How to Change Your Body Composition
Have you noticed that as you’ve entered menopause, the belly pooch seems to be hanging on, no matter what you do? You’re not alone. This happens for several reasons, including changing hormones and the way your body processes insulin as you age.
What if I asked you to take your mind off of your weight for a moment, and focus instead on what your weight is made up of? Your body composition, or the amount of muscle you are carrying compared to the amount of fat, has a huge effect on belly fat—including the dangerous visceral belly fat that is a precursor to disease.
In this episode, I’ll walk you through my best tips for increasing muscle mass and getting rid of that hormonal belly, including the exact type of exercise you need to be doing, how often you should be doing it, supplemental movement that enhances your results, and how to fuel your muscles so they grow.
Stay tuned to the end because I’ll also share a few tips and tricks to level up your strategy so you can look your best and age healthfully.
0:02:15 – Strategies for reducing abdominal fat during perimenopause
0:03:47 – Resistance training for postmenopausal women to build muscle and boost metabolism
0:05:59 – Resistance training and high-intensity interval training for optimal health and fitness
0:10:33 – The benefits of eating protein during menopause
0:13:23 – The benefits of protein and creatine for maintaining skeletal muscle
0:15:00 – Supplementation and stress management for menopause
0:17:56 – Tips for managing menopausal symptoms and battling belly fat
Mentioned in this episode:
I start each day with my All-In-One Shake to hit my protein goals
Dr. Joe Dispenza is my go-to source for guided meditation
Creatine is one of the most well-researched supplements to aid in muscle building. KreAlkalyn Pro by Designs for Health is a product I trust
Episode 548 YT The #1 Secret to Losing Menopausal Belly Fat
JJ Virgin: [00:00:00] I am JJ Virgin, PhD Dropout. Sorry, mom, turn four time New York Times bestselling author. Yes, I'm a certified nutrition specialist, fitness Hall of Famer, and I speak at health conferences and trainings around the globe. But I'm driven by my insatiable curiosity and love of science to keep asking questions, digging for answers, and sharing the information I uncover with as many [00:00:25] people as I can, and that's why I created the Well Beyond 40 podcast.
To synthesize and simplify the science of health into actionable strategies to help you thrive. In each episode we'll talk about what's working in the world of wellness, from personalized nutrition and healing your metabolism to healthy aging and prescriptive fitness. Join me on the journey to better health so you can love how you look and feel right now [00:00:50] and have the energy to play full out at 100.
The number one secret to losing that dreaded menopause belly. It might surprise you that I'm not going to say it's about what you eat, it's actually about what you lift. Now, of course, diet plays an important role, but I'm gonna explain why the biggest [00:01:15] needle mover is actually putting on skeletal muscle.
But before I get into it, let's first talk about why women tend to put on belly fat during. So abdominal fat, also called visceral fat or visceral adipose tissue is the fat stored within the abdominal cavity and surrounding internal organs. This is the most dangerous fat way, more dangerous than subcutaneous fat, and that's that fat [00:01:40] stored right below the skin.
That's where you can pinch the inch, right? You might hate that subcutaneous fat, but the visceral. The problem fat. It's been linked to insulin resistance, diabetes, heart disease, and even certain cancers. Now, visceral fat goes up during menopause for a few key reasons. First of all, lower estrogen, because estrogen regulates metabolism and fat storage, and when estrogen levels get lower, [00:02:05] It can disrupt the balance of follicle stimulating hormone, lutin hormone testosterone, and progesterone levels, and result in weight gain, and especially that waken in the abdominal region.
Next one is insulin sensitivity. So as we age, We tend to become more insulin resistant. This happens to cuz of a variety of things. It can be because we're not sleeping well, our cortisol is going [00:02:30] up, we're losing muscle mass, we're not as active. Plus we might be eating ultra processed foods, washed down with the glass of rose a or a Cosmo, all of that.
You end up with blood sugar imbalances and insulin re. Now I just mentioned stress. And here's the thing, this is the big doozy. During this time, cortisol tends go up during perimenopause, and when you have higher cortisol, this is gonna [00:02:55] super contribute to abdominal fat. Plus it also contributes to other things like cardiovascular disease, hot flashes, night sweats, mood, brain issues, bone loss, and insulin re.
All right, so we are in perimenopause. Our hormones are going sideways. We're gaining belly fat. So what is the solution? Here's what I want you to do. I want you to take the focus off of your weight here, and I [00:03:20] want you instead to focus on improving what your weight is made up of by focus on adding muscle, which will help you lose that vat.
