transition. These recommendations do not apply to overall physical health.

Type of Exercise 

Female running athlete. Woman trail runner sprinting for successEndurance/aerobic training best for increased sleep

Woman Exercise With Kettle Bell - Crossfit WorkoutStrength training for body image, strength, body aches

young yoga female doing yogatic exericiseYoga for vasomotor (VMS) symptoms and overall menopause-specific quality of life (Hatha yoga for cognitive function (memory, concentration)

walking womanWalking at ~3-3.5 mph for anxiety and depression

Duration & Intensity

  • Moderate Intensity (60-70% Target HR)
  • Min. 3 x week (more days = decreased severity of symptoms)
  • Programs lasting at least 12 weeks

Special Considerations

  • Keep body core temperature at comfort level to avoid increases in VMS
  • Focus on activities that are enjoyable to you. Forcing yourself through workout regimens that you dislike can have negative effects on quality of life. I hear too many people say: “I think I should run more” and my question to them is “Why? Do you like running?”. “No, but it’s good for you”. Really? Is it? I don’t believe in doing things just because someone said they’re good, especially in regards to exercise. If you don’t like it, you won’t stick to it. It’s as simple as that. And when it comes to working out, consistency is the key. So find activities that you truly enjoy. Not only will you continue doing them and reap the physical and mental benefits but doing things you love will help you reduce stress and keep off that unwanted meno-pod (if you don’t know what a meno-pod is, you have to read last week’s post).

Have a comment or question? Leave me a note on the blog or tweet me @doctorluque

Stay happy and healthy

– Dr. Maria

All information is based on peer-reviewed research. I usually add a reference list of all the articles I read to put together an article but this one would be way too long. If you’re interested in finding out more about specific research articles used for this blog, contact me.