We asked sports nutritionist and researcher, Rudy Mawer to share his insights into how hormones affect everything from how heavy you lift to how well you sleep.

 

 

 

 

ON FAT LOSS

Common culprits

»Insulin

»Thyroid hormones

Causes

As we gain body fat or become less active as adults, insulin sensitivity often declines, leading to ill health and weight gain.

Thyroid hormones control metabolism, weight gain and many other bodily functions. Lower levels of thyroid hormones, resulting in hypothyroidism, can lower our metabolism, making it harder to lose weight, utilise nutrients, maintain energy levels and recover from a workout.

Combined, impaired insulin function and a slower metabolism caused by a decrease in thyroid hormone levels can make it tough to lose weight, reach your physique goals and maximise health in general. Insulin and thyroid hormones should be monitored and, while insulin function is harder to test from a blood test, you can do a simple at-home test (which comes in a kit that can be purchased online) to monitor your fasting blood sugar levels in the morning. Blood sugar function is closely linked to insulin function, making it a clear marker.

Lifestyle drastically affects insulin function. While there are genetic factors that will dictate baseline levels and associated conditions such as type 1 diabetes, generally it’s lifestyle decisions that cause type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance.

For instance, a bad diet including excessive amounts of processed foods or long-term overconsumption of calories will be one of the biggest drivers of impaired insulin function and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Other factors such as exercise regime, stress, sleep and body fat levels also affect insulin function.

Nutrition largely affects thyroid hormones and metabolism, with newer research showing every diet type impacts your thyroid, lowering your metabolism. Many people go on various diets – yo-yo dieting being a common one nowadays – that negatively impact your thyroid hormones, making it harder to be successful with fat loss long term. Other issues such as iodine and selenium deficiencies, food intolerances, toxicity and hormone imbalances also contribute.

Finding solutions

Simple and sustainable lifestyle changes – including cutting back on drastic diets, closely monitoring food intake, and performing high-intensity, metabolically demanding exercises such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT) – will both improve insulin sensitivity and help moderate weight gain.

 

ON MUSCLE GAIN

Common culprits

»Oestrogen

»Insulin

Causes

These two hormones are integrally connected with each other and with muscle growth – like a domino effect, when oestrogen levels decline, so does the effectiveness of insulin.

Oestrogen tends to decline with age, resulting in a reduction in the production and relative effectiveness of insulin to drive nutrients to the muscle for growth. Since insulin plays a role in providing nutrients and stimulating the muscle building process (known as protein synthesis), reduced effectiveness of this key hormone can present issues for maximising muscle growth.

Finding solutions

The best solution is resistance training, which is metabolically demanding. Muscle contraction that occurs with resistance training helps nutrients to be shuttled into the muscle independently of insulin, helping to offset the consequences of insulin’s reduced effectiveness as we age.

 

ON THE CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM

Common culprits

»Oestrogen

»Progesterone

Causes

As ovaries age, the production of oestrogen and progesterone decline. Oestrogen acts on many tissues in the body, helping to dilate blood vessels for improved blood flow and promoting a healthier balance of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. Progesterone also plays a primary role in dilating blood vessels, which can help prevent high blood pressure and other heart-related issues.

Finding solutions

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is one of the best ways to at least postpone the adverse effects of reduced oestrogen and progesterone. Maintaining a healthy diet and completing metabolically demanding exercise can also help prevent – and potentially reverse – negative cardiovascular effects resulting from declines in oestrogen and progesterone.

 

ON GENERAL HEALTH

Common culprits

»Thyroid hormones

»Oestrogen

Causes

Thyroid function and oestrogen levels decline with age and affect important processes such as metabolic rate, energy levels, alertness and wellbeing. When reduced, I often see clients experience unexpected weight gain and intense fatigue. 

Finding solutions

Maintaining a healthy, nutrient-rich diet, regularly practising metabolically demanding exercise and creating healthy habits to improve metabolism and energy levels is imperative for long-term health and wellbeing.