First thing you're gonna want to do is invest in a bioimpedance scale so you can identify what your weight is made up of. Because again, we're gonna focus on putting on muscle. You're also gonna wanna get a tank measure because this is the simplest way, the simple at-home [00:03:45] way to really see this vat fat.
I like to say that if you're losing weight, Without losing your waist, you are making yourself worse, not better. I want you to focus on holding onto and building muscles part of your prescription, to feeling your best during this crazy transition time and afterwards. Now I call muscle your metabolic spank because it holds everything in tighter and it boosts your metabolism.
One study showed that resistance [00:04:10] training is a viable long-term way to prevent weight gain and other negative changes in body composition for post-menopausal women. And another showed that doing resistance training during menopause generated muscle making cells and provided the strength building stimulus women need as estrogen SAR decline.
Plus it also helps lower your risk of osteoporosis, which is a massive. Besides [00:04:35] being metabolic span muscle is also a sugar sponge. It gives carbs a place to land where it's stored for future energy rather than bee lining to your belly where they're stored as fat. Fat. All right, so the important question I hope you're asking right now is, okay, so I wanna build muscle.
What should I be doing? First of all, put the pink weights down. All right. Those are paper weights. What you really have to do here is [00:05:00] lift heavy things. Now, I don't care what the things are. It could be weights, could be body weight, could be a TX trainer, love. Those could be cables. But the important thing is here that you have to lift heavy things a lot.
I'm gonna walk you through how I do this. I divide the body into a couple different segments. Number one is your upper body. Upper body pushing is your chest, your shoulders, and your triceps. This would be things like a pushup, [00:05:25] a dip, an overhead press, a chest press. Then there's upper body pulling. These are things like a bent over row and upright row, A lap pull down a pull up.
Then there's lower body, which is hip and thigh hinging, and those are things like squats and step ups and lunges and deadlifts, and then there's core and rotation and core and [00:05:50] rotation. I'll tell you, a lot of the core that I teach people to do happens in those bigger. Compound movements because I want you doing compound functional movements.
Again, if you're doing a squat, you're working your core. If you're doing a bent over a row, you're working your core. And I'll explain how else I integrate in the core and rotation movements. So first, let's talk about that upper body pushing, upper body pulling, and hips and thighs. So I [00:06:15] want you doing each body part three times a week.
That's best to build muscle. Is one to five of repetitions of an exercise. Hypertrophy works more in the eight to 15 range, but can go even higher than that. Here's the important concept. You are going to take an exercise. Let's take a squat, and you are going to do what you can do in good form. [00:06:40] Pretend to 15 repetitions.
Take a break and do it again, and ideally do it three to four times. You want to hold the amount of weight that you can do for 10 to 15 repetitions, but you couldn't actually do another one after that. You wanna get to as close to failure as possible. On at least one of the sets. That's what really helps you build that hypertrophy.
If you're worried about getting injured, this is where you really wanna work with a [00:07:05] personal trainer or a physical therapist to help design an exercise program with you. Because where you really tend to get injured is an everyday life, not doing exercise. You want the exercise to build the muscle to help protect your bones, protect your joints, protect your muscles.
From the things that could happen in everyday life. So this is gonna make it easier for you to get out that low chair, easier for you to carry the groceries up the stairs, right? So I like to do activities that really [00:07:30] resemble everyday life. So you're gonna do resistance training for each body part three days a week.
That's the goal. And then you are going to do, I like to add in yoga, especially hot yoga, because it's gonna add in the balance, the core and the rotation another day a. So maybe one day a week. You can add in the second if you'd like to. And then you also need to do some blended cardio. So if we're doing resistance training three days a week, [00:07:55] we're doing a yoga class one day a week, and then we do some blended cardio.
And this is what blended cardio is because remember, when we're looking at fitness, we're focusing on muscle the most because as we age, if we're not doing anything about it, we lose 1% of muscle every year. Starting at age 40, it starts to double at age 60, but we lose two to 4% of our strength, so we tend to lose this the most.
So that's why that's. Primary focus, but then I also wanna make sure we have that [00:08:20] cardiorespiratory fitness and the balance because all of these impact are health span. In fact, they have linked poor balance, poor grip strength, and poor cardiovascular fitness, all with a dramatic increase in all cause mortality.
Okay, so that's why we're doing all of this. So I have you do blended cardio training. It's a hit zone two blend. What the heck is that, jj? So first of all, high-intensity interval training is [00:08:45] where you do something all out. Kind of like, remember, remember maybe when you were 10 and you were on the playground and you were running away from a kid and your lungs and your thighs.
