Female hormones have been under-estimated in the weight loss equation with most only knowing “Calories In, Calories Out” eg. calorie restriction diets, long cardio workouts, More recent research suggests that female hormones play a larger part of this weight loss equation than previous thought. Here is some of the key hormones and three simple tips to help you lose weight and improve your health and fitness.
Estrogen is required for sexual reproduction and often referred to as the “female sex hormone.” It is responsible for fat storage in the hips, thighs and breasts and creating the “hourglass” shape of a woman’s body. Estrogen, alongside progesterone, interacts with other hormones like cortisol and insulin to impact fat loss.
Progesterone’s main roles are preparing the body for conception, maintaining pregnancy, helping the thyroid perform efficiently and regulating the monthly cycle. Produced in the ovaries, placenta and the adrenal glands, progesterone opposes the action of cortisol and works with estrogen to halt the storage of fat. Progesterone starts to decline in the mid-thirties and causes a slower metabolism and increased appetite. Needless to say, this can lead to fat gain that is hard to lose.
3. Dehydroepiandrosterone (Dhea)
DHEA is produced in the adrenal glands and in the brain. It’s a precursor to male and female sex hormones that helps block the storage of fat. A low-calorie diet paired with intense exercise does nothing to restore DHEA and can hinder fat loss long term.
4. Testosterone (Is Not Just for Men)
Women produce testosterone in a lesser amount, but benefit from it for building muscle, increasing bone density and decreasing fat in the hips, thighs and stomach.
Cortisol is produced in the adrenal glands and known as the “stress hormone” because it increases with stress. Cortisol increases fat, suppresses the immune system and increases blood sugar levels. High stress often leads to overeating, less motivation to exercise, muscle protein breakdown and depression.
6. Thyroid Hormones
Thyroid hormones are secreted by the thyroid gland and have multiple functions. They help in the body break down fat (direct role in metabolism), lower cholesterol levels, maintain a healthy weight and energy levels. Lower levels are associated with a decreased metabolic rate and fat gain.
Training Tips to Optimize Female Hormones
Jade Teta of Metabolic Effect lists sleep, adequate protein intake and intense exercise as the 3 key factors influencing female hormone optimization (Teta, 2012).
1. Sleep – Prolonged sleep deprivation is linked to weight gain, but getting at least 7-8 hours of restful sleep every night can reduce body mass index and overall fat mass. Feelings of stress can significant impact our sleep patterns and using intensive exercise to relieve stress when your already stressed can increase cortisol and actually be counterproductive to your weight loss and health and fitness goals. (Teta, 2012).
2. Nutrition – The smallest tweaks to your nutrition can result in some big changes in how you feel, looks and how your body responds to workouts. Protein intake and foods that mimic estrogen should be avoided for a healthy and balanced diet. Some good protein choices include plant-based options like pea and hemp protein, lentils and beans or vegetarian-fed animal proteins and wild-caught fish. These proteins help promote growth hormone and provide amino acids for muscle development. Soy, many canned foods, non-organic meats, soda and drinking from plastic bottles may mimic estrogen in the body and can potentially lead to more fat storage (Teta, 2012). You can start by eating 25 grams of protein with each of their major meals and make adjustments based on changes to how they feel, your body composition and weight over time.
3. Weight training – Exercises like core strength and walking are healthy and build strength, but weight training is the best way to naturally increase human growth hormone, which is to women what testosterone is to men. Exercises that target the greatest amount of muscle mass like deadlifts, squats, power cleans and presses have the biggest impact. As does, hybrid or compound movements that recruit more muscles simultaneously as well as shorter bouts of intense cardio versus steady state. Of course this is always based on your training and physical capabilities. Remember that there is delicate balance between intense exercise and adequate rest so as not to increase cortisol levels. Moderate exercises such as stretching, core strenght and walking help balance an overall exercise program.
Balanced hormones are neither too high or too low when women report feeling and looking their best. Women have a unique set of hormones that work behind the scenes to impact their fitness, health and well being. While most women think more exercise, more dieting and more cardio is the solution to fat loss, fitness professionals know that their hormones and the influence they have on long term health and fitness successes.
Source – Trinity Perkins
Teta, J. (2012). Female hormones and weight loss. Retrieved from: https://www.metaboliceffect.com/emale-effect-hormones-determine-female-fat-patterns/