When was the last time you felt like that? Because that's how you're supposed to feel. So maybe you're on a bike and you stand up and you pedal really hard for 30 seconds. Then you sit down and you pedal easy for a minute or two, and then you do it again. You do bursts of that high intensity [00:09:10] interval training.
And by the way, a really great study showed that HIT training is better at dropping vat fat than just if you did walking and resistance trainings. So let me walk you through this study. So there were two groups. One group did resistance training and some walking, and the other group did high intensity interval training.
And here's what's super cool is they found that the high intensity interval training group really reduced that [00:09:35] visceral adipose tissue way more than the group that just did resistance training and walking. Now, I want you to do both, right? Because we know that resistance training is going to help you have a place for the carbohydrates to go that's not your belly and boost your metabolism.
But we also know the hit helps you burn more of that fat. Fat. So let's put both of those into the training program, resistance training three days a week. Now, what about. Hit, I'd really [00:10:00] love you to do three times a week as well. Again, what you'll do is you'll start with the high intensity interval training, and then you'll move into what's called zone two steady state training, and that's like where you can carry on a conversation, but again, it's a little breathy and then, I'm gonna give you some bonus points here is if you can get a walk-in after dinner.
Now, when I'm traveling, we always make a point of walking back and forth to a restaurant so that we walk after dinner, [00:10:25] but when you're walking after dinner even it's 20 minutes. You lower the blood sugar response to the meal cuz you give. The carbohydrates a place to go. So that is super important. Now, in order to fuel your muscles, you gotta work your muscles, but you also need to give them the building blocks.
They need to build muscle, and that is protein. So let's talk protein, because this is the most important and the most underrated, macronutrient, and really a true superstar in the battle of the [00:10:50] menopause belly. So it turns out that the average woman is getting somewhere around 45 to 60 grams of dietary protein a day, and that is so far below what she needs.
It's even. The silly recommended daily allowance. In fact, what's showing right now, all the top nutrition scientists are getting into this 0.7 to one gram per pound of target body weight. That's what you wanna be eating every single day. And by the way, if you think, oh, I'm eating less as I age, [00:11:15] actually, That's not true.
Your need for protein actually increases during perimenopause because you have this hormonally induced tissue protein breakdown and anabolic resistance. So what happens during menopause is your body needs more protein in order to build muscle. You get worse at doing it. If you are not getting enough protein, it then causes you to eat.
So here's how this works. This [00:11:40] is called the protein leverage hypothesis. Let's say that you're eating a higher carb, higher fat, lower protein diet like I just described. Your body will have its own drive. Your appetite will will be bigger to eat more because your body knows it needs more protein. So you'll actually start to try to eat more to get to the level of protein that you need.
Instead of doing that just to eat more protein, you'll end up eating less. You'll have a better thermic [00:12:05] response, and you'll be able to build muscle. In fact, just eating protein, you'll be able to build more muscle even if you didn't do anything else, which isn't gonna be the case. Right. Here's the thing.
As you're going through menopause, you tend to expend less energy. So you really actually need to eat less right now, not if we're getting all the exercise and stuff in, but for most of us, you're eating less, you're spending less energy, you're eating [00:12:30] less calories, and now you need to make sure that you're getting enough protein.
So what I want you to really do is go protein. Ensure that you're getting 0.7 to one gram per pound of target body weight. That always is the way you build your plate. Start with your protein first. Right. And make sure your bumper meals, that's when you break your fast and your last meal the day, have at least 30 grams of quality protein in them.
And I would aim for the higher end of that [00:12:55] spectrum. If you're focused on fat loss, by the way. And we know that if you're either trying to lose fat or you are working out heavy, or you're a plant-based or vegan vegetarian, you're gonna want to be on the higher end of the spectrum. And if you're vegan, you're gonna wanna supplement with a plant-based protein powder too.
Cause there's no way you're getting to where you need to be just with plants. So I've got my Reignite Wellness all in one plant-based protein shake that will [00:13:20] ensure that you're getting all of the essential amino acids your body needs. And I will tell you that if you just optimize protein without adding in resistance training, your body would actually build muscle.
You're not gonna do that though, right? You're gonna combine it with that hard resistance training, and then you have this exponential effect from doing it. And when you increase that protein, you're gonna drop the carbs and fats. It'll [00:13:45] probably drop 'em even more because protein's so much more satiating.
But I like to use a tracker, a macro tracker, so that I'm ensuring that I'm getting my protein needs in every single day. I also, besides just the protein, Am a huge, huge proponent of creatine monohydrate. Now here's the thing, since we're talking about maintaining or better yet increasing skeletal muscle, I got a shout out on this.
[00:14:10] Creatine is an amino acids that that's produced in the liver in the kidneys, and then it's delivered to the skeletal muscle for use. Now, about 95% of creatine is stored in the skeletal muscle of your body, and it's used during physical activity. It helps to maintain a continuous supply of energy to working muscles by keeping production up and working.
If you do not have enough creatine coming in, your body is gonna break down muscle tissue to get the creatine that it needs. Now, your body can [00:14:35] make some creatine and some foods like beef and fish provide a little bit, but as we age, go figure, production declines. It starts about age 30, and then rates fall like 8% per decade.
And by the. Most of us aren't eating enough of the foods that we should to get sufficient creatine anyway, besides the fact that we are decreasing in production. So you're gonna wanna supplement as you [00:15:00] age. In fact, research shows that supplementing with creatine can improve your exercise performance. It can help you recover from intense energy.
It can help prevent or reduce the severity of energy, and it can increase your fat-free muscle mass during. Research that looked at supplementation with creatine during menopause shows that it helps prevent losses in muscle and bone strength. It can reduce inflammation and it can lower oxidative stress.
Now, I will tell [00:15:25] you that like I have been big into researching this and I went on it. I had my husband go on it and I'm having all my friends that are 40 plus go on it. This is literally one of the most studied supplements out there, and the benefits are insane and there's no downside, and it's not expensive either.
Now here's the thing, it can take about a month to saturate your tissues with creatine. So you can either take it for a month and it'll take about that long to kick in, or you can [00:15:50] take five grams four times a day for five. And then general dosing somewhere in three to five grams a day, depending on your size.
Now, the important thing with creatine is that you gotta be consistent with taking it regularly to keep those tissues levels is not when you're like, oh, I took it yesterday. I'll take it next month. No, you gotta take it every single day. Super important. All right, let's talk stress, because one of the big shifts that happens during menopause is that we just are not good at [00:16:15] tolerating stress.
Now higher cortisol levels. Cortisol tends to come up during menopause, and higher cortisol levels are cata. What does that mean? That means you're gonna break down muscle, precious muscle that we're trying so hard to hold onto and build. It also messes with your sleep. You're gonna struggle to sleep well and you gotta sleep well for the repair and recovery process to build muscle.
Of course, stress. Also impairs thyroid [00:16:40] function. And if your thyroid isn't working well, you are not gonna be able to build muscle either. So you gotta figure out what works for you to manage stress. This is no longer like, oh, that'd be nice to do. This is like, no, you gotta do this now. This is essential from this moment for it.
I want you to think of dealing with your stress is like taking your nervous system to the gym, and I will tell you, I decided last couple years ago that I was going to really focus [00:17:05] on this. I'd always poo-pooed it, blown it off. It was always one of my issues. And I started going to Dr. Joe Spenzo workshops and the first time I went week long, all my friends were having these tremendous breakthroughs.
I was sitting there like, nothing's working over here. And I realized that I wouldn't have gone to the gym for a week, thought I was gonna be in. Great, great. You know, and all of a sudden I'm done. That would never have happened. [00:17:30] So I'm sitting here and I went, you know what, I'm going to give this. Like, if I was gonna start someone working out, I'd say give it six months.
So I decided to give it six months. So here I am, I'm going to Dr. Joe. And after the first one, ah, didn't really know this a whole lot and, but I kept doing it every single day. Thankfully my husband did it with me. Second one, I was like, mm, maybe I'm getting a little better. I don't know. It took about nine months.
The shift has. [00:17:55] Profound. It is such a massive thing. So I'm telling you this to impress on you. It's so much different than going to the gym where you go, I got stronger, I lifted five pounds, now I lift 10. This is a different feeling. Give yourself time, but find something that works for you. Whether it's meditation, yoga, deep breathing, sound healing, forest bathing, Qigong, Tapp.
Just something because it is [00:18:20] very clear. Like the studies show that when you're practicing mind body therapies, again, any of those types of things, it's gonna help you alleviate these overall menopausal symptoms. The hot flashes, the night sweats, the issues with mood and sleep, the muscular skeletal pain.
So you gotta find your bliss. Okay, now here's the deal. Battling that menopause belly fat by eating protein first and lifting heavy things. That's what we are going to do here, [00:18:45] right? We are gonna be putting on muscle. Be sure to join me next time for more tools, tips, and techniques you can incorporate into everyday life to ensure you look and feel great, and more importantly that you're built to last.
And check me out on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and my website, jj virgin.com. And make sure to follow my podcast so you don't miss a single [00:19:10] [email protected]. See you next.